I don’t have much experience with the Indian culture and what I do know wouldn’t fill up a thimble. (Basically, my knowledge of anything Indian comes from walking around Liberty Avenue along the Brooklyn/Queen border, trying some food at work when my boss decided to go Indian that one time, and accompanying a friend, who needed a fancy sari for a family party.) One of the reasons I was looking forward to reading The Bollywood Bride was to add some more knowledge to what I already knew. It definitely accomplished that–describing the different clothes, food, and the traditional Indian wedding ceremony. What I really found interesting was the way the family interacting with one another, but I will get back to that later. First, a summary:
Ria Parkar is a Bollywood star, nicknamed the Ice Princess because she doesn’t let anyone get close to her. Her career couldn’t be going better, but instead of reading the newest script presented to her by her agent, she’s on a plane headed to Chicago for her cousin, Nikhil’s wedding. She hasn’t been back to The Windy City in the 10 years since she became a “film star” and would rather be anywhere else because her ex, Vikram, will also be at the wedding (he’s Nikhil’s cousin from the other side of his family). She desperately does not want to see him because doing so will bring back all of the feelings that she has tried to suppress for a decade.
The story is told completely from Ria’s point of view, so for the first 30% of the book, I absolutely hated Vikram. He treated her abysmally and enjoyed doing so. Imagine, the hero wanted to hurt the heroine and relished seeing the pain in her eyes. What a prince. Even now, knowing that she hurt him in the past and how he changes by the time we hit the halfway mark, I still have trouble liking him. I actually had to push myself to continue reading after the scene in the restaurant where he blows up at Ria in front of their friends and I know the only reason I did continue is because I received this as an ARC through Netgalley.
That said, I am glad I continued. I really like Ms. Dev’s writing style and the way she was able to describe the different elements of Indian culture without it sounding preachy. My favorite scene in which she does this is when Ria and the other women are taking part in the Henna Ceremony, which I found really romantic. For those that aren’t familiar with the ceremony, the women have henna tattoos drawn on their arms and the color it dries into signifies the kind of love the wearer has. It is a lovely thought, even though the color probably has more to do with skin tone and absorbency rate than anything else.
Like I said above, I really liked the way the family interacted and they reminded me a lot of my mom’s Italian family, right down to the aunts that always wanted Ria to eat (my Great Aunt Millie would run around telling people to “Mangia”). Food is a very big part of these interactions and i got the impression that this was a big part of Indian-American culture, so that too is similar to how I grew up with my mom’s family. I have to admit that I’ve never heard of any of the foods that were mentioned, but I did google one that sounded particularly good, only to find that it had nothing to do with chocolate as I thought it did.
If you follow me on twitter, you know that I had plenty of problems with this book, most of them stemming from Vikram’s treatment of Ria in the beginning of the book, but some of these issues also come from the way mental illness was treated. One of the reasons Ria doesn’t want anything to do with Vikram, despite being head over heels in love with him for most of her life, is that her mother and grandmother both suffered from what I can only describe as Postpartum Psychosis and she does not want to pass on their insanity to any children they might have. She’s also afraid that if they married and had children, she would turn on him the way her mother did her father and eventually kill him.
I get why she’s afraid, especially coming from a world where anyone with mental illness as viewed as insane or cursed. Psychological treatment, apparently does not exist for these people, and that more than anything else made me afraid for Ria. As I read, I saw signs of mental illness in her, Bipolar Disorder most specifically (although Vikram thinks she’s suffering from PTSD). Her moods would swing from ebullient to depressed in a matter of minutes and because of the stigma placed on people like her, I did not see her getting the help she needs. Obviously, this isn’t just an Indian issue. When I was studying for my Bachelor’s Degree, my aunt let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t believe that psychology was a real science and that psychosis is not a real thing. I’ve also heard of Hispanic families denying that their children are on the Autism Spectrum because they were ashamed. This is a cross-cultural issue and one that we need to deal with because Ria’s fears are real. While most people probably wouldn’t take them as far as she did, there are many people who live in fear because of what might lurk in their blood as many psychoses are hereditary.
I’m going to end this post with a plea; If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illness, please seek help. You do not need to suffer in silence. If you live in the United States, you can contact the National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bollywood Bride is currently available for pre-order and is set to be released on September 29th.