While the Indian author community is hell bent on churning out meaning-less love stories that can be seen all around you, here is one new author who begs to differ. Meghna Pant, a financial journalist by day and an author by night, picks up a wonderful story to tell as a debut novel. One and a Half Wife is like a dab of fresh air and carves a different niche for itself among the collage of zillions of books by Indian authors these days. The back cover of the book states the story of Amara Malhotra who immigrates to America to achieve the Great American Dream but leads quite an unremarkable life until she marries a Harvard educated millionaire, Prashant Roy. However, that is far from a fairytale ending and her marriage crumbles. After which she is caught between two worlds of obedience towards her parents and new friends who encourage her to move on.
The story begins in Shimla in 1991 when 14 year old Amara Malhotra is taken by her mother, Biji, to several fortune-tellers around town to foretell her fate. The prophecy of a fortune telling parrot says that she will be a One and a half wife some day. Biji, a conventional Indian mother, refuses to believe in fortune tellers who predict bad fate of her child and keeps her hope alive to get the Green Card (American Citizenship) for which her brother (Dua Mama) had applied in the US. The lives of Amara, Biji and Baba (Amara’s father) change gears as they get their Green Cards and head to the USA. The Malhotra family cracks the kernel of the ‘dreamland’ called America to find out the shady insides of prejudices and divides among the Indian-American community, much to their astonishment. As the Malhotra family struggle to cope with their new alien abode, Amara is almost ostracized as an outcast among the American schools which follow a very different culture than what she had grown up in.
While Amara’s Dua Mama was supposed to be a rich Godfather for the Malhotra family, opportunity comes knocking on Amara’s doors when a Harvard-educated-millionaire-Prashant-Roy’s mother selects Amara to be the bride for her only son over Dua Mama’s American bred high-class daughters. Much to Biji’s delight, her purpose of seeing Amara settled in America finally becomes true. But life is not that easy for Amara. As she battles a hollow marriage, her parents struggle to sustain after being rendered penniless due to the high cost of marrying-off their daughter. Amara’s Amercian dream is shattered after six long years of a failed marriage and her parents fail to resign themselves to the fact and fate of their daughter.
Much to the family’s horror, they are socially ostracized by Amara’s divorce and the Malhotra family returns to Shimla after sixteen long years in the US only to find how much India has changed and developed both in in face and facets. Divorced women, still, as they find out are not as welcome here and Amara has to deal with angry parents, goons of the local moral police and battle societal norms as she finds her dignity and rightful place in the end.
Meghna Pant chooses a very bold topic for her first novel and makes sure that she treats the subject with the required delicacy. The novel, is less of a story and more of a journey that the author takes you along with Amara. On several occasions, one can relate with one of the many characters or their lives in the story at many different levels at that. You cannot help but develop a relationship with Amara and Biji right at the beginning of the story and feel the connection grow stronger as you feel closer to the character with every leaf you turn. The novel takes you to a roller coaster ride into Amara’s life and her relationships and you can’t help but feel sympathy with the unfairness of life with her. Even the little subplots and characters have stories that you can’t help but feel is something that you have heard somewhere. All in all the book is a fantastic reflection of reality and many of its unspoken problems.
The two lead characters of Amara and Biji have been defined with utmost care and a solid foundation is built into the minds of the reader. Every emotion and every situation is aptly acted upon by both Biji and Amara, given the kind of people they are. Although Baba, has a silent, but very strong presence throughout. When the characters act the way you would had you been in their shoes, you know that you are staring not into the words of a book but into the naked face of reality. Frankly Speaking, One and a Half Wife is by far one of the best books that I have read in a long time. Kudos to Meghna Pant and congratulations to her on having written such a wonderful story. What should be said has been said, what’s unsaid, dawns on you slowly but surely.
My Rating: 4.5/5 and a very strong word of recommendation. Order it now, you’ll not regret it. Miss it and believe me, you’re missing an unknown face of life.