Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal : A Review

BOOK TITLE: The Dowry Bride
ISBN: 978-0758220318
AUTHOR: Shobhan Bantwal
GENRE: Fiction
FORMAT: Paperback
REVIEW BY: Dhivya Balaji
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank Fingerprint! Publishers for this review copy.
          One sultry night, a young bride overhears an extraordinary conversation. The voices speak of a plot to murder a wife who has failed to produce a child and whose family has failed to produce the promised dowry...
          Megha is sick with horror when she realizes she is the intended victim. Her husband -- the very man who tied the sacred necklace of marriage around her neck -- and his mother are plotting to kill her! In the moment of panic, she runs for her life. Frantically racing through Palgaum's deserted streets, her way lit only by the lights strung up for the Diwali festival, her single goal is to escape death by fire. But fleeing from her would-be-killers seems impossible -- unless she can find someone to help her...
          To approach her best friend would bring scandal to an innocent woman's doorstep, and turning to her own strict, conservative family is out of the question. Instead, with nothing but the sari she wears and a memory of kindness, Megha finds her way to Kiran, the one man who has shown her friendship and respect. Hiding her in his apartment, Kiran becomes her protector. But the forbidden attraction that grows between them can only bring more danger...
          Caught between tradition and the truths buried in her heart, a dowry bride will discover the real cost of the only things worth having in life...
          The Dowry Bride – it is a book I had wanted to read for some time now, being impressed with the title and the issue it represented. But the book didn’t quite reach up to what I expected from it. Here is my full review.
First Impression:
          Very impressive front cover and book blurb. The whole theme of a woman’s leg with Mehendi and fire was an immediate attraction. It gives the reader a very eager idea of what the book is going to be about. And the title is also an amazing reader magnet. The blurb was interesting enough with a hint of horror and cold blooded but commonplace crime that is plaguing the Indian society.
The story:
          The story is as expected from the blurb. Megha Ramnath, all of 21 years, one day hears her mother in law plotting to murder her with her own husband. Immediately feelings of fear, helplessness and complete and utter desperation plague her mind. Megha decides to flee and frantically thinks for a place of Sanctuary. But nothing comes to her mind. Going back to her parents would mean being sent to her in laws immediately. Going to her best friend would mean landing the friend in trouble. In short, she realises that anyone who accepts her and gives her sanctuary will immediately be ostracised from the society.
          Suddenly, the image of her husband’s cousin Kiran comes to her mind. His gentleness and his availability as her only option after being chased by a hooligan makes Megha reach out to him. The first half of the book is thrilling enough and details the trials Megha faces and also brings out the many issues plaguing the society in India. This part of descriptions and the author’s knowledge about the culture are a pleasant read. Megha, for someone so educated, seems so na├»ve. But it is the sad truth in some (very few, but still existent) places in India that even though brides are well educated, beautiful and have other impressive qualities, they are still married off to lesser qualified men.
          From then on, Megha’s life becomes a hellish one of jumping in fear as she hides for dear life in Kiran’s apartment. Cooking and caring for him slowly makes her realise that inadvertently she is falling for his gentle charm. Megha’s dilemma is written nicely. But once she realises that she has to completely give a closure to her past if she wanted to live peacefully, her mind starts working towards it. With the help of Kiran, Megha tackles the beasts. The ending is a mellowed down version of what I expected from such a promising book.
          As to the pluses, the language is fluent, and the descriptions are unique. Kudos to the author for writing on such a sensitive subject. The part where Megha hides from Kiran’s mother and her Father in Law’s letter are parts that made an impression on my mind. The story also highlights the journey of Megha as a very timid character (whose initial decisions land her in one trouble after another) to a strong willed woman who carves out a path for herself.
          The minuses – for such a promising premise, my personal opinion is that the story has faltered midway. Yes, the forbidden attraction is racy, yes the feeling of love is not a mistake but I feel that midway, the book turned into more detailed description of why exactly Megha was attracted to her saviour and the romantic moments take away the horror of the issue that is bride burning. The focus on the main issue is relaxed a bit as the reader begins to wonder if Megha will marry Kiran instead of having to wonder if Megha will emerge unscathed from one of society’s most horrific awful evils.
          Also, the characters are one dimensional. Everyone knows that a typical MIL needs no particular strong reason to hate her son’s wife – there have been numerous jokes about this over the years and across cultures. But little more grey areas in the characters could have given them more credibility. Chandramma’s past is not justification enough. While I wouldn’t go so far to call this as prejudiced, I find it unsettling that all good characters are innocent, good at heart and summarily heroes while all villains are evil, and black – both at heart and outside.
           A little more depth and a stronger reason would have made the impact this book has much stronger among the audience. An ulterior reason doesn’t exist in reality when such bride burning cases are concerned – usually the only reasons are failure to give a dowry, or bear a child, and sometimes even begetting a female child – but as a piece of fiction this could have added more dimensions to the characters to at least make them stand out instead of being stereotypical. Overall, the story had good potential, but the ending was too sweet and way out of the sad reality, taking the focus away from the issue and veering towards being a bestseller novel.
VERDICT: Good writing, but for a novel with such potential, it veers away from the main element of focus.
RATING: 3.5/5 (Points taken for veering away from focussed subject and given for fluent writing)
EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Paperback, Digital
PRICE: Rs. 198 for paperback

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