India 1940: An army nurse gives birth to the son of a British soldier killed in Burma. The child, left on the steps of a Hindu temple, is rescued by an old woman, who names him Bal and believes he is Lord Vishnu's gift to her, but she dies, and the unwanted orphan falls to the care of a low-caste Bhil woman. Apprenticed to a herdsman, Bal and two older boys dream of a better life. They escape to Bombay, where he comes to the notice of Parsee philanthropist, Sam Dastoor, who adopts him. Bal, now Dusty, avoids an Englishman claiming to be his uncle, and opts for an army career. As a cadet, his unfortunate infatuation for a married woman hardens him. Then, on a holiday, he sees Emma and is so haunted by her beauty that, years later, when he meets her double, Kitty, he dares to woo her. Kitty recruits his help in situations within the shadow of The Lotus and the Rose. Later, they establish a school in South India, but Kitty, unable to settle down, returns to England alone. Learning she is the mother of his child, he overcomes his reluctance to cross the "blackwaters".