Thursday, 28 June 2012

Book Review: One & A Half Wife - Meghna Pant



Perhaps one of the most pervasive dreams in India surreptitiously slithering into the Indian souls across the subcontinent is to land once for all in the country of opportunities, where life is presumed to be picture-perfect. The inimitable American Dream, undoubtedly.  While many such families are sheltered under the chilly breezes of Shimla, let’s take a quick peek into the Malhotra’s - A simple house, turned to a home with the blossoming of family bonding with Biji, Baba and Amara, all of them very ‘Indian’ by nature and upbringing and with whom the traditions and life-style of Shimla have inseparably blended, over years. A conservative society it is, where even uttering the word ‘divorce’ is equaled to committing a sin. Anyone who walked out of marriage was treated a bane to the society and the nation and was tarnished of his/her societal image.

Baba, a lawyer is a great father concerned much about his only daughter in her early teens than anything else in the world. Biji is the doting mother whose highest ambition is to get Amara a wealthy and privileged life that she deserved. Amara is a well-behaved, obedient daughter that any parents would pray for. All that she gets in life as she grows up is decided out of three desires – ‘It is Biji’s desire’, ‘It is God’s desire’ or ‘It is His desire’, ‘His inexplicitly referring to her future husband who will supposedly shape her future by his will. In short, her desires are fulfilled only if they are Biji’s/God’s/His desires.
The story instigates as Biji and Amara seek a parrot astrologer to get an insight onto the latter’s future. The astrologer, after a long contemplation over the card picked foresees that Amara would be a one and a half wife, much to their shock.  The disbelieved Biji heads home, as her daughter follows but not before Amara, unbeknownst to her mother, getting a pendant from the astrologersubmitting to his statement that the stone would turn a wish to true. The incident fades from the bewildered mother after coming to know of a much desired and impressivefuture awaiting her daughter from her only brother well-settled in the US of A having him consulting a soothsayer. Not an uncaring one he is, that he makes all arrangements, soon resulting in the Malhotras' foot embracing the terrains of the USA. A dream realized!
The high-school going Amara struggles between Indian and American cultural variations while the chasm seems to widen as ever, even as she attempts foster a friendship with her cousins Riya and Tina. Having had no squabbles with her cousin sisters, she questions herself why they dislike her. It doesn’t strike her until much later that it is her attire and the Indianess. Life starts swaying her like a pendulum, unable to find a balance to rest on the edge of either the Indian or the American life-style. Her efforts to please Riya turn futile. The distressed Amara who is now into college doesn’t realize much until later that her unimpressive looks drives away every girl she meets, let alone boys. She learns over time that she has to be herself for her own good and not imitate others. She befriends Stacy and shares a good rapport with her as she continues being herself.
Much later, a millionaire Prashant Roy's mom is moved by the homeliness of Amara when she spots her at family occasion. It dawns on her that she is destined to be her to-be daughter-in-law. Biji's happiness knows no bounds because her daughter is soon to receive a marital bliss with all riches and she, with her new family-ties, a new societal bliss. She felt awesome. Amara agrees to the wedding knowing that Prashant is Riya's boy friend. Riya's grudge over Amara  shoots up than ever for stealing her lad. Having brought up right from childhood with 'It is His desire' instilled impeccably into her soul, the shock of her life hits her heart hard when Prashant declares that he agreed to marry her only to not upset his beloved mother. Amara's life is trashed. She slowly turns into a one and a half wife.
After six years of unsuccessful marriage, abused and harassed by her husband although he rarely spoke, the couple end up in a divorce, much to the anxiety of her parents. Amara's parents lambast her for the allegedly irresponsible behaviour, throw her out of their house and grow distant. The chaotic situations ease up a little when she reaches her homeland with her disgruntled parents despite the fact they stopped talking to her and behaved as though she never existed. Returning back home after sixteen years and especially after a failed marriage, how the community treats her, what problems and challenges await Amara and her family, whether she faces them boldly or succumbs to them while being caught in a tug-of-war between old customs and new beliefs, whether she found the love of her life or not forms the rest of the story :).
Welcome to One & A Half Wife - Meghna's debut novel that cradles a story we can relate to ourselves, our surroundings and of course, India. A simple 'next-door' story, beautifully written, I would say. The book impressed me as the words moved me so much that I almost sensed in me what Amara was feeling. The feel of submissiveness ever since childhood, negligence by cousins at adoloscence, unstoppable hassles in marriage life, a silent onlooker of her own life rather than living it to the fullest, loneliness, a feeling of being let down by own parents, tears gushing like a flood confonted by a sudden courage, an unbelievable transformation in Riya's character, the pleasures of setting up and running a successful business, emanation of love when least desired and expected and the most exhilirating touch of life - that of a child's. The story rolls like a movie in your brain's eye! Awesome read! There are also funny moments when you hear Biji's broken English and how she calls Amara not by name but "my husband's daughter"
The only limitations were the typographical mistakes here and there which could have been avoided. When you suspect that Riya was the reason behind Amara's divorce, the story takes a twist but that the baby she saves coming into Amara's hands was very filmy and predictable. Some pharases here and there appears overly desciptive though the readers will comprehend that they are to pay attention to detail.

And wait, there are also few funny moments to relish when you hear Biji's broken English and how she calls Amara not by name but "my husband's daughter" to portray her outrage. :D. A typical depiction of an Indian household wrangle :P. On the whole, it is a nice read that brings to you the pain of dejection and hopelessness and the pleasure of living life on one's own terms, banishing 'It is Biji's desire' or 'It is His desire' and letting 'It is my desire' bloom. So what are you waiting for.. Read the book, feel the words! 

[This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!]

4 comments:

  1. Amazing novel and lovely review.

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    1. Thanks very much Piya. Keep reading :)

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  2. Hi Sudha,

    Don't know if you remember me, but earlier in the year you reviewed my first novel, 'Murder in Amaravati'. I am writing to ask you if you would be willing to review my second novel (Banquet on the Dead) which is coming out next month.

    Please let me know either way. Would love it if you said yes. Please email me (sharath40@gmail.com) and we'll talk.

    Yours
    Sharath

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    Replies
    1. Hi Sharath,

      Thanks sooo much for contacting. Obviously, it is a 'Yes' from me for reviewing your upcoming book :). It is a privilege for me. Do let me know :)

      Regards,
      Sudha

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