Authors tell you what inspired their work

Shobhan Bantwal, Author of "The Dowry Bride"

I like to call my budding writing career a "Menopausal Epiphany." I had not written a single creative word (other than school and college essays) until I hit 50 -- a landmark year that brought home the ravages of menopause and then some. Fighting Mother Nature was a losing battle, so I decided to put those yo-yoing hormones to creative use instead.

My muses came alive along with my menopausal woes, and I started writing articles and short stories for a number of publications. The Dowry Bride project was born much later, after I had a taste of minor publishing successes.

Growing up in India, the horror stories about dowry-related abuse had always been abundant -- a wealth of fodder for a creative mind. Dowry is a gift of cash, valuables and household items presented by the bride's family to the groom at the time of marriage. It is considered a gift or contribution towards the household expenses of the groom's family. Although dowry is not universal amongst all Indian castes and classes, there are some that practice it very strictly. To this day, it plays a significant role in some of India's arranged marriages. At times, when the bride's parents fail to produce the promised dowry, the groom's family resorts to abusing the bride, and in rare cases the abuse can be so extreme it turns to murder.

But thankfully that kind of violence had never touched my life. I was lucky to be born in an enlightened community that eschewed dowry. Nonetheless the disturbing topic stayed in the back of my mind.

The fact that atrocities like dowry deaths continue unhindered today in India, despite anti-dowry laws, sparked the idea for the novel. Also, as far as my knowledge went, dowry had not been the main theme in any fiction book published in the United States. I wanted to give American readers a rare glimpse into an archaic practice that still persists in the twenty-first century in certain parts of the world.

Researching the topic of dowry in India was like groping my way through a maze. There is so much information available, and yet, because cases of dowry abuse are rarely documented, it is nearly impossible to gauge the validity of any of the statistics. The numbers quoted by different sources appear to be as low as a few hundred cases of bride-killing a year to an astounding 25,000. The disparity comes from the fact that the parties involved in the cases are either too scared or too ignorant about using the legal justice system.

Quite often, a notoriously corrupt police force, easily bribable by the guilty party, chooses to look the other way. Consequently, despite the laws banning dowry exchange in India and women's organizations fighting the archaic custom, the atrocities continue to be perpetrated. As long as it remains a male-oriented society and chooses to turn a blind eye to its dowry crimes, they probably will stay as a festering wound on the fascinating and colorful tapestry that is India.

But in spite of its controversial topic, The Dowry Bride has all the elements of popular fiction: romance and intrigue, a young bride in jeopardy, a gallant hero, humor and anguish, betrayal and hope. Notwithstanding the drama, adventure, and action essential to a work of fiction, I have tried to paint a realistic portrait of a culture that is simple yet complex in many ways, abundant yet lacking in some areas, progressive yet shockingly primitive.

Please visit Shobhan Bantwal's website for an excerpt, information on the book, Indian recipes, articles, short fiction, and pictures depicting life in India.

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