“One and a Half Wife” by Meghna Pant is the story of Amara Malhotra, a fourteen year old girl who lives in Shimla with her conservative parents, Biji and Baba. Amara is intelligent, independent and obedient and does not argue with her parents. She is very close to Baba, who is very understanding and supports his wife for Amara’s sake. This book can be divided into three parts: pre America; America and post America.
Biji dreams of going to America and settling down so that Amara could marry a rich Indian boy in Amreeka. She speaks english to show she is educated. She goes to palmists, temples and even card picking parrots. When Amara was a few months old, Biji’s brother, Dua mama said that he had eased the path by applying for Malhotra family’s Green Cards to America. Since then, for fourteen years Biji is waiting for the day to come when they would board a flight to America.
Once in America, her cousins do not treat her well, her mother forbids her to make ‘white friends’. She makes friends with Stacy while doing accountancy and gets a job in Dua mama’s firm as an accountant. Mrs Roy sees her at a party and gets her married to her son, the Harvard-educated millionaire Prashant Roy. She tries to make a success of her marriage but five years later Prashant tells her he married her for his mother’s sake and that he cannot love her and asks her for a divorce. After her separation, her parents also disown her and she finds a renewed friendship with her cousin who had not treated her well initially.
They decide to move back to Shimla and in the car from Delhi to Shimla, Amara realizes that India has also changed in the seventeen years that she was away. There are all buildings, flyovers, billboards, people wearing western outfits and McDonalds. In Shimla, her mother first tries to cover up Amara’s divorce, then is open about it and then asks her to consider proposals from suitable men.
Amara makes a new set of friends, starts her own business, tries to rebuild her life but then the local goons start troubling her. Her parents begin to support her and then Lalit comes along, understands her and she falls in love with him.
It is a very well written book, emotional at times and practical at times. The close relationship of the Malhotra family shows the Indian values. I am waiting to read Meghna’s next book.