Arranged Marriage, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

And a word comes to you out of the opening sky. The word ‘love’. You see that you had never understood it before. It is like rain, and when you lift your face to it, like rain it washes away inessentials, leaving you hollow, clean, ready to begin. (From The Word Love, ARRANGED MARRIAGE, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.)

The first thing that impressed me with Arranged Marriage, was this feeling that she beautifully describes, the feeling of being, ‘ready to begin’. I had read her other book, The Mistress of Spices, a well-written book sans dispute, yet, this debut collection seemed to be more put-together, more graceful, like many first attempts are. Perhaps the desire to be seen, appreciated and read plagues our writing with an unseen passion. Writing that is yet to create an identity. Writing, like a gypsy’s skirt, colourful and free.

Will I marry a prince from a far-off magic land
where the pavements are silver and the roofs all gold?

All the stories in the collection are based on Indian women, living in the United States, the land of dreams, the land where anything is impossible. Traditional values that threaten to impede their foray into unknown waters. New-fangled ideologies that questions their values, reducing them to creatures of guilt. Something that we all can identify with. Living in a strange land where memories of home bring more pain than joy. Yet, could one be sure of Love waiting at the other end of the world, Love draped in a cotton saree, replete with a bindi and an all-forgiving hug? There is no way to know. A sense of loss, a life of waiting, that’s what the author has tried to depict in these stories, at once real and fairy-tale like.

While I enjoyed the references to India and Indian cultures, traditions and the like, I did wonder at certain points during the read, Perhaps these images would appeal more to a non-indian, for their sheer exotic nature? It could also be because of the enormous number of Indian authors I read, that I feel this monotone.

Each story dabbles with a different theme, ranging from abortion to prostitution, from racism to affairs. A winning recipe, that keeps you enthralled from the word go. Some of my personal favourites would include Clothes, The Word Love, The disappearance, Doors and The Ultrasound.

All the stories deal with women protagonists, so one would assume a little empowerment is in order. And that is precisely where I feel the book falls short. Most of the characters lack the strength of character to follow through on their dreams, the strength to live, the strength to love. Perhaps it is a depiction of things as they are (or were), but if we do not alter endings in a story, then where? There were a number of jarring stereotypes, peppered all over the stories, taking away from the overall experience. Personally, I do not like the concept of “women’s writing” as well, so that was another thing I had to tackle with : the extremely lopsided perspective, entirely through a woman’s eyes.

That said, the book has a haunting appeal, and certain stories make your heart skip a beat. A tear or two would not be unusual. There are not as many smiles as there are tears, but hey, isn’t this a women’s book?!

So make yourself a cup of something warm and curl up on the couch with your dog to read this debut short-story collection, for tales narrated by a wonderful raconteur, with an eye for magic, pixie dust and all that jazz.

The glasses glitter like hope. We raise them to each other solemnly, my son and I, and drink to our precious, imperfect lives.

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