Okay, let me be honest here – I first heard of this book, when I saw it in my Good Reads suggestions. I marked it as “Want to Read” and forgot about it, until I came across it in the local library and decided to borrow it. I had assumed that it was a full length novel and was surprised to find that it was a collection of (not so) short stories.
I don’t know if the title “Arranged Marriage” does justice to the stories contained within; for they deal with not only arranged marriage, but issues in an Indian or even a half Indian marriage. There are a wide range of issues addressed here – from more serious ones – like female feticide and domestic violence to subtler ones like the lack of breathing space for the bride in an in-laws dominated household or the pain of having to curb many aspects of her true self and putting on a show for the benefit of her husband’s extended family. Some of them also highlight the huge cultural gap between Indians and the west and the identity crisis faced by Indians who move to the US, post marriage.
I particularly liked a story titled “Doors” which showcases how a marriage could work well enough, if it’s left to the husband and wife alone, even if they hail from culturally different backgrounds. But then things start to go awry, when a character from one of their past lives comes to live with them and everything starts falling apart! Some other stories I enjoyed reading were – “Affair” – which deals with the traumatic experience of a wife who suspects her husband’s fidelity and “Meeting Mrinal” – which compares and contrasts the lives of two close friends who have chosen to lead very different lives.
All the stories are set in the 1990s and deal with the lives of young Bengali women, who leave home to join their husbands, who live abroad. However, the issues highlighted by them are sure to strike a chord with each and everyone of us, at some level or the other.
The narrative is beautiful and almost poetic, and the book would definitely qualify as one of the best Indian literary works. This is a must read in my opinion – however, do not read it for the story alone, read it for the experience and you are sure to be taken into every character’s world!