A young Nepalese girl is sold into sexual slavery in India. Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl from Nepal, lives in a small mountain village with her mother, Ama, her baby brother, and her gambling addicted stepfather. Despite being poor, she enjoys the simple pleasures in life. Lakshmi's stepfather does not work; instead, he gambles away their meager earnings in the tea shop and spends the left over money on himself. One day during monsoon season, a particularly bad storm washes away the family's crops. After this, Lakshmi's stepfather decides to send Lakshmi to the city to work. She is overjoyed when hearing this news, as she believes that she is going to work as a maid for a wealthy family.
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He takes her to local merchant, where she meets a woman who claims that she is from the city. The two haggle over Lakshmi and come to an agreement over her price. After paying her stepfather, the woman, referred to as Auntie Bimla, and Lakshmi travel from her village through several cities to a border town where she is given to a man who would travel with her the rest of the way. The man has her refer to himself as "Uncle Husband" and takes her across the border, repeatedly warning her to not talk to anyone. Their travels bring them to a building called "Happiness House", where Uncle Husband leaves her with the owner, Mumtaz. Lakshmi soon finds out that she has been sold into prostitution.
When she refuses to comply, she is locked in a room and starved. When Mumtaz notices her unwavering refusal, she gives her a drink laced with a drug that would leave her in a weakened state. During this period, she is raped by the men that Mumtaz sends up to her. After a while, Lakshmi is released from the room and sent to live in the other room with the other girls. She meets the other girls: Shahanna, Anita, Pushpa, Shilpa, and Monica. Shahanna and Anita are both from Nepal. Anita is characterized as the "half-frowning girl" due to half of her face being lopsided from an attack by Mumtaz's guards. Pushpa is an older woman with two children, Jeena and Harish, who live with the others in Happiness House. Shilpa, called the "aging bird girl", is Mumtaz's spy who works at the house on her own free will and is an alcoholic. Monica is the highest earning woman at the house, hoping to earn enough to pay off her debt and return home to her family.
While living with the others, Lakshmi strikes up a friendship with Shahanna and Harish, even having the latter teach her how to speak, read, and write in English and Hindi. She begins to figure out a way to effectively pay off her debt to Mumtaz and leave Happiness House. While this is happening, some of the girls are forced out of the house; Pushpa becomes too sick to make money and leaves when Mumtaz asks her to sell Jeena to her in exchange for her stay. Monica makes enough to leave, but returns when her family shuns her for bringing shame on her family. She is ultimately thrown out when she catches the "virus". Shahanna is taken away in a police raid when Mumtaz misses her bribe payments.
Lakshmi meets two Americans who offer to help her leave the house. The first she refuses to speak to out of fear of Mumtaz and of being shamed. The second she speaks to in broken English and asks the American for help in leaving. During a second raid, Lakshmi decides to allow herself to be taken by the police than stay any longer. She goes out to where the shouting is and finds Mumtaz being arrested by the police and the American that she spoke to. In the end, the girls are rescued and liberated from Happiness House.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story is very powerful and gives a visceral first hand look into sexual slavery in India,
Best scene in story:
The scene where the other girls teach Lakshmi how to attract customers. The scene establishes the beginnings of the friendships between the characters.
Opinion about the main character:
Lakshmi is very resourceful and tenacious in her attempts to get out of Happiness House.