After opening a convent in the Himalayas, five nuns encounter conflict and tension - both with the natives and also within their own group - as they attempt to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings.
Sister Clodagh: [to Mr. Dean] You are objectionable when sober, and abominable when drunk!
Young Prince: 5am to 7am, algebra with the mathematical Sister. 8am to 10am, religion, especially Christianity with the scriptural Sister. 10am, art. 1pm to 3pm, French and Russian with the French and Russian Sisters, if any. 3pm to 4pm, physics with the physical Sister.
The Old General: [Speaking to the old Ayah, who dates back to when the palace, now intended for nuns, was used to house Toda Rai's father's concubines] Now listen, Ayah. I have invited some ladies to stay here, at the "house of women." Angu Ayah: [Ecstatic, not realizing that the "ladies" Toda Rai is referring to are nuns] Ladies! Oh, that will be like old times! The Old General: It will not be in the least like old times. They are not that kind of "lady" at all! Angu Ayah: Then they won't be any fun. The Old General: They are not coming for fun. These are nuns. Do you know what a nun is? Angu Ayah: [Disdainfully] They kneel and pray all day like the monks you invited last year. The Old General: I'm going to give them this house to make a school and a hospital for the people. Angu Ayah: [Agitated, her voice rising] You know nobody here wants a school, and I'm sure they don't want a hospital! The Old General: How do they know what they want until they try? [Mr. Dean enters the room] The Old General: The people have all kinds of diseases. They have ringworms. Mr. Dean: They don't mind having ringworm. The Old General: Then they ought to mind. And it will all be free! Angu Ayah: It was free last time, and nobody came! The Old General: They will this time.
Mother Dorothea: [Telling Sister Clodagh what to expect at Mopu] The agent at Mopu is an Englishman. He seems a difficult man. You won't get much help from him.
The Old General: Do you see that crate? Sausages! They will eat sausages. Europeans eat sausages wherever they go.
Mother Dorothea: [the Reverend Mother and Sister Clodagh survey the sisters of the Order, determining who will go to Mopu] Remember, a community is not a class of girls. The sisters won't be easy to manage or to impress. Now, let me see. I'll give you Sister Briony. You'll need her strength. Sister Clodagh: Thank you, Reverend Mother. Mother Dorothea: Sister Philippa for the garden... Sister Blanche. Sister Clodagh: Sister Blanche? Mother Dorothea: You know what the other girls call her? Sister Clodagh: Sister Honey. Mother Dorothea: Yes, Honey. I think you'll need Sister Honey. She's popular. And you'll need to be popular... And Sister Ruth. Sister Clodagh: [Surprised] But Sister Ruth is ill. Mother Dorothea: That is why I want her to go. Sister Clodagh: Forgive me for saying so, Reverend Mother, but do you think our vocation is her vocation? Mother Dorothea: [Nodding knowingly] Yes, she's a problem. I'm afraid she'll be a problem for you, too. With a smaller community, she may be better. Give her responsibility, Sister. She badly wants importance. Sister Clodagh: Do you think it's a good thing to let her feel important? Mother Dorothea: Spare her some of your own importance... if you can. Sister Clodagh: Mother, are you sorry that I have been appointed to take charge of St. Faith? Mother Dorothea: Yes. I don't think you're ready for it, and I think you'll be lonely. Never forget: we're an order of workers. Work them hard. And remember... the superior of all is the servant of all. Sister Clodagh: I understand.
Angu Ayah: [Referring to Sister Briony, whose name Ayah does not yet know] Please come and help the fat lady who has questions! Sister Philippa: [Taken aback at Ayah's crudeness] Sister Briony? Ayah, you MUST learn our proper names. Anyway, there aren't any patients yet. Angu Ayah: [Defiantly] Oh, aren't there? There are dozens waiting. And more coming every minute.
Mother Dorothea: Give her responsibility, Sister. She badly wants importance. Sister Clodagh: Do you think it's a good thing to let her feel important? Mother Dorothea: Spare her some of your own importance... if you can.
Sister Ruth: Sister, the schoolroom is overflowing with children. We've nothing unpacked yet. No one understands the language. There are too many of them anyway, and they all smell!
The Old General: [Dictating his orders for welcoming the soon-to-arrive nuns] Mr. Dean! You will receive them for me, and you will do everything for them that they want doing. The Old General: [Now turning his attention to Ayah] You too. You will engage servants for them, and you will both look after them until they care to look after themselves. Angu Ayah: What do they eat? How do I know what nuns eat? The Old General: I have remembered that. The Old General: [Toda Rai walks over to a screened opening that looks out over the courtyard, where his men are unloading advance provisions for the nuns, who are still on their way] Do you see that crate? The Old General: [He points, and Ayah squints carefully at the large wooden crates being unloaded, some of which are clearly stenciled with the word "sausages."] Sausages. They will eat sausages. Europeans eat sausages wherever they go. They will eat them when they come and until they can tell the cook what else they want to eat. The Old General: [With a dramatic flourish, Toda Rai leaves the room, with these parting words to Ayah before he departs] Now remember, Ayah, if you give any trouble, you will be sorry. Angu Ayah: I'm sorry NOW!
Mother Dorothea: [At their Order's office in Calcutta] Sister Clodagh, we may proceed with our plans at Mopu. It will be called "Saint Faith." Sister Clodagh: [Mechanically repeating the Reverend Mother's words] "Saint Faith." Mother Dorothea: And YOU have been appointed to take charge of Saint Faith. Sister Clodagh: I, Reverend Mother? Mother Dorothea: You... You will be the youngest Sister Superior in our order. Sister Clodagh: Thank you, Reverend Mother.
Sister Clodagh: Well I really don't know what to do. Mr. Dean: What would Christ have done?
Mr. Dean: [Meeting Sister Clodagh for the first time] I'm the general's agent. He welcomes you to Mopu. Understood you wanted to see me. Sister Clodagh: We want to talk to you on business. Mr. Dean: I didn't suppose you wanted to talk to me about anything else. Mr. Dean: [Realizing his comment was a bit snarky] Sorry. Perhaps that wasn't fair. Sister Clodagh: Mr. Dean, you know that General Toda Rai has given us this house for a new foundation of our Order. We very much appreciate it. It's very generous of him. Mr. Dean: Yes. You'd like the General, Sister. He also has a superior being. Sister Briony: [Taken aback] Really! Sister Clodagh: I don't know why you are being so rude to me, Mr. Dean. I have to talk business with you whether I like it or not. Mr. Dean: Well, talk it, then, and don't teach at me.
Mother Dorothea: Remember, the superior of all is the servant of all.
Sister Ruth: What can you do with them? They look very stupid to me. Remember, they can't speak a word of Hindustani, *or* English.
Angu Ayah: [Ayah and Mr. Dean both admire an old wall painting which depicts the palace in its former glory days, when it served as the so-called "House of Women" - a place where Toda Rai's father housed his concubines] A convent in this house! What do you think of that? Mr. Dean: The brothers only stayed five months. Perhaps the sisters won't stay long, either. [Ayah and Mr. Dean grin mischievously at each other]
Sister Clodagh: We all need discipline. You said yourself they're like children. Without discipline we should all behave like children. Mr. Dean: Oh. Don't you like children, Sister?
Mother Dorothea: - [With Sister Clodagh: looking at photos of the palace at Mopu] Mother Dorothea: The house is nine thousand feet up - very cold, but good air. General Toda Rai, who has invited us to Mopu, has promised us every help. He was a little afraid when he learned that we are bound to our order only by yearly vows. I explained this rule to him. Sister Clodagh: Yes, Reverend Mother. Mother Dorothea: For more than a century, to serve voluntarily has been one of the glories of our Order. Sister Clodagh: And our greatest strength. Mother Dorothea: Exactly. He understands now. Is there anything you would like to ask? Sister Clodagh: Who am I to take with me?