Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Book Review: One and a Half Wife by Meghna Pant

When I picked up Meghna Pant's One and a Half Wife, it is the title that evoked a curiosity in me more than the blurb that explains the story of a young Indian Immigrant girl whose Big American dream turns to ashes. To be honest, I’d say that there didn't seem to be a 'new-ness' to the way the blurb explained the story. In fact, if given a second chance, I’d suggest to the author to completely rewrite the blurb because it is plain dull and doesn't do justice to the subtle, exquisite nuances that underlines this deeply touching, well written story. 

Talking about nuances, I like the introduction of the story beginning with a parrot who picks up cards to predict the little girl Amara’s destiny as a ‘one and a half wife.’ The description is deeply touching and will evoke interesting memories with a distinct Indianess that all of us can relate to. The author adds a dash of subtle humor too, poking fun at the silliness of some outdated beliefs that Indian parents cling to.

One fakir studied the moles on Amara’s face and declared her unlucky. Another poked her ears with a steel pin and after comparing the wax inside her left ear to the one in her right, warned Biji of the presence of an evil eye. A holy man determined the strength of the breath exhaled from Amara’s nostrils and charted her husbandless future in accordance.

Guess you know now why I’m recommending this book. It’s well-crafted, warm, full of social relevance, identity crises that we all go through in life and it’s got many moments that can evoke memories lying within ourselves. Don’t miss reading this book.


One and a Half Wife: The Story
Amara is a good Indian girl who is groomed right from birth for the most important moment in a girl’s life. Typically, you'd have guessed what that is: the Big American Dream that would pave the way for finding the Prince. Indeed, all her struggles in life are for that. Like most Indian girls who grow up in orthodox families, Amara is taught not to argue with her parents or question their decisions about her life and especially about her marriage.

With the help of Dua Uncle who is Amara’s maternal uncle, Amara’s parents finally get the Green Card and go to America. This seems to signal the culimination of all their dreams for Amara’s marriage. But this doesn’t bring them the ‘social equality’ they dream of having. For instance, Amara’s cousins, Tina and Riya, are cold, aloof and distant to her. They treat her like a stray pet that has been picked up from the street. In school too, they show no recognition they are related to her. When she makes attempts to visit them or to talk to them, they shut the door in her face. While this may have stories within itself, it also conveys how several Indians, wherever they are, carry their social biases and unique identity traits with them.

Thus, Amara learns:
“It was consequently fitting for an immigrant to blend in with America like sugar with water or better still, to avoid a diabetic relationship, to blend in like air with water.”
“Everything fits together in America except the immigrant’s identity.”

The Twist in Amara’s Story
The turning point in Amara’s otherwise dull existence is that when Amara gets married to the millionaire Prashant Roy. The twists, the turns and the social nuances of pretending that a marriage is fine despite the long cold, silences between a husband and wife are well punctuated within the story itself. So, what makes Meghna Pant’s treatment of ‘divorce’ different?

Let me clarify. Acclaimed Indian authors such as Anita Desai, Anita Nair, Kavery Nambisan and Manju Kapur have explored multi faceted dimensions that map incredibly well to the conflicts and tensions that resonate in an Indian marriage. So, the question that inevitably pops up is this: ‘what has Meghna Pant done differently with this novel?”

Meghna Pant has treated Amara’s divorce as an opportunity than as a tragedy or the breakdown of a marriage that could have been made to work somehow. She portrays the social stigma associated with divorce in the Indian community but does not cease to showcase Amara’s divorce as a transition into a happier, better future. This approach is solution-oriented and practical. This contemporary accuracy and the level of detailing is what makes this book worth more than just one read.

On hearing about her divorce, for instance, Amara’s strong willed mother Biji tells her, “You, stupid, stupid girl, a daughter is a reflection of her mother. Now I will have to carry my ‘die-force’ shame on my head.”

But some months later, the same mother urges her to consider proposals from suitable men who are keen to marry her despite the divorce. That’s what I mean by saying Meghna Pant’s approach to all the problems Amara faces are “practical and solution-oriented.”

The more Amara tries to break out of her former mold, the more difficulties she faces. But one by one, she finds her way towards getting what she desires instead of what others desire. This begins Amara’s journey into the discovery of her self.

One and a Half Wife: Does Amara find love?

Read the book to find out. It’s worth reading. I can vouch for that. It won’t change your life or transform your unhappiness into instant joy. It offers no miracles but it gives you inner courage, the hope to move on despite the odds and the realization that every time we cross a difficult hurdle and fall, we grow new ways and methods to cross it without falling again.

One and a Half Wife: What does Amara learn?

  • Get in touch with what you desire. Then go out and do that.
  • You are only as weak as you allow yourself to be.
  • Your mind can be as strong as it can be delicate. It can be both a flower and a rock. So learn to define yourself.
♥♥  I thank you with all my heart for reading my post. I dedicate this post with love and gratitude to all those who enjoy reading books by Indian writers. REQUEST: Please SHARE this article on your favorite social networks. Every share, like or tweet makes me reach out to more people who love reading books by Indian writers. I am grateful and I appreciate you for doing so. ♥♥


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree. I really enjoyed reading this novel. Loved the cover, the title, the writing, the story and the characters. I think this is a welcome addition to India literature. I was frankly fed up of all the mediocre writing in the last years. So it was really grt to finally sit down with an amazing novel that has a good story and excellent writing. Someone should make a movie of it!

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend this novel to anyone. I simply loved it and couldn't put it down. I was up till 6 am on a work day :)

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