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Book Reviews - Mango Season And Matrimonial Purposes

Michelle Reele
06/17/2003

The Mango Season
By Amulya Malladi
Ballantine Hardcover, $22.95
240 pages
ISBN: 0345450302

For Matrimonial Purposes: A Novel
By Kavita Daswani
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Hardcover $23.95
288 pages
ISBN: 0399150706

Judging from the subject matter of more than a few South Asian novels published in the U.S. of late, writers have seemed to key in on one aspect of Indian life that alternately baffles, amazes and appalls: arranged marriage.

Interestingly, while different results are often represented in fiction in regards to arranged marriage, there is a constant: nearly all parents, no matter what the eventual outcome, hope to be able to “arrange” a suitable marriage partner. This seems to be equally important between the sexes -----Vikram Seth’s tome, A Suitable Boy devoted 1,000 plus pages to the suitability of various arrangements! Because, the idea if not the eventuality of arranged marriage is so much a part of the fabric of Indian (and the Diaspora) life and culture, many individuals acquiesce to parents’ wishes and give the “look see” process a try. In an e-mail interview, Amulya Malladi, author of The Mango Season was candid and rather pragmatic about the process as she has seen and experienced it herself: “I think it is quite common . . . you respect your parents, it is not a system you rebel against or fight against when you don’t conform, it is your parents you kick in the teeth. I think that’s why a lot of Indians will follow their parents’ wishes even if their dreams might be getting a little crushed.”

Malladi’s second book, The Mango Season is a bumpy ride through 27 year old Priya Rao’s visit home to India, where she had left 7 years previous to live in the U.S. Arriving in India with every (good) intention of telling her parents that she is in love and engaged with an American man proves difficult at best, nearly impossible at worst. To complicate matters thoroughly, Priya’s fiancé, Nick, is African-American. Tough news, that, considering Priya’s parents already have a suitable boy in mind. Malladi masterly portrays the psychological push and pull of tensions and conflicts. Thankfully, the author doesn’t let anyone off the hook in this novel. Malladi’s characters are well drawn and the clash of cultures portrayed are not only authentic, but heartbreaking, as well. Artistic imagination notwithstanding, Malladi may have borrowed from her own life in regards to the conflict of emotions Priya experiences in the novel. She explains her own experience this way: "My husband and I had been living together for 2 years before we were married and I told my parents the truth about where and with whom I was living. Needless to say, that was not well received. So when we did get married, they were relieved . . . I wasn’t living in sin anymore. Still, the fact that they didn’t keep asking us to get married all the time we were living together was decent of them and commendable, because this living together business is simply not done in India”

The Mango Season is a well- developed narrative with Indian family life fully fleshed out. Most interesting is the metamorphosis of Priya who returns to India where she was born and raised and feels alienated. Accompanying her mother to the mango bazaar, Priya experiences conflicting emotions as her mother haggles shamelessly and Priya sweats:

That had to be a stretch, but I didn’t want to get embroiled in this particular discussion. I stood mute next to my mother, patiently waiting for the ordeal to be over. My light pink salwar kameez was dirty and I was sweating as if I had never been through an Indian summer before. But I had been through twenty Indian summers and now seven years later I was having trouble acclimating to my homeland. It will be Priya’s first sense of discomfort in India but not the last time she will feel a stranger to both her country and its customs.

Kavita Daswani’s For Matrimonial Purposes: A Novel fulfills the American fascination with arranged marriage, and while loosely based on her own experiences, the writing of the book was almost entirely inspired by Daswani’s own quest for matrimony:

"I found that the more I told friends and colleagues about the quest for a mate that my family embarked on when I was quite young, the more enchanted they found it".

"Eventually, so many of them told me I had to base a book on it, that I couldn’t really not do so. It wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to write fiction. I simply took a lot of things that had happened to me or people I know and set them in different venues, changed some of the things around".

When the story begins, thirty-something Anju finds herself in Jhule Lal Temple at her cousin Nina’s wedding and what could be more uncomfortable for an over thirty never been married Indian woman than at a younger cousin’s wedding? Daswani, with a keen eye for humor, hilariously depicts the good-natured and well meaning friends and relatives who attempt to have her married posthaste ;

“Your turn next,” said Aunty Mona, my mother’s second cousin, who was standing next to me. She grinned, revealing a space between her two front teeth the size of East Timor. That gap was considered a sign of good luck. Any Indian face-reader worth his chapati dinner, knew that the wider the space, the greater the fortune. “Don’t worry beti, it will be your turn soon,” Auntie Mona consoled, patting me on the back. “God will listen to your prayers. It’s all karma. Tsk tsk.”

In contrast to Malladi’s Priya, Daswani’s Anju really doesn’t mind finding a husband the traditional way, much to the amazement and fascination of her professional American friends who are back in New York waiting for her to come to her senses and come back to work. Daswani has written a wholly pleasurable novel with all of the inherent ups and downs in the narrative, making the reader feel as she has as much invested in the quest as Anju. And, indeed, what comes through in both the writing and the stories themselves is the sense of which Priya and Anju become in the process: women who, despite much family participation in the marriage process, know what they want. But do they eventually get it?



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Kavita Daswani


Amulya Malladi

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