story is set in Calcutta during the first part of the
twentieth century. The protagonist Sachish is the
youngest scion of a prosperous Bengali Hindu upper caste
family. Harimohan, Sachish's father, is a religious
bigot who spends a lot of money on superstitious
ceremonies. Purander, his elder brother, is a hypocrite
and a cad. Sachish on the other hand is drawn to the
rational positivism and the reformist zeal of his uncle
Jagmohan. Much to Harimohan and Purander's ire, uncle
and nephew scandalize the conservative Hindu
neighborhood by feeding lower caste people and Muslims
from the nearby slums. One day Sachish discovers that
his married brother Purander has impregnated and
abandoned a young girl called Nanibala. Sachish brings
Nanibala to Jagmohan who gladly gives her shelter.
Harimohan and Purander are shocked by this development.
They constantly heckle Jagmohan to drive the 'fallen
woman' out of the house. In order to 'protect' Nanibala,
the idealistic Sachish gallantly offers to marry her.
But despite his belief that he is marrying for purely
altruistic reasons, Sachish is disturbed by the first
glimmers of sexual desire in his body. However, Nanibala
drinks poison on the eve of the marriage so that Sachish
does not have to make this 'sacrifice'.
Shortly after the tragic death of
Nanibala, Jagmohan too passes away after contracting the
plague while helping victims of an epidemic. A
distraught Sachish disappears from Calcutta. Sribilash
finally finds him after searching for many months, in
the company of a religious cult headed by Guru Lilananda
Swami. He is shocked to see the erstwhile atheist press
the feet of the guru and obey all his orders in a
servile manner. When confronted, Sachish says that he
has realized that rationality cannot explain everything.
Reason by itself could not prevent Nanibala's death.
Sribilash berates him for moving to the other extreme,
but joins the cult to see the final outcome of Sachish's
experiments with truth.
The two friends meet the enigmatic
widow Damini. Her departed husband was a disciple of
Lilananda Swami. Before his death, he had submitted the
family property and Damini herself to the custody of the
religious guru. Damini is not much interested in
Lilananda Swami's other worldly teachings, but soon it
becomes clear that there are unstated passions brewing
between her and Sachish. Sachish is torn between his
spiritual ideals and the calls of the flesh; the
tempestuous Damini on the other hand is ready to break
all social conventions and stage a rebellion against a
social order that has denied her everything. The more
Sachish tries to distance himself, the more she disturbs
his single mindedness by flirting with Sribilash. An
intricate web of crisscrossing desires develops between
the three. A disillusioned Sachish finally leaves the
company of Lilananda Swami after a tragic death in the
group. Damini and Sribilash accompany him. Under an
elemental and stormy sky, in a stark landscape beyond
human laws, there is a final playing out of the conflict
between ideas and desires.