The novel, Pather Panchali has been divided into three sub-parts – Ballali Balai, Aam Atir Vepu, Akrur Sanbad. The story line of the novel is very simple: the common things that happen in a poor village family; but it‘s the description given by the author, the beautiful use of language and the wonderfully described truth of poverly, is what makes this novel interesting and favourite even with the 21st century readers.
Part I – Ballali Balai
In this part, the story evolves round the tragic life led by Indir Thakrun. Indir Thakrun, a widow, was a victim of the ballali system. As per this system, a Brahmin man may have many wives but did not accept their responsibilities. After marriage the wives had to stay at their father‘s house and not at their husband‘s house. This system prevailed in Bengal at the time when the story takes place.Naturally, Indir Thakrun is dependent on her distant brother, Harihar and has no other living relation. However, Sarbojaya could not tolerate her. Durga was really close to her aunt and this made Sarbojaya even more furious. Many times they quarrelled and finally, one day Indir Thakrun leaves the house. But she returns home as she could not keep herself away for long. But now Sarbojaya turned her out of the house again. Indir Thakrun really felt helpless and didn‘t know where to go. Finally she dies on the road.
Part II – Aam Aatir Vepu
This part depicts the growing stage in Apu and Durga‘s life. They are both good looking and are fond of each other. Imaginative Apu‘s feelings have been mostly portrayed in this part. It depicts incidents like: Apu-Durga getting lost while searching for railway tracks, their secret picnics, Durga getting beaten by her mother and once by Sejo Thakrun for stealing things from her house, Apu‘s dream of flying, etc. But the most tragic thing that takes place here is Durga‘s death. She had been suffering for quite a long time of malaria and soon after recovery, she died because of heart fail. Harihar was not present at the time of Durga‘s death and when he came back after a long time, he decided to take his family to Kashi, where Harihar thought they had hopes of a better future. Apu was not willing to leave his lovely village, his friends, Ranudi and Potu, the trees, their house and the memories of his sister, but he was forced to leave by his parents
Part III – Akrur Sanbad
In Kashi, Harihar‘s prospects did not improve at all and after some months there,Harihar also died.Sarbojaya didn‘t have enough money and she could not go back to Nishchindipur because her self-respect did not allow her to do so. Therefore, instead of going back, she took up a job as a cook in a rich family. She and Apu were not at all happy there but they had no any other alternative. During this period, Apu found a new friend Leela, a girl of the family where Sarbojaya worked. But soon enough she also went away to some other place and again Apu was left alone. Once after being mercilessly flogged by the head of the family where they lived, Apu‘s mother proposed that they should go back to Nishchindipur. This aroused a new light of hope in Apu‘s heart. He has always felt that Nishchindipur has been calling out to him and now he prayed to God that He must send them back to Nishchindipur. But the god of the road answered him that he did not bring them all this long way just to send them back. The novel ends with a suggestion that Apu‘s journey has just begun and he has a long way to go.