The Devadasi System is a tradition prevalent in South and Western India in which an adolescent girl is dedicated to a temple deity. She is “married” to God in an elaborate ceremony called the Pottukattu. “Devadasis” literally means “female servants of God” and were originally expected to serve the temple deity, keep the temple courtyard clean and dance for wealthy patrons. The devadasis could either choose to remain single or have a partner(s).
With passing time, the devadasi system just became an excuse to push young girls into prostitution so that they could financially support their families. The system became an excuse for upper-caste men to sexually exploit young girls belonging to lower castes. By supporting the devadasi system, the Brahmins (the uppermost caste in India, who were typically custodians of the temple) gave religious sanction to prostitution.
Although Devadasi Abolition Bill was enacted in 1947, the system continues even today. As many as 3,000 young girls are secretly dedicated to temples every year and fall prey to exploitation and sexually transmitted diseases.
The protagonist is Laksh who was born as a baby boy from Anita, a devadasi. Anita’s mother has total control of the devadasi family. The grandmother regrets that Laksh was born as a boy and tries to raise him as a dancer-girl.
Laksh/Lily: is a baby boy born in a whorehouse. In spite of being Indian, Laksh has white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. He studies hard and aspires to be an educated, well-respected person. Laksh becomes friendly with and later falls in love with his neighbor, Vivek. Laksh’s grandma hatches a conspiracy and succeeds in feminizing him completely. Laksh eventually transitions into a lovely young woman. She is now called Lily and is harassed by society for being a trans girl (in addition to being a prostitute’s child). Lily is also teased because of her unusual skin color.
Anita: is Laksh’s mom. She is a long-limbed, long-haired, dusky beauty. Anita is a temple dancer and prostitute. She wants her son to study hard and grow up to be an educated, well-respected person. She works hard to give send her son to a good school. Anita is traumatized when Laksh is forcibly feminized by her grandma but is unable to do anything to prevent her son from being feminized. Anita prevents her mother from selling Lily to the local rich man by threatening to commit suicide. Anita is a good, cultured woman who is dominated by her evil, avaricious mother.
Grandma: is Laksh’s maternal grandma. She is an evil, tyrannical woman old woman. She is old, has a big belly and has bags under her eyes. Grandma hails from a family of temple prostitutes and forces her daughter into the profession. She is unhappy when her daughter gives birth to a baby boy. She forcibly feminizes Laksh and coerces him to dance in front of a local rich young man. Grandma cares only about money and hatches a scheme to force her beautiful trans granddaughter into prostitution.
Vivek: is the protagonist’s boyfriend. He is tall and strong, with brown eyes and hair. He is three years older than Laksh and is very fond of him. Vivek realizes that he has feelings for Laksh when the two kiss on the terrace one summer evening. Vivek is distressed by Laksh’s forced feminization but is unable to do anything to prevent it. Vivek prevents Lily from being assaulted by the senior schoolboys as well as by a rich man called Abby Desai. He loves Lily deeply and promises to marry her when both of them reach the legal age for marriage.
Vimi: is Vivek’s younger sister and Laksh’s classmate. Vimi is a sweet girl with lively brown eyes. She sits next to Laksh during lunch and chides other children from harassing him. Vimi has no idea that Vivek and Laksh are in love. Vimi, later on, comes to know that Vivek was in love with Lily whom he subsequently spurned after a misunderstanding. Vimi chastises Vivek for not having given Lily the benefit of doubt and for marrying Pinky in a hurry.
Prof. Vittal Joshi: is Vivek and Vimi’s father. He teaches math at a prestigious university called Hawking University. Prof. Joshi is a broad-minded man who feels that every person deserves a chance to come up in life. He welcomes Laksh into his house and encourages him to study hard. Prof. Joshi wants Laksh/Lily to grow up to be an educated, well-respected person. He is sourly disappointed when Lily chooses a life of prostitution for herself.
Sheila Joshi: is Prof. Joshi’s wife. She is prejudiced against whores and initially disapproves of her children’s friendship with Laksh, a prostitute’s son. However, over a period of time, her feelings towards Laksh soften. She admires his intelligence and capacity to work hard. However, Mrs. Joshi is unable to totally shrug off her feelings of prejudice and discrimination against those who live in a whorehouse.
Dr. George Kendal: is the vice-chancellor of Hawking University. He is tall and well-built, with blue eyes and dark blonde hair. He lives in the UK with his wife and two sons. Dr. Kendal comes to the Indian branch of Hawking University to attend a seminar. He decides to stay back in India for a few more days as he loves the country. He is invited to stay as a guest at Prof. Joshi’s house. While he is a guest at the Joshi residence, Dr. Kendal meets Lily and Anita.
Scarlet: Dr. Kendal’s wife. She lives in the UK. She adopts Lily and treats her like her own daughter.
Pinky Naik: is the neighbor of Laksh. She is a tall, sour-faced girl who is also Vivek’s classmate. Pinky hates Laksh because he lives in a whorehouse. She advises Vimi against sitting next to Laksh during lunch hour as the latter is the “son-of-a-whore”. Pinky is in love with Vivek and visits the Joshi residence sometimes. She is jealous of the friendship between Laksh and Vivek. Pinky wishes as close to Vivek as Laksh is.
Kedar Master: is one of grandma’s lovers. Kedar Master is a sixtyish, gangling man who is in the habit of chewing betel leaves. He teaches dance and plays the tabla (a percussion instrument). Kedar Master teaches Laksh the dance form of bharatnatyam. On grandma’s insistence, he procures female hormones from his friend (who happens to be a chemist) and helps grandma feminize Laksh.
Dr. Rakesh Havaldar: is yet another lover of grandma’s. He is in his 50s, is plump and has a full head of graying hair. Dr. Havaldar works as a surgeon in a government hospital. He tells grandma that gender change surgery is provided free of cost in the hospital. Grandma subsequently gets Lily admitted to the hospital where Dr. Havaldar performs SRS on her.
Abby Desai: is a local rich man. He is a tanned, bearded guy in his late 20s. He is a pervert who loves watching nubile young girls dance. He is also into kinky and violent sex. He is attracted to Lily’s white skin and pays to watch her dance. During one such performance, Desai tries to assault her. Subsequently, Desai is beaten up by Vivek, who rescues Lily. Desai causes grandma’s accident in the end”.
Edward Jones: is a thirtyish man who works as a physics professor in the UK branch of Hawking University. He is tall, freckle-faced and boyish. He is enamored with India and with Lily. When Lily is transferred to Bangalore, Edward does the same in order to remain close to Lily.
Noah and Ennis: are the legitimate children of Lily’s father. They regard their sister as their role model and aspire to be as studious and smart as her.