Since the time we are born we become an integral part of a plethora of relationships. As we start growing up, we actually start to understand the importance of those relationships. There are some people who constantly keep on paying obeisance to the relationships around them while there are some who tend to not acknowledge the sanctity of relationships. One and A Half Wife by Meghna Pant is the story of human relations and how it can make and break the life of a person.
One and A Half Wife is the story of a girl-next-door whose life changes along with the trials and tribulations which she faces in the course of her life. The protagonist of the story, Amara Malhotra starts of as a simple girl who lives a life the way her Biji(mother) wants it to be. The strong-willed Biji has only two targets in her life – the first one is to get a Green Card and the second is to get her only daughter married to a rich Green Card holder. The first of Biji’s dreams found shape with the help of her brother and her family leaves India and settles down in America. However enjoying the American Dream was not as easy as it seems to be. With several hiccups here and there, Amara’s non-descriptive life changes when she is married to Harvard-educated millionaire Prashant Roy. Finally, Biji’s second dream also found a fruitful culmination. However, on the very first day of her marriage, Amara saw her vision of a perfect life with a perfect Prince being shattered. Her so-called fairytale marriage was nothing more than sacrifices from her end and selfishness, demeaning comments and indifference towards her from her husband. She was constantly scrutinized and criticised for her looks, her manners and etiquettes by her husband. She tried her best to save her marriage by overlooking the negativities, sometimes stooping down to incorrigible levels, but it collapsed after a few years. With the end of her marriage, the American Dream after which she was running as per Biji’s wishes also came to an abrupt halt. However, life does not stop there and Amara comes back to the place of her birth Shimla to start her life afresh. In Shimla, she is caught in the web between traditional beliefs and modern ideas. With a little compassion and counselling she came to understand what actually is “Her desire” rather than anyone else’s desire for which she has been living and suffering till then.
The book involves a lot of characters and situations which the readers will easily connect to. It starts with Amara Malhotra being taken to a number of pundits by her conservative and strict mother in order to know her future (especially to know whether their American dreams be fulfilled and whether Amara will find an NRI). Way back in the 1990’s these dreams and aspirations of making a great destiny in the USA were quite common. The story also narrates how a divorce and a divorcee were looked down upon by the society. The story also captures how American Dreams can turn into ashes and how parents can blame their daughter for her failed marriage without even a hint of logic behind them. It also describes the difference between the pre-globalised India and the post-globalized India in a subtle manner. The story also addressed the issue that with modernism the Indian society has also seen the emergence of the “moral polices”, the traditionalists who can exercise any sort of coaxing and violence in the name of keeping the society “clean”, “right” and “safe”.
Meghna Pant has done a credible job of incorporating the correct balance of humour and darkness along with her fine sense of observation in her debut literary work. The first couple of chapters are quite descriptive but as you keep on reading the story becomes more and more engrossing and addictive. At the turn of every page the haunting question of what is going to happen next in Amara’s life will see you flipping through the pages in quick succession. Though the writer has delved into a tried-and-tested genre, yet her smooth style, humour and brilliant characterization give the story a unique shape. The span of 20 years and the changes which occurs during that time, in the lives of the different characters as well as the society is wonderfully woven within the story. With characters like Amara, Shikha Didi, Lalit and Kanika, One and A Half Wife also shows that if you respect yourself and your desires everything else will fall in place. The coming-of-the-age of the various characters will definitely inspire a lot of people. What I loved most about the book is that the protagonist has been initially portrayed as someone not possessing enough strength of character, however by the end of the story she is the one who dares to display extreme bravado in order to set things right.
In the beginning of the story Amara knew about only three desires – ‘It is God’s Desire.’ ‘It is Biji’s Desire.’ ‘It is His Desire.’ She tried to live her life in accordance to them, failed, then followed her own desires and emerged as the winner. At the end of the story her doting Baba hugs her lovingly and tells ‘You know our Big American dream didn’t come true, but our Great Indian dream is turning real. And how!’ The entire story can be experienced and felt in these two lines.
I would definitely recommend the book to everyone else as it was an enriching experience for me reading it. As a reader I will be looking forward to Meghna Pant’s next fiction wherein, I hope she will explore another genre to bask in its brilliance.