A group of nine people are stuck in the visa office of the Indian Consulate in an American city after a massive earthquake. As they wait to be rescued or die they each share one amazing thing about their life. Uma is a young student of English literature who arrives at the visa office of the Indian Consulate at an American city. She is confused and resentful of her parents' decision to return to India after more than twenty five years in the US. She has reluctantly agreed to visit them in Kolkata, India and is therefore at the visa office. She is ignored by the Indian lady at the visa desk and is very rudely asked to wait. There are six other people who are also waiting to get their visas. As the office takes its lunch break and most of the officials leave there is a major earthquake and nine people are trapped in the basement office. Apart from Uma the others are two visa officers Malathi and Mangalam who are on the verge of having an adulterous affair, Jiang an old Chinese lady of Indian origin and her talented young grand daughter called Lily, Cameron an ex US army soldier haunted by guilt, Tariq a young Muslim man angry with the America post 9/11 and a bitterly angry elderly couple Mr and Mrs Pritchett.
Initially the natural selfish instinct for survival overtakes all the nine people, till Cameron and Uma both realize that the only way they might be able to stay alive is if they share whatever little food and water they have. After initial resistance everybody agrees and Uma suggests that each one shares the story of one amazing thing that has happened in their life to pass time, keep fear at bay and forget about the pain they are suffering because of their injuries.
The old Chinese lady Jiang is the first to volunteer. She talks about her childhood in a beautiful house with a fountain in the Chinese quarters of Kolkata and how she takes over the running of her father's shoe shop. There she meets a handsome and suave Bengali gentleman called Mohit. They fall desperately in love but their's was a forbidden love and doomed to remain unfulfilled. India's war with China breaks out and all the Chinese in the city are asked to leave the city. Jiang's father manages to get her a berth on a ship to America but she has to marry a middle aged Chinese dentist Curtis Chan. During the journey she gets pregnant. In American she and her husband move from city to city until finally she sold all her jewelry and bought a departmental store. She was so good at managing the store that soon it grew into a supermarket and they prospered. After decades her brother who now lived in Australia visited them and then she for the first time thought of the past. and decided to visit Kolkata and that was why she was at the visa office.
Mr Pritchett was next. His story was a tale about his terribly abused childhood. His mother was an alcoholic waitress who had no time for him but he loved her. He discovered that he loved numbers and used math to forget his loneliness and pain. He adopted a little kitten but his mother's boyfriend killed it and thereafter he could never tolerate any pets. All this was news to Mrs Prichett and she finally understands why her husband refused to allow her to keep a dog.
Malathi starts her story next and it is about her life in a small town in India and how she forcefully takes on a job at a beauty parlour to avoid getting married. There she has to attend to the richest lady in town. She resents the way Mrs Balan treats her maid and to take revenge she uses such chemicals on her hair that the poor lady's hair falls in bunches. While she is full of glee for having taught the nasty lady a lesson, she has to leave town. She moves to Hyderabad and from there gets the job at the Indian Consulate in America. Malathi had picked this story because she believed that was the only time she did something brave.
Tariq starts his story. He remembers his carefree American childhood days till he meets Farah, his mother's friend's daughter from India. How she cannot understand how Tariq can ignore his Muslim heritage. After 9/11 Tariq's father is picked up by the police for no reason. Although he is released after four days. everything changes thereafter. He feels a tremendous rage within him and he goes to the other extreme and adopts the Muslim way of life in his clothes, his appearance and in his thought process. Now he is on his way to India and hopes Farah will accept the new him.
Finally young Lily is given a chance to tell her tale. She talks about her angst and how she let black dominate her life because her parents had no time for her. They thought her brother Mark was the perfect child. Mark left home for college and Lily discovered music. She started playing the flute. she used to go to the park and play her music and there she met a boy with Down's syndrome who was fascinated with her music. She found her appreciation among them.
Mr Mangalam was the one son after three daughters in a small South Indian town. He was intelligent and got a scholarship to one of the leading universities in Delhi. There he met Naina the spoilt daughter of a very rich man. They get married but instead of a domesticated wife she turns out to be a selfish woman who refuses to try to interact with her husband's family even refusing to attend her husband's sister's wedding or allowing her in-laws to visit them. Things reached such a stage that Mr Mangalam wanted a divorce. He had got close to a colleague Latika and thought maybe he could finally find happiness. But Naina using her rich father's clout engineered Latika to get arrested on a false charge and that was the end of Mr Mangalam's dreams. A very upset man, he got a job in America but was still trapped in an unhappy marriage.
Mrs Pritchett tentatively started her story next. She too spoke of her youth and how she betrayed a friend and moved on in life, then married Mr Pritchard. But discontent plagued her till she believed that it was better to die. She tried to commit suicide and had to be hospitalized. Recovering in hospital, still in a haze she sees a nurse standing at her feet who tells her that if she goes to India she might find the peace and happiness she is looking for. After coming home when Mr Pritchett showed her a picture of the Taj Mahal she felt a resonance with what the nurse had said, and that was why they were there at the visa office.
Cameron met the holy man Jeff at a hospice where he used to volunteer. Plagued by horrific memories of his days in Vietnam, his aborted child by his ex girlfriend and the ghetto of his childhood Cameron was a truly disturbed person. Jeff asks him to look for redemption. Cameron finds an orphanage in India and sponsors a child called Seva. He is on his way to meet her and truly hopes he can come out alive from this disaster.
Finally it is Uma's turn and she talks about her Indian life in America. Her traditional parents who she thought were happily married till one day her father calls her to tell her he would like to divorce her mother. She is shattered. She takes off with her friends on a binge. They stop the car when suddenly they see the sky lit up with different hues. Someone says its the aurora and in their haze they believe so. But they realize the next day that it was a chemical factory that had had an explosion.
By the time the last story ends the nine trapped people can hear the sound of machinery. Rescue was close at hand.