“How would life be if we didn’t have to fight loved ones, cultures, traditions, entire societies, simply to live as we choose?”
Anisha Bhatia was born and brought up in Mumbai, and currently lives in California with her husband and two children. Bhatia began writing because she didn’t want to forget her grandparents’ Partition stories or the Sindh they left behind. Her debut novel, The Rules of Arrangement (Alcove Press, 2021) is a story about twenty-six-year-old Zoya Sahni. The book also has a firm setting in Bombay, with references to several popular localities, such as Kala Ghoda, Byculla, Crawford Market, Khar, Bandra, Pali Hill, and the Gateway of India.
Not your perfect Indian girl, Zoya is overweight, dark-skinned, and unmarried. Ambitious and independent, she is a campaign manager at one of the world’s top advertising and marketing agencies. Zoya doesn’t want to marry just because it’s something that needs to be ticked off a checklist. However, standing her ground and chasing her passion, she also wants her family’s approval, and secretly wishes for that quintessential happy ending.
Since she is dangerously close to the “expiration date in the arranged marriage supermarket”, her father’s oldest sister, Sheila Bua—a stereotypical Indian aunt and matchmaker—resolves to find a suitable groom for her to get married to. And so, Zoya begins meeting various eligible bachelors. While she likens the experience to “being displayed in a bazaar”, she realizes that for women, education and career are valued only when they fall in line with tradition.
Though not fully convinced, Zoya is finally engaged to someone. Meanwhile, she secures a three-year stint in her company’s office in New York City. To add to all the melodrama in Zoya’s action-packed life, there is the awkward situation she has with her no-nonsense boss, Arnav Bajaj, and a secret admirer who leaves anonymous gifts for her in the office. Along the way, Zoya also discovers a new side of her annoying aunt—who had to choose her family over her life’s calling. “The roots of our traditions are anchored deeper than our dreams.” Her aunt’s example helps Zoya make a big decision when her own life is at a crossroads.
With themes of young love, marriage, fidelity, and following one’s dreams, Bhatia’s comical prose—which makes profound observations about Indian weddings, relatives, and the unsaid rules of arranged marriage—is sure to leave the reader in splits.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.