Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 24 June 2014
Published under the title: Domestic Bliss, Displacement & Desi Wives
Thank you Indireads & Rizwan Tufail for the review copy
Shewta Kumar takes fairy-tale endings, with the land far away as a launch pad, and enlists a newly-wed Mythili busy trading in her journalistic credentials for ‘desperate’ housewife’ as a starter. This is Shweta’s third novel and her first e-book / novella. She is an Indian writer / travel columnist who has worked as a CNN-IBN correspondent, and authored two bestsellers - ‘Between the Headlines: The Travails of a TV Reporter’ & ’Coming up on the Show: The Travails of a News Trainee’.
Here she sets out to sketch Mythili’s new life among fellow expats using Manila as a backdrop where time weighs heavily and the walls start closing in. Having left her crime reporting days as ‘chief-ferreting-out-information-officer’ behind, the characters transformation from an independent young lady to a ‘married Carrie Bradshaw’, minus her signature Jimmy Choos and New York trappings is viewed fearfully. Siddharth, the loyal husband tends to surface as Mythili goes through the requisite stages of adjustment and braces for the unknown. The close knit circle made up of his friends and their wives are regarded with scientific curiosity; the ‘pride of clapped-out lionesses’ is a delightful nod at those cliques found at every corner. Though she ensures that her misadventures in this supposedly unchartered territory are doused with references (implicit or otherwise) to Wonderland (Aka Alice) – the exotic scenery is mapped from cultural mores, and taps into its soulful center.
Some characters like that utterly absurd creature / headhunter teeter on the edge of madness in keeping with the theme, but insular immigrant communities destined to replay the distinct regional soundtrack balance the scales. A ‘dependent visa’ tab that rankles – an eternal quest to fit in, the bored housewives – perfectly coiffed with nary “an intelligent thought between them” are just one of many reasons to stage a delicious takedown using the exclusive vantage point assigned to expats. As skeletons come tumbling out, Mythili stops to observe family photographs that “silently accommodated an invisible mistress and the unseen nanny within its frames.” The plot may toy with the grim side of isolation and crippling doubts that come with the territory, but the core stays sunny, and Mythili’s escapades provide a gateway to the expat zone, its farcical outlines and meandering roads that lead to Promised Land.
‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land’ is simple, light-hearted fare that follows its leading lady down the proverbial rabbit hole, and keeps the searing commentary flowing to keep readers entertained. While it does feel like a page out of the author’s personal diary, since she was a newlywed in a foreign land herself, her impressions make for a compelling read. In the author’s own words this is a book for everyone “who has chosen to take a leap of faith by saying yes to a proposal, yes to moving to a distant land or simply yes to meeting new people and making new friends.”
It can be found listed under the genre ‘Indilife’ - that hosts “Novellas on life, drama and the modern woman (or man).” Alice will be a recurring motif and splicing a beloved children’s fantasy with Mythili’s struggles is arguably a risky move – the symbolism is inescapable and each chapter is preceded by a quote from Lewis Carrols masterpiece. Doing so might nudge this slender little book towards YA (Young Adult) corner of the shelf and narrow the reader base. As it is the Chiklit tag is considered to be a barrier that locks out an entire demographic.
The protagonist seen going off the beaten track may be an expat but the theme of alienation has universal resonance. Shweta lets the satire brew for that perfect blend and takes the idea of domestic bliss and displacement out for a spin. Her special insight paired with self-deprecating humor lessens the tedium. The desi wives club who almost faint at ‘dhania prices’ while splurging on luxuries, are mercilessly drawn and delivered on a silver platter for readers to devour. Wrestling matches with Mythili’s inner demons, and her oddly shaped obstacle course are ladled over the derivative design.
Manila is where she feels “at home and in a ‘phoren’ land,” simultaneously noting the resemblances with her hometown but without the women “in shorts quite as short” as the ones she observes. Metaphorical white rabbits, grinning Cheshire Cats, and tea loving hatters then become window dressing to a backdrop that is both strangely familiar and, incredibly intimidating. The author does not leave readers dangling and throws in a satisfying conclusion but the possibility of a sequel hangs in the air.
‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land’ has been published by Indireads on a mission to connect South Asian writers and readers, and is available for download.