In Dey’s debut novel, an Indian woman, newly wed, learns that she will be shared in marriage with her husband’s brother.
In Rakcham, near the Tibetan border, 22-year-old Pravin lives with his wife, Nisha; his younger brother, Diwakar; their father, Shevak; their mother, Parvati; and his kid sister, Ria. Pravin’s thoughts are primarily of Nisha, whom he loves. A beauty, Nisha is from Ribba and studied literature at college, where she met Pravin. Nisha is in love with Pravin and fantasizes about their future together, even though her lot will be farming, cooking, bearing children and ensuring the happiness of others. To support the family, Pravin, an electrician, works in the city, which limits the time he spends at home. In his absence, Diwakar and Nisha grow closer, though she thinks of him as a brother. A few weeks later, home on a brief work leave, Pravin proposes a common marriage—he and Diwakar will share Nisha as their wife. The plan makes sense economically and culturally for the family unit, but it troubles Nisha, who has no choice or say in the matter. Author Dey calls attention to the primitive tradition of common marriage, still practiced in some remote communities in India. Although the brothers share one wife, as characters, they are diverse. Pravin is traditional, pragmatic, quick to anger and capable of managing city life, while Diwakar is loyal, affectionate and dreamily sensitive, not just with Nisha, but in his appreciation of the pastoral life in the Himalayan foothills. Although well told, the narrative’s pacing sometimes lags, and the book’s raison d’être—the common marriage—is not openly discussed until the final third. One interesting, ironic twist about women’s sexuality in the novel: Although one female character suffers in an arranged marriage and satisfies her husband’s libido, it’s nonetheless acceptable for her to seek sexual satisfaction from her husband’s live-in friend—with no knowledge or consent of her husband. A subplot involving kid sister Ria, aggressively infatuated with boyfriend Jeet, offers hope that her future will be more expansive, loosening the traditional boundaries of outmoded practices. Since Nisha is powerless to reject or affect Pravin’s decision to share her with his brother, her options are few. The outcome is hardly a surprise and, if anything, seems to support tradition. Still, the tale is quietly strong in its portrayal of an Indian family and their lives of ritual, devotion and sacrifice.
A slow-moving but worthwhile exploration of common marriage in Rakcham, India.