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Avantika Debnath’s debut book The Bridal Pyre – Nainam Dahati Pavakah is the story of a woman facing a nightmarish life after an arranged marriage.
According to a very regressive Indian saying, a married woman who leaves her father’s house in a doli, should only come back in an arthi. What this means is that once married, a woman should never return to her parents’ house and that she shall leave her matrimonial home only in the event of her death. Probably this saying is taken much too literally when a woman escapes to her parents’ home in a battered state, after being dragged through hell by her husband and in-laws.
Meera, a professionally qualified and well-earning woman has an arranged marriage with a reasonably decent and respectable man who promises to love her eternally. Her parents arrange a lavish wedding.
The hopes and dreams of the young woman are shattered as she starts to live with her obnoxious mother in law, greedy and perverted father in law, and a spineless, self-centered husband. The image of a loving family that was portrayed to her by her then fiancé, was a farce and the reality is dark and unnerving. Initially, Meera tries to adjust, but once the atrocities escalate to a savage level, she decides to get out.
The story gets engaging once Meera starts living with her husband and in-laws. The everyday taunts and humiliation, the lies that are second nature to this family, the random insults directed towards Meera’s parents are all relatable, and unfortunately a story of every home. Meera’s desperate need for her husband’s love and the hopeless hope of seeing him stand up for her is heart-breaking.
In an effectively crafted scene, Meera leaves her husband’s home and decides to get a divorce. She files cases of domestic violence and dowry harassment against her husband and his family. The way the case is handled by the police is realistically depicted.
I have heard people quote false 498a cases as a testimony of misuse of women empowerment. There is no doubt that filing a false case is wrong. But the reality is that in India, it is all a power game. Whoever has more money, manipulates the law and police to work towards his / her advantage.
In this case, a genuinely tortured Meera struggles to get action taken against her barbaric husband and in-laws as she has no evidence of fresh bruises on her body, and she fails to substantiate that money spent on her husband and in-laws was in fact dowry and not a ‘gift of love and affection’ by her father. She has to take leave from her work, travel and pay for litigation expenses to get back her own money. This is the stark reality, and the reason why a lot of women settle for zero alimony divorces (contrary to the popular belief that women become millionaires after divorce), just to get rid of the garbage from their lives.
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I would have liked to see Meera get out sooner, at the very first instance of abuse. Meera thinks of what she would like to say to her husband and in-laws but doesn’t actually say those words until the part where she has an outburst and leaves the house. I hope that in reality, women unleash their wrath before it is too late, and they have suffered irreparable damage to their body and soul.
The risk inherent with arranged marriages is also something well illustrated in the book. I know our elders convince us that even a love marriage is a gamble. I agree there is no guarantee of any marriage working out whether love or arranged. But does that give us the license to have an arranged marriage with people we barely know and have not spent more than 24 hours with (engagement included!)?
Hope that people read this book and understand the problems that smart, independent, seemingly modern and confident women of our generation are facing and make informed choices in life. A lesson learned from others’ mistakes saves a lot of our life.
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I like to write about the problems that have plagued the Indian society. I feel
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Hi Tanvi, I would think that in a successful marriage match there are two key factors that come into play. 1. Individual’s behavioural/personality traits 2. the value system that each holds. If our education is to be any good to us (beyond the extremely narrow minded and short sighted purpose of merely earning a livelihood to feed our bellies) we should be using it to figure stuff out, about how life works. One of the key things we educated people in India should’ve thus figured, is that a typical traditional arranged Indian marriage is based on the age-old premise that we lived in a homogenous society where values and upbringing are identical in all homes of the same caste, religion or socio-cultural class group. This may have been the case 50-60years ago. However since then, we have to acknowledge that there has been a glaring, growing gap and a vast difference in cultural values from household to household, group to group and individual to individual even within the same caste, religion, socio-cultural group. Often at schools, work places, neighbourhoods, the very next person we interact with hardly ever holds the exact same value system as us. The diversity of the group is so high that even within our own blood related families, individuals hold very different values. Thus matching people two people who must live together and carry out role responsibilities within that live-in relationship (be it marriage or otherwise) becomes a very fine “balancing rope act”. Educated individuals proposing to marry, need to actually spend a lot of time together and really get insights into each other’s behavioural and personality traits and the value system that they hold. This will help them really see if they are suited to be together. Parents or outsiders who may attempt to do the matching (especially of educated and working children who spend so much time outside the home that they develop personalities distinct and even tangential to their home set up) may perhaps not be adequately aware of the finer changes or nuances of the behavioural tendencies, personality traits or value system their own family members have/hold. So they are really unqualified to do this job of match making. We must address the issue of marriage in a logical enlightened manner and not just go with the flow of age old customs and traditions which do not have relevance in the modern context. The traditional arranged marriage is a contextual blur, from this point of view. We need to over haul it completely to suit the modern context, so that beyond setting up the couple, the parents or match makers have little control over where things will go from there. It is only the couple who must decide if they are suited to be with each other after spending enough time together(over months or even a few years) After all this, marriage may still be a gamble like you point out but there is far less chance of starting off on the wrong foot to begin with like in many arranged marriages!!
Hi Sonia, As always thanks for sharing your insights. I feel that the traditional arranged marriage set up has becomes quite irrelevant for all the reasons you have rightly enumerated. In India, there is so much pressure to get married that parents feel that it is better to get their children married “in time” (whatever that means!) as it is better than being alone. Children also get convinced, would not like to use the term forced as it is too strong. I don’t know if it is possible to change the older generation but I just wish the younger generation makes better choices!
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