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Koly might only be thirteen, but she's ready to get married. Or that's what her mom tells her one day when she announces that Koly's dad is looking for a husband for her. Koly's not surprised by the news—she lives in India and pretty much everyone has an arranged marriage—but she is a little nervous. She wonders how she will live with someone she's never even met. Still, when her dad announces that he's found a match for her, and his name is Hari, she's excited.
Her parents take her to Hari's house for the wedding, but when they get there, they discover that Hari is sick. Everyone says it's just a flu, but he looks pretty bad. Nevertheless, Koly goes through with the ceremony so she doesn't disappoint her parents. As part of her dowry, her mom gives her some fancy silver earrings that she wore to her own wedding many years before. Koly's family is poor, so she knows this is a big deal. After the wedding, Hari's mom, Mrs. Mehta, asks for the silver earrings, but Koly thinks it's best if she holds onto them.
At first it's tricky for Koly to adjust to her new surroundings. She has chores to do all the time, and Mrs. Mehta bosses her around day and night. Pretty soon, though, Koly finds her place. She becomes friends with her new sister-in-law, Chandra, and even talks to Hari every now and again. Turns out he doesn't have the flu at all—instead he has tuberculosis, and is pretty much on his deathbed. His parents only found him a bride so they could get her dowry to pay for a trip to the Ganges to bring him back to health, believing the river to be magical and capable of curing him.
Koly, Hari, and his parents head off to the Ganges so Hari can go for a swim. Before they go, however, the doc warns them that the trip won't be good for Hari in his condition—but off they go anyway since Mrs. Mehta believes it will cure her son. The river doesn't pull through, though, and Hari dies on the trip, which devastates his parents (duh). Koly is upset, too. This is partly because she misses her new hubby, but it's also because she knows her life will be so much different now. She doesn't have any kids or family, and no one wants to marry a widow. Ever.
Back at home, Koly keeps her head down and does chores as much as she can. Mrs. Mehta becomes meaner by the day, though, finding fault with every little thing Koly does. So Koly decides to take revenge, purposely misbehaving and pulling pranks on the family. Meanwhile, Mr. Mehta teaches Koly how to read, and Chandra and Koly hang out all the time. Eventually, a husband is found for Chandra and she leaves home. This is when Koly realizes she has to earn her keep and not tick the Mehtas off—otherwise they might get rid of her.
One day, Mr. Mehta comes home and passes away. He has nothing left to live for now that his son is dead, his daughter is married, and his job is gone. Mrs. Mehta is distressed, and Koly tries to comfort her. Pretty soon, Mrs. Mehta decides to go live with her brother in Delhi, though she promises to bring Koly along. To get money for the trip, Koly gives Mrs. Mehta her precious silver earrings. They leave on the train together and stop in Vrindavan… where Mrs. Mehta ditches Koly. Oh uh-uh.
Alone in a city of widows, Koly realizes she has to find her own way to make money to pay for food and a place to stay. A rickshaw driver named Raji helps her out by sending her to a widows' house. And yes, that's exactly what it sounds like—a bunch of widows living together after their families dumped them, just like Mrs. Mehta did to Koly. Our girl begins working in the bazaar as a garland maker before going to work as an embroiderer. She's very talented with her stitching, and creates beautiful quilts that people pay top dollar for. Finally Koly's happy.
Koly and Raji hang out a lot after work. She teaches him how to read, and he tells her stories of his farm. He's saving up enough money to go back there, and asks if she'd like to tag along. He cares about her (wink, wink) and wants them to get married. Koly likes Raji, but she's not so sure she wants to give up her independent life in the city. She loves embroidering and making some money to support herself.
Raji is disappointed, but he decides to build Koly her very own room where she can embroider on his farm. This way the two of them can be together, but she can still do what she loves. Koly is excited. She finally has a guy she wants to be with, not someone she has to hang around because her parents set them up. She makes a quilt to celebrate the wedding and promises her boss that she'll work on her designs from her new home.