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Young and smart Delhi girl Poonam Bajaj takes a chance at connubial bliss with Ravinder Arora, a small businessman from Delhi. The match is arranged by their families and the friendly neighborhood panditji, the marriage broker who is more interested in lining his own pockets rather than ensuring the compatibility of the individuals he sets up for a lifetime of togetherness.

An arranged marriage in India which celebrates the union of two families rather than individuals, is a potpourri of human expectations and this story is filled with the most ambitious ones, depending on which person you ask! The mound of expectations that make up this story are those of:

  1. Poonam, who dreams of a cozy future with her husband,
  2. Mrs. Bajaj, Poonam’s mother, who is in a hurry to get her daughter married and is also kind of broke but nevertheless promises a fat dowry to the family of a possible match for her daughter
  3. Mrs, Arora, who dreams of nothing but a big fat dowry, a daughter-in-law that would also act like a live in maid  and a never-ending sponsorship for her son that would help him meet his business goals
  4. Ravinder, the easily manipulative son who wants the excitement that comes with a pretty wife and a big fat dowry
  5. Papaji, the senior Mr.Arora, a truepenny and Ravinder’s father who genuinely wants his son and daughter-in-law to be happy
  6. Panditji, the marriage broker who pulls of the ultimate coup by bringing all the above parties who have nothing in common together

As a  result, we have a  wonderful book that takes a look at the compelling issue of dowry practices prevalent in modern India in the form of a plot that is filled with humor doused with a heavy dose of reality.

The chapters about Poonam pressing her mother-in-law’s feet while churning out of innumerable cups of tea and dusting most of  time reminds the reader of the umpteen saas-bahu serials that seem to run on cable all day. Then there is a dawn of realization that this is the kind of life that many woman face on a day-to-day basis in India.

The book is written in the format of a play, complete with notes on stage setups, props and costumes. The entire story is a conversation between a judge who would be presiding over the dowry case of Poonam Bajaj who thwarted an attempt to burn her alive by delivering karate kicks to her husband and mother-in-law, a public defender representing Poonam and a litigator representing the groom and his mother.

The author brings the reader’s attention to the double standards in our society as it applies to women very cleverly through the arguments between the judge and the two lawyers. What starts as a conversation of the usage of Section 498 A of the India Penal Code moves on to sensitive issues about how women and men are judged differently based on the way they behave or the various traits that they exhibit as a person . For e.g. A man who is well versed in martial arts would be viewed as strong and brave whereas a woman would be deemed aggressive! A woman with an extraordinary sexual appetite is judged to have a low morals whereas a man with the same desires is supposed to be normal and virile.

The book goes on to depict how weddings these days are more like business deals, ritualistic and a cheap display of wealth and one-upmanship rather than the spiritualistic celebration of love and harmony that they should be. If weddings are about the display of wealth and power, the marriages resulting from such weddings seem to be all about expecting the world of the new bride and her family. Nobody is happy if a bride enters her new home with jewellery and gifts for her new family because when compared to another bride in the neighborhood who probably got more jewellery and bigger, better gifts for her new home.

What started as a practice of a bride’s family giving her a wedding gift based on the capacity of the family during the days when the Indian law only entitled sons to inherit family property has now morphed into an ugly practice that makes it mandatory for parents  to send their daughters to their marital homes with fat wads of cash, gold and diamonds, silks and expensive gifts for her new husband and her in-laws. It seems like an entire country missed or rather chose to ignore the memo that clearly states that daughters can inherit family property too and that there is no need to unnecessarily compensate them in the form of a fat dowry!

The author describes this beautifully through the words of one of the characters that states the following: “only when this age old practice o dowry combines with modern day consumerism that the resulting concoction makes for a deadly cocktail

So what does a family who is not happy with their new daughter-in-law’s dowry do? They turn abusive and in many cases they do away with her for good! In India, women are still burnt to death when they don’t satisfy the dowry demands of their new marital homes and most of their deaths are made to look like kitchen accidents.

What’s worse is the fact  that even the courts of law investigate such cases from the point of view of the abuser rather than the victim especially when the victim does not conform to societal norms of being a woman. And that is precisely what happens in the case of Poonam. The puritan judge that listens to the arguments of the two lawyers believes that on some level that Poonam probably instigated her husband and mother-in-law to set her on fire and that she is probably the one at fault rather than those setting her on fire.

All these issues and more are brought to the forefront by the simple words of the author, Rajesh Talwar. The play manages to keep the reader’s attention throughout and even manages to raise a lot of relevant questions in the reader’s mind. By doing this Mr.Talwar has managed to educate the readers about a very serious issue plaguing the country and has also initiated a thought process on what we could do rid away with this ugly practice still practiced in all echelons of the society.

Since I am someone who feels very strongly about such issues, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend this to anyone interested in reading about some of the cultural practices that plague India. At 223 pages it is a quick and easy read about a sensitive issueIn fact, it would be a great idea to have a student friendly edition of this play to made available at schools all over India to educate our young minds about the practice of dowry and its effects on the lives of the people involved.What better way could there be to nip this process other than making the next generation of young people to seriously think about such issues?

I won a review copy from The Tales Pensieve as part of Reviewers Programme. Register on #TTP for lots of #book fun and activities

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One thought on “The Bride Who Would not Burn

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