A lot of readers have talked about Manju Kapur's novel, The Immigrant with mixed reactions. In fact, I have always loved her books, right from Difficult Daughters to Home. She is a brilliant yet down-to-earth writer who writes about an ordinary middle class Indian woman's life with a crystal clear narrative and insightful perception.
Indian Mothers Like to Believe Their Daughters are Virgins
The story of The Immigrant is set in the '70s and revolves around a 30 year old protagonist, Nina, who is unmarried and begins with her lonely life as a lecturer in Delhi's Miranda House college. Her mother, like most Indian mothers, lives to see her daughter settle into a happy, comfortable marriage. Again, like most Indian mothers, she believes her daughter is innocent, inexperienced in the ways of men and a sure virgin who will be a prize catch for a well-to-do, eligible bachelor.
Marriage is an Eye Opener
Nina's life takes a significant turn when her marriage is arranged with Ananda, a slightly pompous NRI dentist who lives in Canada. You can feel sorry for him at times because he definitely suffers from several complexes which makes him behave the way he does.
Till they are engaged, he is trying to impress her like any normal guy. He takes her out for dinner, likes the fact that she seems traditional and untouched by any other men and feels satisfied with his choice.
The couple have a short honeymoon in the Oberoi Hotel which makes Nina and her mother marvel at how far they have come from a middle class life to something more high class. I can connect to these nuances because we see it all around us.
Loneliness Worsens After Marriage
The Indian bride in Canada is a phase where the butterfly begins to lose color. There is loneliness and a feeling of being uprooted from the place of origin and only a husband to talk with. We all know what that entails, don't we?
Well, Nina's married life feels lifeless to her from the moment she is in Canada. The reason you don't feel very sorry for her is because she hardly comes across as a caring, loving person you want to protect.
Is the new Indian Bride demanding too much and giving too little in marriage?
What I would have liked was a portrayal of Ananda that was more objective because whatever we read and draw our conclusions about him are based on Nina's perception. Although sexual anxiety is rarely delved into in such detail by Indian writers, The Immigrant does so in a forceful fashion that somehow disconnects the reader.
In fact, I felt sorry for Ananda because he was trying so hard to overcome his sexual limitations to impress his wife, Nina. She comes across as some one who sets high expectations for others and hardly makes the effort to be warm or considerate to anyonelse. There is not even a single dialogue or instance in the story where Nina makes an extra effort to be caring or loving to her husband.
Ananda has his flaws but he tries so hard to make her feel comfortable in Canada. Although her teaching degree is useless in Canada, he tries to find her a job so that she doesn't feel so lonely and moody all the time. He is keen to have a child while she is very cold and calculating about everything.
When she makes changes in her life, she does it with a feeling of compulsion and revulsion to Ananda. When Ananda cooks for her, she does not appreciate the effort. When she is cooking, she feels it is something out of the world that needs accolades. She seems so determined to be indifferent to Ananda's efforts. Of course, he wants to show off but he is also trying hard to please her.
Also, I cannot understand why she does not see it as an opportunity to learn and experience things differently in a new place. Why should the author manifest the protagonist as some one who is so cynical about everything in life? I really have no clue.
Sex on the Sly
To me, the worst thing is that Nina justifies her affair with another man. She taunts Ananda for his illicit relationship but she discreetly continues her own without any guilt. She just doesn't want her husband to find out that she was unfaithful, so she covers her tracks well.
Of course, we are a very open society now or so I hear everywhere around me. Well, okay, fine, I won't jump to conclusions and go on to say she is a fallen woman but puhleeez, doesn't she have any emotions that a normal Indian woman has? Doesn't she want a happy life with her husband? Does she make an effort to even understand her husband or his family? Does she think of her old mother who is waiting to hear that she is expecting a baby? Does she care about anyone but herself?
If the author's purpose was to depict an insecure, lonely Indian woman's transition into an equally boring, lonely married life, she fails to convince me as a reader. I do not understand or appreciate that Nina finds true evolution by hating the man whom she agreed to marry and has sex with another man because she finds no pleasure or happiness with her husband.
Is an Indian woman's independence based on her freedom to cheat and be unfaithful to her spouse? Does this represent an Indian woman's quest for freedom of expression?
If it is, I am sad to know it. I would have preferred living without such openness. Tell me, what do you think? Do you have any real life stories, anecdotes or even books that explored these issues that you want to share with me?