By Shobhan Bantwal
Author of The Reluctant Matchmaker and other novels about India
Despite my nearly 40-year-old arranged marriage and my conservative childhood in small-town India, I am a hopeless romantic. And this is why I decided to buck the stereotype of serious Indian literary fiction and write romance instead. However, my brand of romance also includes some bold and controversial social issues that most South Asian fiction authors shy away from.
Fortunately there is an abundance of story ideas in my own culture. Consequently my books are essentially "Bollywood in a Book"—a kaleidoscope of all the elements of my native India—vivid tales woven around exotic women, authoritarian men, and hot-button social issues. My stories are filled with the vivid colors, textures, scents, and images of India. They offer a small glimpse of a tantalizing, paradoxical culture that is ancient yet modern, simple yet complicated. Kensington Publishing has given me an extraordinary opportunity to introduce my unique brand of multicultural fiction to a wider audience.
While conflict is part and parcel of every society, it is even more apparent in conservative cultures like India, where love and romance are rarely given credence. The rigid caste system and arranged marriage still exist in contemporary India. Dowry abuse is rampant, women are still considered burdens, and dominant males are fierce guardians of their heritage.
India is the land of the Kama Sutra, an ancient textbook on sex, and the Bollywood movies are all about romance, and yet the word "sex" is rarely uttered, premarital sex is frowned upon, and legitimate sex between married people is looked at as a necessary evil. Nonetheless all those countless taboos, spices, superstitions, saris, and languages provide the most delicious cultural tidbits that add complex layers to my fiction.
Three of my books are set in India. The protagonists are very different in their personalities, and yet they share a few traits, like the strength to overcome extreme challenges and the tenacity to become independent.
My debut novel, The Dowry Bride, is the story of a young Indian bride's escape from her abusive marriage and her journey to freedom and love. The Forbidden Daughter brings to light the horrific practice of female fetus abortion, but the dark topic is intricately woven into a story of courage, hope, and ultimately, romance. The Unexpected Son is all about pre-marital sex and the lifelong consequences of bearing a child out of wedlock. But every one of these novels has romance as the underlying theme.
The Indian-American immigrant experience is yet another delightful source of conflict, where conformist Indians raising their children in the emancipated American milieu grapple with dating, pre-marital sex, and sometimes gay relationships. Young, second-generation Indian-Americans facing the challenges of conservative family lives combined with fitting into the American social fabric form the topics of my two latest novels, The Full Moon Bride and The Reluctant Matchmaker.