Kamala Markandaya writes novels which are as clear as the tea in a glass served in her native India with stories as simple as the oldest one that's ever told. But to be sure timeless. This one is set in one of those hopelessly impoverished little villages where the milk sours, the turds stale attracting blowflies, or a baby dies of smallpox. Saroja, plain and practical, grows up there with her far prettier sister Lalitha -- Lalitha who gets a chance to dance a small part for a traveling film unit, Lalitha who goes up to the city and returns pregnant, Lalitha who has an abortion. . . . This has all the quiet virtues of the Markandaya novel and once again painfully accepted truths rejoin the ashes of tradition while quietly flows the Ganges.