Robert Luczak is sent by the magazine Other Voices, where he works as an editor, to Calcutta to locate poetry alleged to have been recently authored by a poet, M. Das. The literary world considers this development newsworthy because Das disappeared and is presumed to have died eight years ago. Robert's Indian wife, Amrita, and their infant child accompany him on his assignment.
Upon arriving, he is met by a Mr. M. T. Krishna, a local intellectual who claims to have been asked to assist them by a mutual friend. The next day he meets with the local writers guild who were the source of the few bits of poetry that made their way to America. When he asks to meet Das, he is told that it is out of the question. Robert considers leaving Calcutta at this point, his duty done, but feels that something is missing and that he doesn't have enough material for an interesting article at this point. The night before he and his family are to leave, Krishna returns and takes Robert to a man who can provide him with information relevant to his story.
The man tells how he and a friend tried to join a religious secret society dedicated to Kali, a Hindu goddess associated with death and destruction. One of the prerequisites was for each initiate to bring a corpse to a secret temple, there to be laid at the feet of a statue of Kali. One of the corpses, bloated and decayed after being dredged from the river, is chosen by Kali and vivified by her, becoming animated. The corpse is that of the poet, Das.
Robert finds the man's tale too fantastical to believe, and still hopes to meet and interview the poet. While he is not granted an interview with Das, he receives an extensive collection of Das' poetry, which is very different from his earlier work, describing dark, mystical, grotesque, and apocalyptic happenings.
Robert again insists that the writers guild allow him to see Das. This time they agree. He is brought to the poet, who seems to suffer from the advanced stages of leprosy. Das corroborates the story of his return from death, but Robert again refuses to believe it. Das asks Robert to bring him books of poetry, making a reference to a certain poem about a suicide to hint that he really wants the means to kill himself.
Becoming concerned at the eerie, and sometimes frightening, events that he has experienced, Robert attempts to send his wife and child home, but they are unable to get a flight. Concealing a gun (given to him previously by Krishna) in one of the books he has bought for Das, he returns to the poet. He leaves the books and goes, but, as he exits the house, hears two gunshots. Das is dead. Robert is captured by guards and drugged. He awakens to find himself in a temple of Kali, where the statue of the goddess seems to come to life and attack him, but it is unclear whether this ever really happens. He is loaded into the back of a truck by the cultists to be taken somewhere, but manages to escape with Krishna's help. He returns to the hotel, only to find his wife informing the police that their daughter has been kidnapped.
After a couple of days of dead-end leads, a couple is caught trying to smuggle jewels hidden within the child's body. With their child dead and no hope of finding the perpetrators of the crime or bringing them to justice, Robert and his wife return to America. Robert decides to destroy the poetry, and, gradually, their relationship returns to normal. Robert is tempted to go back to Calcutta on a revenge shooting spree, but manages to resist at the last moment, and finally comes to terms with the events after that.
Whispers can still be heard, though, of the ″Song of Kali,″ the condition of humanity dominated by hatred and violence, perfectly embodied, in the mind of the narrator, by the squalor and chaos of Calcutta.