Word Count: 70,000
Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction
Systems of Oppression: racism, sexism
Author’s Identity: South Asian female
Shanta Deshpande grew up sheltered. Her father, a high-ranking officer for the British, protected her from any unpleasantness exposed by politics and ensured that she had an idyllic childhood. Thus, her desire in life was simple: find a husband to love and take care of her.
Gandhi’s declaration of India’s independence and the onset of World War II shatters these dreams. Shanta starts to face an unhappy reality: she notices the disgust in the voices of the British when they talk about Indians and she sees Indian protests turn violent. “Put your country before all else” becomes the Freedom Fighters’ mantra, and her husband does so. He quits his job and leaves her, with two children and little life experience, to work with Gandhi. As the British fight for their occupation and the Indian men fight for India’s freedom, she finds herself left with no one to fight for her. Without income, her family, or a precedent of female independence, Shanta is forced to find in herself a protector and provider to survive in a way she never thought she would: on her own.
THE PERFECT WIFE is the story of a woman’s personal fight for independence in the midst of a broader struggle. This story is particularly important to me because it is heavily based on the life of my great-grandmother. It tells a well-known story, that of the freedom movement in India, from a new perspective of the wives of the men who fought for their country.
Bangalore, India 1939
On April 3rd, Mahatma Gandhi began a three-day fast in protest of British rule and this had very little impact on Shanta. She spent those three days wandering the town with her little sister, Mangala, collecting snacks from street food vendors and playing games. Shanta paid no notice to the whisperings in the streets, the concerned faces among her neighbors, and urgent discussions between her father and British visitors. She easily dismissed these anomalies, as they did not pertain to her. More important decisions lay ahead for her.
Her father, J. Deshpande, honorary Deputy Commissioner in Bangalore, leaned back on his elbows, resting on the long arms of the dark rosewood planter’s chair, his hands folded over his belly, and pondered a significant marriage proposal. Shanta trusted Appa to choose a man for her - a man like him, with a delicate balance of frivolity and practicality and an abundance of kindness and generosity.
Shanta peered into the drawing room, where Appa sat near a grand wooden desk piled high with papers and statue of Ganesh peeking out from the corner, delicately close to the edge but never having fallen off. The rest of the room looked like an intellect’s heaven; the walls were all dark with wooden bookshelves built into them, full of books, paperbound with the stitching pulled tight on the spine and Shanta was sure that Appa had read them all. She used to stare up at them as a child and wonder if she could read them all too, one day.