Tragedy befalls an Indian girl whose elders preordain her marital destiny in this absorbing drama, based on a true story.
When Meenakshi’s mother dies during childbirth, her father relinquishes the newborn to his sister and brother-in-law, Shamanna. Seeing Meena as a threat to his daughter’s potential suitors, Shamanna mistreats his fragile, obedient niece. It’s the early 1900s, and Indian tradition obliges young teenagers to enter into prearranged marriages. The homely yet moneyed Kamakshi is betrothed to her cousin Chandru, while the beautiful orphan Meena is bound to Ramu, a sickly, impotent 42-year-old man. A Romeo and Juliet–type scenario ensues when Meena and Chandru fall in love but are forbidden to wed. Resigned to uphold tradition, duty and honor to their families, they are reduced to occasional amorous glances while trapped in miserable marriages. Chandru turns to booze and prostitutes to blunt his longing for Meena. He abuses Kamakshi with the fury of an untamed beast. Meena begs him to restore his dignity as a husband and father, but he tells her it’s impossible, that without her, drink is his “life’s partner.” Chandru fathers five children, but Meena remains barren, a curse she believes God ordained for her. But when Kamakshi falls ill, Meena offers to take care of Chandru and their children. Weeks after returning home to her feeble husband, she discovers she is pregnant. No longer shamed by infertility, everyone rejoices and prays for a male offspring. But when Kamakshi and Ramu learn of their spouses’ betrayals, jealousy, fury and guilt lead to unforeseen consequences Herculean in nature. In tightly knitted prose, Rajanna explores ancient customs of Southern India that hold religion and superstition, familial rank and obedience in the highest regard. He expertly reflects India’s strict adherence to loyalty, the importance of the dowry and the significance of one’s position within the family. With the furor of a Greek tragedy, their lives unfold with dire consequences.
A vivid chronicle of calamity that yanks at the heartstrings.