Before reading even one word of Ms. Bantwal’s extraordinary work, my interest in her was piqued by the fact, in this day and age, she became betrothed to a man living in the U.S. through an arranged marriage. Do not confuse that with Internet dating and marriage agencies. This was a marriage arranged by her family, without regard for Ms. Bantwal’s wishes or objections. Fortunately, fate intervened and the marriage turned out to have a happy ending.
Needless to say, Ms. Bantwal’s Indian heritage and life experiences filter into her stories, presenting the reader with insights to a modern day culture entrenched in the past. Blending humor with her unapologetic passion for women’s rights and issues, Ms. Bantwal is a voice that combines a very important message with a most enjoyable reading experience.
Bantwal possesses two master’s degrees: Sociology and Public Administration. She recently retired from her job at a government agency while still pursuing her love of writing. A former playwright, this wife, mother, and grandmother is still occasionally requested to take the stage and share her insightful humor and anecdotes.
Her first novel, “The Dowry Bride,” established Bantwal’s literary presence with the story of a young Indian bride yet to produce a child for her husband, the plot to kill her for that failure, and her unexpected discovery of love. Next came “The Forbidden Daughter,” a dramatic story of daughters born when a son was expected, the husband’s murder, and a mother who decides to risk everything in her quest to keep her children safe. With “The Sari Shop Widow,” Bantwal moved her stories’ settings to the U.S. while continuing her theme of the magic of love and family.
Now, “The Reluctant Matchmaker” is being released. In this book, Bantwal melds the rigid customs of India with the freedoms of the U.S., yet, keeps the line between the two distinct and divisive while presenting a heroine willing to challenge embracing the old in a coat of the new. This is a story of strength, hope, love, and a woman’s determination to forge a life for herself amidst unbendable expectations and her need for happiness. Read and enjoy.
Q) The obvious question I’m bound to ask is how your marriage is today, and what barriers the two of you overcame to find happiness?
A) First of all, thank you for a great introduction and interview. The questions are very insightful and interesting. I am happy to say that with some good karma combined with our commitment to each other, our marriage is still thriving today. As strangers thrown together in an arranged marriage, nearly 39 years ago, the initial adjustment was tricky. My husband is nine years older than I, and an independent man who had been on his own since he had left home for college as a teenager, therefore unlike me, he was more set in his ways. To add to that, he is more analytical in his thinking and even-tempered; I am more impulsive, creative, and impatient. While all those could be deemed ideally complementary characteristics for a couple, it took us some time to learn how to make them work harmoniously for us.
Needless to say, love and passion took some time to take root, and ultimately thrive. Today, my husband is my very best friend and actively supports my writing career by managing my website and the business end of it.
Q) Briefly, what strife-filled commonalities do you see between U.S. born women and women born into the Indian culture and ancient beliefs still so prevalent?
A) Women, no matter where they are born, share certain emotional feminine needs, e.g., the desire for love and fidelity, motherhood (perhaps), and in today's world, a fulfilling career. It is their social environment that eventually shapes their lives to a great extent. American women look to satisfy their needs in their own independent fashion while women in India depend on their parents and other family members to help them make the right choices. Either way, the goals and motivation are similar.
Women in India have come a long way since I was a young women. They now seem to enjoy almost as much independence as men when it comes to pursuing careers. However, many of them still marry by arrangement and not by falling in love first. Nonetheless, most of them do this out of choice and not coercion.
Q) This question is out of my curiosity. Does your daughter understand the difference in choices she has and will have versus the family structure you were raised in?
A) Our daughter (our only child) was born and raised in the U.S. We instilled in her all the values inherent in American culture, so she was totally American in her thinking. Fortunately for us, she was very aware of how different our lives were compared to hers, and how lucky she was to have so many more choices than we had, simply because of the social climate of America. She chose wisely when she married eight years ago. Surprisingly, she chose to marry an Indian-American man. Why? First of all, she fell in love with him, and secondly because she felt the culture adjustment would be minimal and the two families would bond more easily. For a young lady, that was mature and practical thinking. We are proud of her.
Q) When a family (regardless of nationality or culture base) objects to a daughter or son’s choices, what one thing would you recommend to restore balance?
A) Ideological differences will never disappear, no matter how thoroughly families immerse themselves into the melting-pot culture of the U.S. However, when a family objects to their children's choices, the one thing I would recommend for restoring peace and balance is to treat them like intelligent human beings. America has an emancipated culture and one of the most outstanding educational systems in the world. Children who are lucky enough to grow up in this milieu and receive such a superior education grow up to be insightful and perceptive adults. After giving them this opportunity it would be a shame to squash their individuality with old-fashioned dictates. I would advise any conservative parent to trust their children's instincts when it comes to making life choices.
Q) Will we see another side to your superb storytelling abilities? In other words, do you have plans to write in other genres?
A) While my brand of fiction, which I affectionately call "Bollywood in a Book," has earned me a large and loyal readership, it is very tempting to spread my wings a little, write in other genres. I am currently playing with the idea of romantic mysteries since I adore reading them. A literary type novel (but with more commercial appeal) is also something that I may attempt to write in the distant future.
Q) Any parting comments for your readers and those yet to pick up one of your books?
A) I always tell readers who have never read any India-centric books to go ahead and try one of my novels. They may actually enjoy reading about a foreign culture that they may not know much about. I consider my stories both entertaining and educational, therefore readers can have fun and learn at the same time.
I receive a large number of letters from women, and a few men, who have become loyal readers after they accidentally stumbled upon my books, either at their local library, through a book club, or an airport bookstore. Almost always they say they had never read a book about Indian culture, but discovering my book(s) has opened their eyes to it in a most exciting and unexpectedly pleasant way. Now they look forward to reading more of my books and also other South Asian authors' works.
DA Kentner is an author and journalist www.kevad.net
DA Kentner is an author and journalist www.kevad.net