Review – “One and a Half Wife” by Meghna Pant

The Big Indian American Dream. Did you ever harbor it, or still do? Do you know someone who does or has achieved it?
During the last decades of the last Millenium, a large number of Indians became immigrants, America being the most coveted country to immigrate to. With immigration, came struggles to adjust to the new country and build a life from scratch. One and a Half Wife by Meghna Pant is a riveting tale of the young Amara, who immigrates to America with her parents during the early 90s. The story follows her life from Indian to America and back, and how she copes with it.

Amara Malhotra was 14 years old when her parents immigrated to the United States of America, or as her mother said, Amreeka. Having grown up listening to her mother’s nonstop ranting about the postponed green card, Amara finds herself amidst a cultural shock in her new country. The language, the dress up, the way of living, everything seems alien. Despite having cousins living a few streets away, and also studying in the same school as hers, Amara gets lonely when they rebuff her and make fun of her Indianness. Knowing only 3 desires in life, “It is Biji’s desire”, “It is God’s desire”, and “It is His desire” with His being Amara’s future husband, she jumps headfirst into the sea of hard work when all other ways of adjusting fail.
Some years into her new life, Amara emerges a dutiful daughter and student. Her life still revolves around the 3 desires her Biji had taught her, which ultimately leads her to her husband. Marrying a “Beyond” changes her life, she goes from being an invisible immigrant girl to the center of attraction at parties, shops at the most expensive stores and lives in an upscale apartment, in short, her life becomes the image of perfection. But behind the curtain of her alluring life, all is not so well. What seems like a happy home is actually just a mirage. Will Amara be able to get a grip on herself when tragedy strikes? Will she be able to rebuild her life with her own desires and not those which Biji had taught her?

So, how was the book, you may ask now? I say it was okay. Narrated in the third person, the language was lucid and languid. While the beginning kept me engrossed, the latter half got boring. What started off on the peak went downhill when the story took a cliche turn, which left me feeling meh. Had the plot remained unconventional like the protagonist, I would have liked the book loads better. The saving grace though was the characterization. With the pace set slow, there were a lot of scopes to build up the characters and it was done well. Limited characters helped too. The most remarkable and bang on the point that the author writes is about the hypocrisy of the people. I must say, it was fun to read about such realistic characters and see them change colors in just a sentence.
When I started reading this book, I hadn’t expected it to give me a lesson in parenting and societal norms. Okay, I wasn’t born in the 80s and I don’t know about the parents and the society then. But I do know when the parenting is right or wrong, more so because I am a parent myself now and also, “Kuch toh log kahenge, logo ka kaam hai kehna…” I was into mid-teenage when I started noticing the difference between my parents and others. For instance, my mother never used to after my life to studying and my father never used to get upset f I scored low. Their funda was that if I had given my 100% and still didn’t get good marks, it was okay. As long as I was true to what I was doing, they were happy. It made my life simple as compared to a lot of other students who were burdened under their parents’ constant scrutiny. Then came the big decision of career choice after school. Naturally, I had the support of my parents even when I decided to drop a year to pursue designing, which was unheard of a decade ago. I and they, we were asked questions all the time by overindulging relatives, which thankfully we knew how to deflect. When I look back today, I know I had been blessed to get such parents. Not all can boast of such a thing. In fact, my closest friend during my school days had overbearing parents and I used to listen to her crib all the time. What happened to her is another long story, which I may get to write about if I ever read a book that requires it.
Coming back to the topic at hand, parenting is not easy. It takes a whole village to raise a child. But what when this whole village starts deciding what the child must do and don’t, what must make it happy and sad, what it must do to live and die…not right, right? As guardians, we have the duty to guide the child and not burden it with our desires. And when it comes to girls, especially, it is a general trend in our country to not let them desire. The primary focus shifts to the girl’s marriage the moment she is born rather than letting her have a happy life. What she has to do (read cook, clean, serve, in short, be a slave) in the future must reflect her good upbringing. So much is the hold of the parents and those unworthy relatives that it completely ruins her life. When she marries, whom she marries and how she marries, she has no say in it. More so, she has no say in her in-laws’ house as well, which supposedly is supposed to be hers as well. Strange, huh? Not at all, because most of the girls in our country grow up on a liberal dose of “It will be His desire”. But strange is the reaction of everyone when it all falls apart. Divorce? It must be the girl’s fault. Despite numerous attempts at explaining that it may be a mutual or his decision, it all fails miserably only to backfire on her. The world starts seeing her differently now. Divorcee. Life now limits itself to this word for her. It still doesn’t dawn on society to see why such a thing happened. Instead, it battles with itself, fighting a lost cause between old beliefs and new ideas. While it seems easy for them to modernize themselves, it is impossible to let the girl soar, keeping her leg bound to first parents, then-husband, and later, son. I just wish the mentality of our society changes, from seeing a girl like a piece of a commodity to be traded when she turns 18 years of age, to a human who has equal rights to desire.
More to girl power!


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