Books are a revelation. They take you away from your comfortable surroundings and lift you off to an alien world with alien sensations. According to me, if a book cannot teleport you elsewhere (to a strange, delightful, scary or any other place), other than just the distance from page one to two without you budging imaginatively, it’s a lost cause. Meghna Pant, author of One & a Half Wife, has successively managed to transport me to an unknown territory (that is yet uncomfortably familiar). The author has delivered a novel that is of a fictional nature, but readers will even relate to her work in the non-fictional sense.
The book opens up into an interesting first chapter, where the leading lady (or young girl, rather) is 14-year-old Amara Malhotra. She is visiting one of numerous pundits that her mother insists she meets in order to have her future revealed. Her mother Biji is an oddball of a woman who firmly believes that one’s future proceedings (most importantly those that end in marriage) are hidden amongst the stars.
Amara is born after her mother experiences two miscarriages, thus making her the talk of the town upon arrival (courtesy, her mother’s boasting). Biji’s brother (Dua Mama) sees this as a sign from above of an imminently great destiny-in-waiting that needs coaxing, thus filing for the Malhotras’ green cards.
The book journeys into the life of Amara and how her conventionally rigid mother plays the role of puppeteer in her daughter’s present and future. Amara’s father (Baba) on the other hand is her saving grace; an often subdued, loving father who never interferes with his wife’s nutty beliefs, behaviour or business. Once they make it to America, she realizes that their hometown Shimla is just a speck in her life now, as she’s thrust headlong into a new one. She is evidently the quintessential ‘Indian village girl’ who has lived her entire life hidden behind her mother’s otherworldly expectations and dreams.
However, it was quite depressing to see her sink to a level that is pathetic but yet one that draws sympathy. She finally meets a man (Prashant Roy) who is not only stinking rich (and butt-ugly), but out of her league in the intellectual sense. The pages propel you into Amara’s married life – not only is it a painful existence, but a perplexing one to see that she hasn’t been able to rise above her typical Indian ways. Her husband doesn’t reciprocate her need for companionship and this results in a loveless marriage caged within their Manhattan home.
I admire how the author balances wit, humour and darkness in the book. I was honestly hoping that the author would throw in some horrid drama towards the end, but as it turns out I think Amara needed a break and just got her happy ending instead. The book will have you flipping through the pages in hurried anticipation to reach its end.
Here’s one of many favourite excerpts from the book:
“She stood above the sink and broke the Swarovski glass frame – a wedding gift – with her hands. Her thumb got cut. As drops of blood fell into the sink, like mercury balls, she set the photo on fire. Ashes fell into the sink. Fire and vermilion. Ashes and blood. Her marriage from start to finish.”
I’d recommend giving this book a read especially if one doesn’t have a clear idea of what staunch traditionalists of the Indian culture believe as ”right’ or ‘moral’. The choice of characters is remarkably outlined, where Pant breathes life into their colorful depictions. The characters manifested quite vividly in my mind’s eye – it’s easy to see that the author has a great knack for depicting ego variations. The book is written with impeccable care to detail, where the author’s comparisons in multiple instances are both creative and impressive. I hope that readers will bask in the novel’s brilliance as much as I did.