“The Rules of Arrangement” by Anisha Bhatia, a comedy of manners
Navigating the difficult waters of parental expectations and societal pressure while steering their own destiny is a common challenge for young people in general. For many young women in India, it can be difficult to just touch the wheel.
In her debut novel, “The Rules of the Arrangement,” which was published last week by Alcove Press, author Anisha Bhatia introduces us to Zoya, who faces this exact dilemma. Despite frequent comments disparaging her dark skin and “full body,” the 26-year-old is keeping her sanity in large part thanks to her passion for her marketing work – and a wicked sense of humor.
Bhatia, a longtime San Diego resident, recounts Zoya’s experiences in what the Punjabi young woman calls “the gladiatorial arena of arranged marriages.” Throughout this comedy of manners, which will be distributed by Penguin Random House, Zoya drops many references to pop culture, from Bollywood movies to the TV sitcom “Friends”.
âThere is a big difference between a 26-year-old in India and a 26-year-old here,â said Bhatia of her Rancho Bernardo home, which she shares with her husband Akhil and their two children.
âIn India, girls are more safe and protected than someone here who has already started life. So this young lady is in the midst of movies and pop culture and uses them a lot more than anyone here would. And I’m a huge âFriendsâ fan, so it just came naturally to me. “
“The Rules of Arrangement” takes place in Mumbai, the huge Indian seaside town where Bhatia grew up. She arrived here in 2002 as a graduate student in marketing at San Diego State University and met her Indian-born husband the same year. He moved here after graduating from the University of North Carolina.
Bhatia applied to several schools and hoped to enter San Francisco State University, near where a cousin lived. But she is delighted to have ended up here.
When asked what commonalities Mumbai and San Diego share, Bhatia laughed.
“Just the sea!” she said. âSan Diego is much more peaceful, not in a rush. It is a lovely place. It makes me happy the moment I walk through the door.
âI have visited New York often and Mumbai looks a lot like that in its ambiance. Everyone is rushing somewhere. Noise, traffic and still construction.
Readers see Zoya in her bustling hometown, attending a myriad of marriage-related family occasions. It could be a pre-wedding henna ceremony, a cousin’s wedding, or excruciatingly awkward reunions with potential husbands and their families. Zoya faces it all with witty zingers – mostly said to herself.
Although her mother worries about the prospects of her only daughter, Zoya comes under more constant pressure from Shelia Bua, her paternal aunt. She is the official, albeit self-proclaimed, organizer of Zoya’s sprawling family weddings.
Given Shelia Bua’s take on her niece’s shortcomings, she has waited until this moment to set her sights on Zoya’s wife, who is much older than most of her targets. Their relationship is strained.
“For many people of Zoya’s age, in very traditional societies where you have to behave in a certain way or you are not approved of, there is resentment towards older women forcing them to respect. the rules, âBhatia said. âSociety (in India) is patriarchal, but women uphold these traditions more than men.
âThere is resentment on the part of young women towards older women. But they don’t realize that older women are where they are because of things that have happened to them.
The evolving dynamic between Zoya and Sheila Bua becomes central to the story as the young woman learns more about her aunt’s past and present.
Besides meeting potential suitors, Zoya goes to parties, works hard at her job, deals with her initially taciturn boss, and tries to find the secret admirer who sends her flowers and delicious treats. These treats often include Kit Kats, Zoya’s favorite comfort food.
Bhatia, whose book will be published in Britain by another publisher, drew on her own experiences as well as the girls and women she grew up with in Mumbai. His vivid descriptions of the mouth-watering Punjabi cuisine that Zoya enjoys is an indication of the author’s familiarity. Growing up, Bhatia witnessed the pressure to get married, as well as the prejudices that people can experience.
âIn India, there is definitely a perception – especially among women – that lighter skin is considered more beautiful,â Bhatia said. âI don’t know if it’s a legacy of our colonial history or if it’s a basic patriarchal mindset. It’s probably a mix of the two.
âIn terms of weight, this was something important for Zoya to learn as the book developed. Everyone has issues with their appearance, not just overweight people. And it was. something that she needed to learn organically.It’s part of growing up.
“The Rules of the Arrangement” by Anisha Bhatia (Alcove Press, 2021; 320 pages)
Wood is a freelance writer.