You’re in for a rare treat today. Mainstream women’s fiction author Shobhan Bantwal joins us to talk about her fascinating and suspense-filled novel, The Dowry Bride, which came out from Kensington last month. Shobhan has published short fiction in literary magazines and articles in numerous publications. She also writes plays in her native tongue--Konkani and performs on stage at Indian-American conventions.
Welcome to The Book Connection, Shobhan. It is a distinct pleasure to have you with us.
Thanks so much for inviting me to your forum. You have a warm and wonderful spot for authors and readers to meet and discuss books, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.
Before we discuss The Dowry Bride, I would like to take a few moments to let our readers get to know you. How long have you been writing? Is there a certain aspect of life that your writing centers around?
I took up creative writing rather late in life -- quite recently as a matter of fact. I like to call it my “menopausal epiphany.” It wasn’t exactly a calling, but at age 50, when my menopausal problems included insomnia, mild depression and major surgery, I felt like I needed a creative hobby despite having a demanding full-time job. I started by enrolling in a creative writing course at the local community college. I also began writing short human interest articles for Indian-American newspapers. When they were received well I tried my hand at short fiction. Imagine my surprised delight when one of my short stories won first place in a fiction competition and two other stories won honorable mention in nationwide contests. The writing bug got me very quickly after that point and I wrote two full-length novels, one of them being THE DOWRY BRIDE.
My writing centers around my Indian heritage. They say one should write what one knows, so I try to stick to what I know. With my arranged marriage background and Hindu philosophy, I enjoy writing about those topics and other elements of Indian culture.
You were born in India and came to the United States as a young bride. Can you share what this experience was like? Was it difficult to adjust to a different culture after so many years of living in India?
I arrived on a cold wintry evening in early March 1974, wearing a sari, fancy Indian sandals and a thin coat that did nothing to protect me from the icy New York City wind that whipped up my sari into a balloon and left my unprotected feet frozen into popsicles. Having come from Bombay’s hundred degree heat, that was something! Later, while I waited outside JFK Airport for my husband to bring the car around from the parking lot, I noticed a young couple kissing and groping each other openly (one of them was obviously leaving for someplace and this was a passionate goodbye). Talk about “culture shock.” Both my body and mind took a good battering that day, my first day on American soil. But within a few months I felt right at home. Summer brought on warm temperatures, too. I was a young woman with a mind of my own, so I totally embraced the freedoms afforded by American culture.
You give credit to your parents for giving you an outstanding education and a love of reading. How can parents do that today in a society where everyone is busy running in five different directions?
It’s actually easier to give one’s children both those things in today’s society. Both my parents worked seven days a week while raising five children. They didn’t have many choices back then either, since there was only one decent English school in our small town and one tiny private library that charged a fee for membership and had a very limited selection of books. Whereas now, with easy access to the Internet, free public libraries, great public and private schools, books in print, electronic and audio format, and educational toys, the sky is the limit for middle-class kids. But the important thing to remember is to introduce reading to children at an early age. Less television and video games and more books could make a reader out of any child.
Let’s move on to The Dowry Bride. What is this story about? What is the source of inspiration behind it?
THE DOWRY BRIDE is the story of one young woman trapped in India’s arranged marriage and dowry system and a culture of fascinating contradictions. When the bride, Megha, accidentally discovers her in-laws’ plot to kill her for not producing the promised dowry, she escapes and embarks on a rocky journey to freedom. Her savior turns out to be a kind brother-in-law, the most unlikely individual she could think of. But the growing attraction between them has the potential to destroy them -- a married woman and an in-law in a conservative society.
The source of inspiration was the knowledge that in this day and age, when women have supposedly achieved emancipation, these kinds of atrocities still continue with impunity. I decided to take an extreme case of dowry abuse and weave a story around it.
For those of us who might be unfamiliar with the Indian culture, why is a dowry so important? Is it important enough to kill for?
Dowry is the custom of giving money, gold and diamonds, sometimes real estate and/or livestock, etc. to the groom’s family by the bride’s family. It supposedly started as a way to ensure equitable distribution of property amongst sons and daughters in a patriarchal society. Dowry was given voluntarily as a gift by the bride’s family as a sort of insurance for her future (in case of abandonment by her spouse or widowhood), but somewhere down the line it turned into an ugly system of the groom’s family demanding it and in extreme cases extorting it.
Mind you, dowry is not the norm in India. Most marriages take place with no hint of dowry, but there are some small communities where dowry is very prevalent and is practiced to this day. Large money transactions can lead to greed, and extreme greed can lead to crime. Money can be very corrupting as we all know.
Kiran hides Megha in his apartment after she runs away. Why does Kiran agree to help her? Does he realize the danger he is putting himself in?
There are two reasons why Kiran agrees to help Megha by hiding her in his apartment: first, he’s in love with her and will do everything in his power to save her; second, he is a man of integrity and abhors the idea of dowry and any sort of abuse.
At first, although he knows of the dangers involved in helping Megha, he does not realize the degree of peril surrounding the situation. Later, when he realizes his aunt will stop at nothing to get her way, he comprehends the gravity of the situation.
Megha’s and Kiran’s feelings deepen into more than just friendship. How will readers relate to this change in their relationship? Do you believe they can accept it and wish for Megha and Kiran to be together?
Most people, and especially women, are likely to relate to the change in Megha’s and Kiran’s relationship. I’m a romantic at heart and I’m sure there are lots of readers who feel the same way. If not all my readers, at least a fair number of them are likely accept the tender feelings between the two main characters and wish them well. In fact, I receive plenty of positive feedback from readers rooting for Megha and Kiran and wishing them a “happily ever after” future.
The Dowry Bride sounds like an amazing novel. Where can readers purchase a copy?
Thanks for the kind words. THE DOWRY BRIDE is available through all the bookstores and retail stores in the U.S. and Canada, and all on-line booksellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, etc. Any place that sells books has my book available for purchase.
Do you have any future projects you wish to share with our readers?
I have a two-book deal with my publisher, Kensington Books, so I’m currently discussing some ideas for the second book with my editor. We have not quite settled on the theme yet.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Yes. I’m giving away a “Dowry Bag” to one winner at all my book signings and I will be conducting “Dowry Bag” drawings every now and then through my website as well. To enter a drawing, go to my website: http://www.shobhanbantwal.com By the way, my website also has lots of information on India, some of my favorite Indian recipes, and photographs.
Thank you Shobhan for providing us with insight into the Indian culture and for sharing so much about The Dowry Bride. Good luck with the rest of your Virtual Book Tour. I wish you great success.
Thank you for interviewing me and for the good wishes. It was loads of fun and very stimulating talking about THE DOWRY BRIDE and about myself. I’m enjoying the Virtual Book Tour very much.
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