Hot Water

Publication: 2025

Author: Bhavika Govil

It had always been Mira, Ma and Ashu, with Ashu’s name trailing behind just like he did in real life. The family of three sings Simon and Garfunkel songs together as they drive around in Ma’s sun-yellow car. They watch TV with each other on the sofa. They holiday on a mango farm once a year. And, on monsoon days, within their damp, one-bedroom flat in a small city outside of Delhi, they are coiled together, protective of one another, glued to each other’s side.

But despite this togetherness, the family is in troubled waters. Each of them is wrapped in their own ecosystem of loneliness. The siblings have many questions that they just can’t answer—like where their father is or why Ma seems to love them unequally, Mira more than Ashu, on most days.

As one long, hot summer unfolds, secrets bloom and swell in the sultry heat as Mira and Ashu begin swimming lessons. Imaginative eight-year-old Mira, who Ma says was born with a question mark etched on her face, wants a secret of her own until the coach at the local swimming pool fulfils her wish in the worst possible way. Ashu, at fourteen, has fallen in love with his best friend, Rahul, and is experiencing the joys of boyhood, though society—and his friend’s parents—seem determined to keep them apart. But as the summer ripens softly like an old peach, it turns out that the biggest secret of them all was right beside them all along, carefully wrapped up in memory and hidden in the pages of Ma’s old journal.

Hot Water is a coming-of-age story of three characters, and the different ways in which they grow up, and eventually, apart. It is about our first experiences with intimacies and how they make and wreck us. This is a story of love in all its quiet, exhilarating forms—from the poetry of sibling relationships to the beauty and torment of awakening desire. Lastly, it is a story of how a family lives around each other’s secrets, and the ways in which grief—and even love itself—can ultimately suffocate us.

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Original Language

ENGLISH (Indian Subcontinent) | HarperCollins India


Winner of the 2021 Pontas & JJ Bola Emerging Writers Prize