By Gopalpur standards, she is already an old woman, her younger sister was married before her. She looked after all her brothers and sisters and she's still at home. Without the borrowed money, no one would have taken her. What kind of man accepts a woman, almost in her twenties, with a birthmark? It has to be a desperate man.
Someone Else's Garden, being released today, is Mamta's story, but it is also the story of million other village girls, who are married off with a heavy dowry to some man, any man who will have her, even if he is an octogenarian. It is the story of mothers, who are impregnated at an alarming regularity in the hopes that many sons will fill the homes. For each son's birth that is celebrated as an immensely festive occasion, there are many other girls disappearing into the night - either as another statistic on the infant mortality graphs, or as one more exhibit in the red-light districts, or as a victim to some unnamed disease. This book is also the story of these forgotten girls and their yearnings for life and love.
Mamta is the eldest of seven children born to her mother, Lata Bai. Her younger sister has already been married off, and at twenty, Mamta is considered old. Her father routinely complains that he doesn't want to bother with feeding any of his daughters because why water someone else' gardens? That is precisely how he (and much of the backward society) views women, as someone else's eventual possessions. With her head submerged in dreams, Mamta is married to a man, who brought about his first wife's death, and now beats Mamta quite often and blames her for his downfall. When he commits a very cruel act on her, she escapes to the city. Along with Mamta, we also follow another villager, Lokend, who only wants to do good to others and see good in even the most hardcore dacoits. His brother has his eye on their father's property and assuages his hurt at not being loved enough by verbally taunting his paralyzed father. At some point, everyone's destinies cross, but before we reach there, there is plenty of pain, torture, cruelty, and tears.
Dipika Rai writes in a beautiful artistic style that vividly brings the whole village to life. I could almost taste the food, smell the hay, see the lush greens, and feel the pouring rains. There is a whole array of characters, and the author takes her time through them - revealing their petty characteristics and giving us an insight into their natures. The descriptive narration however turned out to be too meandering to me. I love it when authors share something about every character in a book - not too much that it becomes a character study, not too less that every one seems a stranger. I appreciated those character-revelations here, but I felt most of the sketch too long that I kept slipping off the main thread of the story.
The contents of the book however are very powerful - there is so much gasp-inducing stuff in here, almost all of it to deal with the cruelty against the women gender. Lata Bai's husband is irritated when she delivers yet another baby girl. He doesn't even notice that she has delivered. He considers his daughters "someone else's gardens" (Oh, the disgusting images this phrase conjured up in my mind!) Wives and daughters are regularly beaten. If a daughter is old enough and has still not received any marriage offers, the father plans to sell her to a brothel. A married woman who runs away, if ever caught, is abused and raped publicly. Worse than that - the other women approve of this "punishment". Dipika Rai doesn't mince any word as she chalks out this story - there is a lot of graphic descriptions of mundane stuff - stuff we overlook or never bother to describe. I felt grossed out a lot. In the same vein, I could have done with a little less repetition of such parts. I appreciate that none of the harsh matter is glossed over, but too much of it only grosses the reader out.
I received this book for free from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.