The Dowry Bride
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". . . an element of Indian culture that’s rarely written about in fiction . . ."
Shobhan Bantwal weaves the story of The Dowry Bride around her East Indian heritage, arranged marriages, the decadent but still prevalent practice of dowry, the Hindu religion, spicy curries, colorful silk saris and exotic gold jewelry. Bantwal picked the dark subject of dowry deaths because of the fascination the subject held for her. She felt shocked as to why normally sane individuals were possessed to murder innocent young women whose only fault was to be female. The author also wanted to enable folks outside India to enjoy a peek into an element of Indian culture that's rarely written about in fiction, and the subject became her theme.
At the age of twenty-one, Megha Ramnath, a well educated, beautiful woman, married for a year is about to be executed. On a dark, foggy night, she listens outside the wood shed and hears her mother-in- law and husband plotting her death. She is a beautiful housewife with a boring but subservient life and thought she had no enemies. Peering into the shed, she sees them both pouring kerosene over a bed fashioned out of criss-crossed logs of firewood lying on the floor. She hears her husband protest the soon-to-be deed but to no avail as his strong willed, Amazon-like mother cowers him into agreeing to burn his wife to death, explaining that after Megha's death within two months eligible and wealthy women will line up to marry the puny man. This evil, greedy woman also mentions that Megha's family had not yet paid the dowry due them and she will not allow anyone to get away with such an insult. Besides, Megha has not yet produced a son.
Megha runs away shoeless, with nothing but the sari on her back, and in the dark of night falters, falls, and is threatened by a drunken man with rape on his mind. She jumps over a large gated wall and fearfully realizes she has no where to go. Bruised, still in shock, and crying, she flees to the only place where she might find refuge, knowing that the malevolent mother-in-law would go to her parents' and sisters' houses seeking to find the runaway wife and bring her back. Besides, Megha would be severely punished for the shame.
The reader learns of the abhorrent nature of these prevalent dowry murders and of the victims' helplessness. Megha is fortunate that Kirin, a male relative educated in America and wealthy in his own right, helps her hide out. Living in fear of being found, confounded by horrible nightmares, and finding that a strong bond is forming between her and Kirin, she soon realizes that he is a wonderful, kind, good man and the one that she should have married.
Megha attempts suicide at her unthinkable situation of living with a male relative as a still married woman, but Kirin again saves her from herself. He introduces her to beautiful clothing, exotic jewelry, discreetly takes her riding in his huge car in disguises. He is tortured by the love he feels and has always felt for this good, compassionate and lovely woman who has been very much maligned by her husband's family.
When Megha is captured by an assassin hired by her mother-in-law, Megha is saved once again by Kirin. Living with Kirin shows Megha that a good life is possible, that all men are not weak and insipid pawns of brutal mothers, and this fosters her desire for Independence–no longer the cowering young girl taken into the home of her husband as a private slave. She dreams of a thriving career and the life of a well loved and indulged wife of good-looking wealthy man Kirin. Her small village has its hidden practices and social conditions, and many obstacles are placed in her and Kirin's path. In the process, other family secrets are exposed which help explain the ugliness and cruelty of her mother-in-law.
The language is lush and highly descriptive; the style is highly introspective and at times Repetitive. The pacing starts slowly and builds throughout the book.
While the ending is not quite "happily ever after", the reader is assured that Megha's fate will not be as dark as it might have become.
Reviewer: Sandra Masters McCart