Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Anchor Books
This beautiful assortment of short stories is like a box filled with gems, each to be read and savoured. These stories are about accommodation and rebellion Indian-born girls and women in America undergo as they balance old beliefs and new desires. And there are also stories that come with the male dominant families in the Asian continent. This is a reflection of how people of one subcontinent settle down in their new homes in the land they have migrated to. In fact this is also a reflection of the story of immigrants, people who have been migrating for social and economic reasons for ages.
The first story “The Bats” comes with the story of a little girl listening to her mother crying throughout the night. At times she wakes up in the middle of the night to hear the angry shouting of her father as he throws things across the floor. As time passes by she notices her mother waking with deep wounds. Her mother makes excuses about falling here and there but the little girl knows that it has something to do with the angry father and his curmudgeonly ways.
One day the mother takes the little girl and leaves for a far away village and they start living with an old uncle of the mother. The uncle looks after the orchard of the local landlord. The uncle takes the little girl with him when he goes to tend the orchard. Hundreds of bats suddenly attack the fruits of the orchard. The uncle uses poison to kill the bats. The girl helps the man to clean up the bats and she feels as if she is an indispensible part of the farm and settles down happily. She is happier in her adopted home. But just then her father sends a letter to her mother promising not to abuse her anymore. Her mother rushes back to the husband. After a few days the old days are back again. The father comes home and the girl is wakened with his angry shouts and breaking of things. Her mother slips back to the old of crying through the night. The little girls sleeps and dreams of the bats. She wonders if the bats come to her dreams because she was happier when she was with them. She dreams of the green village where she had spent a few happy days. The story portrays the deep love of a woman to her husband even though she is abused. And with it comes the story of an unhappy childhood looking for happiness elsewhere.
The second story “Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs” comes about a young lady going away to New York. She had always dreamed of walking along the silver pavements of New York, dreamed of living an American life. She lives with her aunt and uncle. The aunt’s two-room apartment is nothing compared to the pictures she had seen of great American homes. She had dreamed of driving along the great highways but her aunt does not own a car. In fact her aunt does not go out without her husband because he has told her to stay home and be safe. One day the young lady argues her aunt into taking a walk in the neighbourhood. However they lose their way and find themselves in a place surrounded by racists. Some young men surround them and call them “Niggers”. They even throw garbage at them. The young girl and her aunt are barely able to escape from further harm. This incident shatters the girl’s American dreams and she realizes that life in America is not all about roses.
On the other hand the story “Affair” toward the end of the book is about Indian immigrants who are very happily settled in America. Ashok and Abha are a very happy couple. Ashok works for a computer software company. Abha is a freelance journalist and is brilliant at her job. But Abha’s best friend Meena is too smart for her own good. And Abha is suddenly aware that something is going on between her husband and her best friend. The foreign land has given them peace and abundance but it is strife among themselves that makes life miserable. Abha is caught between success of her own life and saving the crumbling marriage. She wonders why one success comes at the cost of another. Abha realizes that love once lost rarely finds its roots again and she herself reaches out to another soul, tries to find happiness.
Another story “Doors” comes with a fascinating plot where the American born Preety, an excellent wife and a kind woman is caught between her Indian husband Deepak and his relationship with his best friend Raj. Preety had married Deepak despite her mother’s warnings that she might not be able to adjust with a typical Indian man. All goes well in their marriage until Deepak’s best friend Raj comes to live with them. While they are at home Deepak and Raj talk away about Indian movies, they gossip about their life in India and they are all the time together. Preety finds herself jealous of Raj. But Raj does not understand the house rules of giving some privacy to Preety while he is her guest. He goes to the extent of opening her bedroom door without her permission. Preety, feeling isolated is also irritated by Raj’s behaviour and has an outburst one day. The final strife between Preety and Deepak comes when Raj, hurt my Preeti’s sudden outburst leaves. Preety now wonders if her mother was right after all about her opinion of Indian men. The worst part comes when Deepak starts sleeping in the living room after Raj leaves.
Towards the middle of the book the reader is treated to a great story, “Perfect Life”, a story about motherly love from a woman who did not have any children of her own. When Meera married Richard there was an understanding that they will not have children. Meera always thought that she was not the motherly type, was not a kind of woman to raise a child. To her, this motherly attitude of women was something not every woman could be credited to. Even when her friend Sharmila swoons over her child Meera thinks Meera is a show off, that a child cannot take away the whole being of a woman. Then one day she finds a small autistic boy hiding near her front door. She takes him in. She starts taking care of him just like a mother. The boy becomes depended on her and here Meera’s motherly instincts wake up and she wants to adopt him legally. But the before the adoption can take place the boy is placed in another foster home from where he is lost. By that time Meera had his room ready in her house, she had him enrolled in a special school and was waiting for him to come to her. When the boy is lost Meera finds her heart breaking for him, she cries and keeps looking for him everywhere. They story of a woman waking up her sleeping motherly feelings is beautifully portrayed through the story. The character of the autistic boy has the reader also wishing that Meera could really be a mother to him.
The other stories in this collection of short stories are enchanting and each waits to be read. The reader has a happy sailing as one story comes to end the other begins with pulsing plots. Arranged Marriage, is a very strong debut. The all too imperfect lives of Divakaruni’s heroines are like unrecognized treasure, worthy of being praised, protected and held dear. It is a luminous, exquisitely crafted prose. Her Indian wives are and daughters are drawn with a rich dense detail that allows the reader t feel silent, strong undertows directing their lives. Few can match this writer’s combination of biting wit and mordant humour, precise irony and consummate cool. A book to be read and shared with hundred others!
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