In post-independent India a teacher, Violet Stoneham (Jennifer Kendal), lives a quiet and uneventful life at 36 Chowringhee Lane inCalcutta. Alone after the marriage of her niece, her only joy in life is teaching Shakespeare despite the lack of interest from her students.When a former student, Nandita pays a visit with her author-boyfriend Samaresh, Violet is delighted, particularly when Samaresh decides that he would like to work on a novel in her apartment. She doesn't realize that Samaresh and Nandita merely want to use her apartment for their tête-à-têtes while she is away at work. Over time, she grows very fond of them, and begins to look upon them as her friends. Her old friends die or go away, she isn't appreciated at her job, and they are the only friends she has - the only people who can make her laugh.Eventually Samaresh and Nandita get married, and move on with their lives. Violet wants to meet them on Christmas Day, and bake them a cake. They have a party organized at home, however, and think she would be 'a fish out of water' if invited. So they lie about not being in town during Christmas. Violet comes over, any way, to drop off the cake on Christmas Day, and finally sees that she has been deceived by them. She walks home to her lonely life, slowly.