Hira is left alone. After the untimely death of her mother she is coerced to marry into a family that she only knew about through conversations with her mother. She leaves the life she had in London landing in Ambala, India in the dead of night and is whisked away to the home of her husband and her in-laws. It is here that she meets with Dadi, her husband’s grandmother, a woman who rules the household with a fist of iron and will not allow anyone to breathe without her permission. Welcomed lovingly by her two sisters-in-law, an adoring grandfather and two wonderful brothers Hira finally finds a family that she had yearned for and soon begins to adapt her lifestyle to fit in.
Xarina Akhtar’s story about arranged marriage covers family, relationships, love, filial piety, acceptance and adaptation.
Hira woke up with a start and sat up in bed. The dream had been back to torment her and again she woke up at the exact same moment as all the times before. She watched her mother being escorted away over the rickety wooden bridge, by two women, to the green and lush fields beyond. As they crossed the bridge she knew that she would never see her mother again and her heart broke for the second time. For the bridge in her dream represented the final barrier to heaven. The two women? Angels? Perhaps? Helping her mother make that final journey; taking away all her fears and indecisions of entering the paradise she had often spoke of, to Hira as a child. Whether Hira still held onto the belief that there still was a heaven or that she would one day be reunited with her mother was up for debate. But at this moment in time she felt lost and abandoned. Her mother had left her.
She brushed away a tear and looked at the sleeping form of her husband, Aaryan. Needing reassurance and comfort she reached out to touch him, hoping for a hug in return. He grunted in his sleep and shrugged.
‘Leave it, Alisha,’ he murmured. She withdrew her hand. He had been quite distant with her since her arrival and she got the impression that she was more of an irritation to him. Every time he looked at her he seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face. As he uttered another woman’s name she felt her heart sink. Then anger. Alisha had to be someone quite close to him.
‘What had she let herself in for?’ she thought to herself, travelling halfway across the world to the state of Ambala, not knowing a soul or a friendly face. She was at the mercy of a family that she had only known about through fleeting conversations with her mother. Lying back, she stared at the ceiling and thought about the family dynamics. There was Dada, the grandfather, Dadi, the grandmother, brothers-in-law, Aiden and Alman, their wives Sabina and Amara, and then there was Akilah, a more spoilt, rude and objectionable person there could not be. One who had decided on first sight that she did not like her newest sister-in-law, not that she liked her first two sisters-in-law. Finally, there was her husband Aaryan who treated her as if she was an irritation. She turned away and closed her eyes. Hoping for sleep but knowing that it would elude her for a few more hours to come. Tossing and turning, she rolled over onto her back and felt him move. In a flash, he loomed over her, pinning her to the bed and making her head bang against the headboard. In the darkness, she sensed that he was angry but self-preservation had taught her to fight back. She squirmed under him and tried to free herself. This earned her another shake and another bang on her head. She stopped struggling.
‘A new novel from one of North West London’s upcoming and interesting authors. Hira tells the story of a young girl, forgoing life in the UK to settle in India and immerse herself in a totally new way of life.’
‘I could not put this book down. Once I started I just wanted to continue reading. Look forward to seeing more from this author.’