The Conch Bearer


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Minimum grade level: 


Have you ever had one of those days where nothing, absolutely NOTHING went right for you? Anand is having one of those days; in fact, he's had a whole string of days like that.

It all started when Anand's father left their homeland of India to take a job on another continent. At first he sent money regularly, but after a few months Anand's family stopped receiving money or letters. They had no idea what had happened to their father.

Then Anand's mother had to get a job and started selling all their possessions, including Anand's favorite books, so they could survive. They had to give up their apartment and move to a one-room shack, and worst of all, Anand had to quit school and go to work for a boss who always yells at him and hits him.

Today Anand has had no breakfast to eat, his boss has been yelling at him all day, and a bunch of kids just started making fun of him as he walked down the street. Anand closes his eyes and makes a wish.

Read the paragraph starting with "With the children's laughter echoing in his ears.." on page 9.

For a moment, Anand really thinks something magical really has happened, but he soon gives up and goes back to work.

Later that afternoon, a beggar shows up at the café where he works. His boss makes Anand kick the beggar out, but Anand feels bad and ends up offering the beggar his own lunch. Anand notices something unusual about the man's eyes-it seems like they are shimmering. Then the man makes some sort of sign in the air over Anand's head. Could this be the magic he wished for?

It turns out that the beggar is only the beginning. When Anand cried out for help, he didn't know that it would mean he'd have to undertake a quest to return a magical conch shell to its home, while trying to protect it from an evil magician. Is he up for the challenge of something new and magical? Or should he just stay in his world of bad days?

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. What kind of person is Anand?
  2. Why is Anand's little sister Meera not speaking?
  3. At first Anand's mother does not believe his story about the healer and the conch. What changes her mind? If you were Anand's mother, would you have let Anand with a stranger?
  4. Why is Anand reluctant to let Nisha come along on his journey? Would you want her to come?
  5. At one point, Anand gives money to a beggar who is pretending to be blind, and Nisha criticizes him. Do you think Anand did the right thing?
  6. After Abhaydatta disappers, Anand decides to show the conch to Nisha. Do you think this was a good decision? Why or why not?
  7. Anand decides not to enter the valley if his companions are not allowed to enter. Would you make the same decision? Why or why not?
  8. When Abhaydatta tells Anand about Surabhanu, he says, "When he embraced evil, he lost his understanding of what it is to trust." What does Abhaydatta mean by this? Have you ever known someone like this?
  9. Before entering the valley, Anand is asked to choose which of three virtues (honesty, loyalty or compassion) is most important? How does Anand answer? Do you agree with his answer? Why or why not?
  10. After giving Anand the conch to carry, Abhaydatta tells him, "The conch will attract you. It will tempt you. It has great power, and that is the nature of power. But you must resist it. Remember, the conch could be as great a danger to you--in a different way--as Surabhanu." How is the conch a temptation for Anand?
  11. At the end of the book, Anand says, "In order to gain something great, one must release his hold on something else equally beloved." Do you agree? What are some examples you can think of?

If you liked this book, try

  • The Iron Ring by Lloyd Alexander
  • Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples
  • Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
  • The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr
  • Firegold by Dia Calhoun


Try some of Anand's favorite Indian foods: mangoes, pooris, samosas, lassis, gulab jamuns or pakoras.

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.