x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Meghna Pant on how her own experiences feature in her first novel

The Dubai-based writer's debut novel One & a Half Wife will be released in the UAE this weekend.

The author Meghna Pant has recently published her first book, One & A Half Wife. Anthonie Robertson / The National
The author Meghna Pant has recently published her first book, One & A Half Wife. Anthonie Robertson / The National

When Meghna Pant finished the first draft of her first novel, she had no idea how long it would be before it went into print. After finding out from her US agent that it probably wouldn’t happen for five years, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Pant, a financial journalist, sent the manuscript of One & a Half Wife to a selection of Indian publishers, and only had to wait two hours before the first response came in, asking for the complete manuscript. It was not long before she was offered a publishing deal.

“When I did my first book reading in Mumbai, it was the first time I’d spoken at a public forum,” Pant says. “There was a turnout of nearly 70 people and I was just amazed. I’m surprised at the response because people from all over India – from places I haven’t even heard of – are writing to me through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to say they couldn’t put the book down. Hearing this is such an affirmation of your work. It makes you think, ‘I must be doing something right.’”

Having launched the book in her native India four months ago, the Dubai-based author is now ready for its UAE release.

One & a Half Wife is the story of a family that leaves India to pursue the American dream. Unlike most successful Indian immigrants, the family consistently fail in their endeavours. When the protagonist, Amara Malhotra, marries the rich, Harvard-educated Prashant Roy, she believes the dream is within reach. However, when her marriage fails and her family are ostracised from their Indo--American society, she moves back home, only to find India has completely changed.

“The sense of the story is that you return to a home that’s now strange to you. They [the family] come back to modern-day India after 16 years, a period during which considerable changes took place in India. For someone who left the country and then returned after a long time, it’s a massive shift when trying to reintegrate with society and fit in,” she explains.

Pant drew on her own experiences living and working in New York for three years. When she returned to her home in Mumbai – having not been able to visit in that time – she found a lot of things had changed.

“I felt as though everything around me was totally different,” she explains.

“From tomatoes to real estate, prices had more than doubled. People now had a whole new set of norms and codes. The societal transformation was simply unbelievable. Suddenly, every second person was getting divorced, and there was a lot of reverse immigration happening – and all within three years.”

This, along with the “fall of the American dream” and the “rise, in a way, of the Indian dream”, are the elements that the author focuses on in her book. However, she adds, traditionalism “still has a stronghold on [Indian] society”.

While Pant doesn’t want to allude too much to what the book’s title means, she does admit that it refers to a “mashing together” of two main subplots – marriage and immigration.

She has also just finished writing her second novel, which is a dark comedy about a family’s lust for power and the struggle associated with it.

One & a Half Wife will be launched on Saturday at 6.30pm at the Jashanmal Bookstore, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai