Arranged Marriage: Stories, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The eleven stories in Arranged Marriage reveal Chitra Banerjee
Divakaruni, whose 1997 novel Mistress of Spices, was an international bestseller, was born in I
A lone story is told from a male point of view. “The Disappearance” shows the cultural lens through which women are seen, but considers the collection’s thematic drift from a darker position. An unnamed husband learns his wife has disappeared, having vanished on an otherwise uneventful day after running errands in Mountain View, a Silicon Valley enclave. In hindsight, we learn the husband questions whether or not his wife was happy. Though he made every effort to provide for her in traditional ways, his view is an
He’d flown to Calcutta to view several suitable girls that his mother had picked out. But now, thinking back, he can only remember her. She had sat, head bowed, jasmine plaited into her hair, silk sari draped modestly over her shoulders, just like all the other prospective brides he’d seen. Nervous, he’d thought, yearning to be chosen. But when she’d glanced up there had been a cool, considering look in her eyes. Almost disinterested, almost as though she were wondering if he would be a suitable spouse.
The story, one of the collection’s more stylistically spare, stands out as a powerful depiction of the struggle between dependence and freedom. The aim to reconcile old and new is poignantly addressed in the collection’s final story, “Meeting Mrinal.” Asha, divorced and facing financial difficulties as she raises her rebellious, metal-listening teenage son alone, is contacted by a longtime school friend, Mrinalini. As they catch up, Asha paints her life as she wishes it was. It’s a heartrending story, and I’ll withhold the details that follow—but Asha’s effort to make sense of her life and set it right has some of the most lovely passages, like this one:
I tell myself that I shouldn’t be too concerned about his clothing or hairstyle, or even the long hours when he shuts himself up in his room and listens to music that sounds furious. That they’re just signs of teenage growing pains made worse by his father’s absence. But sometimes, I call his name and he looks up from whatever he’s doing—not with the irritated What, Mom, that I’m used to, but with a polite, closed stranger’s face. That’s when I’m struck by fear. I realize that Dinesh is drifting from me, swept along on the current of his new life which is limpid on the surface but with a dark undertow that I, standing helplessly on some left-behind shore, can only guess at.