Immigrant dilemma

Immigrant dilemma

Diary of an
Immigrant Bride
Nim Gholkar
Jaico
2015, pp 357, Rs 325

Nim Gholkar’s debut novel, Diary of an Immigrant Bride, set in 1998, is the story of a young woman, Anjali, and her marriage to the perineal workaholic Ravi. It follows the shy and unsure protagonist’s journey of self-discovery — fraught with problems, revelations and even mistakes.

Written in diary format, the novel opens with 26-year-old Anjali, young and hesitant, and a bride, disembarking in Sydney. A small town girl, Anjali is somewhat overwhelmed by her surroundings — and underwhelmed by her husband Ravi’s unromantic welcome. Then, as time goes by, her dreams of having a romantic marriage slowly come apart as it becomes more and more apparent that her husband is preoccupied with work and has little time for anything else, especially her. Problems also arise when Anjali is forced to fend for herself in a foreign land when her husband is away, which is most of the time. There are also Ravi’s quirks that she must contend with — an impeccably kept apartment, a certain taste in clothes, an unwillingness to talk at the best of times, a taken for granted attitude that leaves Anjali disillusioned almost as soon as she arrives.

Diary of an Immigrant Bride has some memorable characters. Anjali, with her daydreams and her coming to terms with a lifestyle she’s not used to, is one of them. Australia is, in the beginning at least, far too different from what she’d been used to growing up in Maharashtra. There is a bewildering amount of things to learn and new customs to understand, and Australian English is tougher for her than she’d bargained for, and her troubles with settling down range from trying to combat loneliness and finding a job. Added to that is her uncertainty over her wardrobe. Confusion and flustered feelings arise when she does find the job she likes, only to find that she likes her boss as well. Who, inconveniently or not, reciprocates her feelings.

Her chatty friend Naina has some odd ideas about marriage, ideas that shock Anjali, and is a well-drawn-out character. Vibha is fashionable and appears to have secrets. Ravi’s ex-wife Annalise turns out to be rather surprising for Anjali. There’s her mother-in-law, with her nitpicking ways and criticisms, and her insistence on doing things just so. And there’s Ravi, a man who does not understand ‘idle’ chitchat, nor does he believe in romantic nonsense. All of which turn out to be frustrating for the lonely Anjali. Characterisation is, on the whole, well done in Diary of an Immigrant Bride.

The writing style is slightly stilted at times, with a frequent mixing up of the past and present tenses. Which may be understandable, considering that the book is really the protagonist’s diary. There are also moments when the prose is a little too flighty, especially at some points in dialogue.

The plot itself might be predictable, with its arranged marriage trope — bride finds her husband different from what she thought he would be, a foreign country where people intimidate her, and the arrival of an outsider who’s attentive, kind, caring. Ravi’s mother also fits the mould, mostly, of an overbearing mother-in-law, with his father a lot more understanding. It is a familiar tale of immigration from a small Indian city to a large western country.

Descriptions of Anjali’s new life and her roving in Sydney are woven into her diary entries, and while not excessively verbose, does well enough to portray a living, breathing city. Anjali’s ruminations on her own marriage and her parents’ fear of her growing into an old maid, mother-in-law’s bossiness, and the dilemmas of trying to fit into a different culture, and her efforts to conquer her shyness, are convincing.

Despite the predictability and the possible expected outcome of both the protagonist’s fate and the outcome of the story, Diary of an Immigrant Bride is an enjoyable read.

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