29-year-old Bibi Haldar is gripped by a mysterious ailment. Myriad tests and treatments have failed to cure the woman. She has been told to stand on her head, shun garlic, drink egg yolks in milk, to gain weight and to lose weight. The fits that could strike at any moment keep her confined to the home of her dismissive elder cousin and his wife. Bibi keeps the inventory of her brother's cosmetics stall and is watched over by the women of their community. She is provided only meals and a room and a length of cotton to replenish her wardrobe each year. Bibi sweeps the store, wondering loudly why she was cursed to this fate, to be alone and jealous of the wives and mothers around her.
The women come to the conclusion that she wants a man. When they show her artifacts from their weddings, Bibi proclaims what her own wedding will look like. Bibi is inconsolable at the prospect of never getting married. The women try to calm her by wrapping her in shawls, washing her face or buying her new blouses. After a particularly violent fit, her cousin Haldar emerges to take her to the polyclinic. A remedy is prescribed – marriage. “Relations will calm her blood.”
Bibi is delighted by this news and begins to plan and plot the wedding and to prepare herself physically and mentally. But Haldar and his wife dismiss this possibility. She is nearly 30, the wife says, and unskilled in the ways of being a woman. Her studies ceased prematurely, she is not allowed to watch TV, she has not been told how to pin a sari or how to prepare meals. The women don’t understand why, then, this reluctance to marry her off if she such a burden to Haldar and his wife. The wife asks who will pay for the wedding?
One morning, wearing a donated sari, Bibi demands that Haldar take her to be photographed so her image can be circulated among the bachelors, like other brides-in-waiting. Haldar refuses. He says she is a bade for business, a liability and a loss. In retaliation, Bibi stops calculating the inventory for the shop and circulates gossip about Haldar’s wife. To quiet her down, Haldar places an ad in the paper proclaiming the availability of an “unstable” bride. No family would take the risk.
Still, the women try to prepare her for her wifely duties. After two months of no suitors, Haldar and his wife feel vindicated. Things were not so bad when Bibi’s father was alive. He created charts of her fits and wrote to doctors abroad to try to cure her. He also distributed information to the members of the village so they were aware of her condition. But now only the women can look after her while being thankful, in private, that she is not their responsibility.
When Haldar’s wife gets pregnant, Bibi is kept away from her for fear of infecting the child. Her plates are not washed with the others, and she is given separate towels and soap. Bibi suffers another attack on the banks of the fish pond, convulsing for nearly two minutes. The husbands of the village escort her home in order to find her rest, a compress, and a sedative tablet. But Haldar and his wife do not let her in. That night, Bibi slept in the storage room.
After a difficult birth, Haldar’s wife delivers a girl. Bibi sleeps in the basement and is not allowed direct contact with the girl. She suffers more, unchecked fits. The women voice their concern but it goes unheeded. They decide to take their business elsewhere and the cosmetics in the stall soon expire on their shelves. In autumn, Haldar’s daughter becomes ill. Bibi is blamed. Bibi moves back into the storeroom and stops socializing – and stops searching for a husband.
By the end of the year, Haldar is driven out of business and he packs his family up and moves away. He leaves Bibi behind with only a thin envelope of cash. There is no more news of them and a letter written to Bibi’s only other known relative is returned by the postal service. The women spruce up the storeroom and send their children to play on