As a child, Rahel has an incredibly intimate connection with her twin brother, Estha. Their bond leads them to think of themselves together as "Me." They share a type of telepathic communication and a spoken language that is uniquely theirs. Rahel is also very sensitive about her mother's feelings and responses to her and gets easily hurt. So when both of these beloved people are taken from her at a young age and Rahel is basically left to fend for herself, she dissociates herself from making any new emotional connections. She grows up to be an indifferent woman, not interested in relationships or any sort of significant work. This is why she yearns so much to have again with Estha the type of intimate relationship they enjoyed as children when they are reunited after 23 years. However, the intimacy they find is an inappropriate sexual bond.
For Estha as a child, his relationship with his twin sister, Rahel, is more important than anything. They can communicate without speaking, and they live in their own world, with their own way of viewing it and talking about it. He is viewed by adults as a quiet and practical child; most do not seem to understand how sensitive he is. He experiences trauma beyond what Rahel endures. He is molested, forced to betray Velutha while looking at his broken body, and sent to live with his alcoholic father. His response is to withdraw into himself, ceasing to speak and mostly wishing to be invisible. When he is reunited with Rahel as an adult, Estha's interior quiet is disrupted. The memories he has successfully repressed threaten to overtake him, and so he finally seeks safety in the sexual embrace of the one person he has always loved most, Rahel.
Beginning in her teen years, Ammu seems to feel robbed of the chance for a happy life. Her parents move their unhappy marriage and her to Ayemenem at that time, and she longs to escape. When she finally goes to Calcutta for a family wedding, she jumps at the chance to marry practically the first man she meets. However, Baba is a bad choice—an abusive alcoholic—and soon enough Ammu is back at Ayemenem, this time with twins. Back to feeling trapped in a dead-end life, Ammu is suddenly drawn to Velutha. In his arms she feels alive, but the price she and the family must pay for her unacceptable relationship with an Untouchable is death, on many levels. Ammu herself will not survive for long, dying of asthma at age 31 while applying for another dead-end job in a long string of them.
Born a Paravan (an Untouchable), Velutha nevertheless experiences many privileges because of his association with the Ipe family. When he is around 11, Mammachi notices his great skill with making things. She makes sure he goes to school, and he also studies with a German carpenter to hone his abilities. As a teenager he can design and build furniture, house additions, and theatrical settings and props. Velutha also takes care of all the machinery at the factory. He has a kind of quiet confidence about him that causes his father to worry he will one day be forced back into his place as a Paravan. This worry seems unfounded until Velutha does the unthinkable and has an affair with Ammu. That is when the only thing people seem to know about him is that he is an Untouchable who must die for his act.
The daughter of a Syrian Christian priest, at 18 Baby Kochamma falls in love with her father's young Irish monk friend, Father Mulligan. Quite attractive in her youth, Baby seems to catch his attention, but nothing comes of a casual flirtation. So she then converts to Catholicism and joins a convent in Madras to be near Father Mulligan. This plan also fails, and Baby leaves the convent. She gets a diploma in Ornamental Gardening in New York and returns to Ayenemen an obese woman still pining for Father Mulligan. She designs incredible gardens for the house and cares for them for some 50 years before abandoning that pursuit for constant TV viewing. Eighty-three years old at the time of the present narration, Baby remains a spoiled and vain woman, still in love with the now dead Mulligan and intent on preserving the family honor through any means necessary.
Sophie Mol only lives for seven years, but her life and death impact the Ipe family for decades. Daughter of Chacko and Margaret Kochamma, raised by Margaret and stepfather Joe, Sophie Mol is a somewhat spoiled only child. Yet she is very interested in forming a friendship with her cousins, the twins, and succeeds in just a few short days at becoming part of the tight circle that is Velutha, Estha, and Rahel.