A Semi-Arranged Romance
A New Dawn
by Sudha Balagopal
reviewed by Seana Graham
Usha’s story begins when she accidentally locks herself in the bathroom of her own house. It’s a wake-up call of sorts, making her realize her isolation and vulnerability since her husband’s death three years before. Although her grown daughter checks in with her soon after this ordeal, there are tensions in their relationship, and Usha doesn’t tell her what’s just happened. Instead, she ends up joining an online dating service for people who have experienced loss.
Usha’s marriage to Raja, the only man she’s ever been with, was an arranged one. Despite Raja’s dominating tendencies, Usha misses him. Although Raja clearly didn’t take into account Usha’s preferences in life nearly enough, he also pushed her to do things she might not have dared or even thought of on her own. And she still experiences the absence of his self-assured voice even three years on, often hoping to hear his guidance from beyond.
Online dating has its hazards, of course, and there’s no straight line to happiness. Usha is as nervous and uneasy as many women would be when finding themselves in the dating world again after divorce or death. Usha has never dated before, and her own steps may seem especially tentative to us. But as we hear her internal dialogue, we may also find many echoes of our own overly judgmental self-scrutiny.
The story alternates between the present and the past, illuminating Usha’s marriage to Raja as it does so. Raja’s Horatio Alger style of striving for excellence in all aspects of life bleeds into his relationship with his wife and daughter. Usha herself is a bit overrun by him, but she sees the limits of his power when it comes to their daughter Veema.
The education she received made her more than just a part of her father’s grand plan. Ironically, the same education made her think for herself.
Usha never comes across as a person to be pitied in this story—indeed, half her energy is used to deflect pity or concern for her by either her daughter or her good friend Marcy. Yet we watch her budding relationship with the new man in her life unfold with hope that she will allow herself to release what is over and spread her wings.
In an afternote about the author, I found a good description of what makes this quiet book so appealing. “Sudha Balagopal’s fiction straddles continents, melding cultures and blending thoughts, representing ideas and desires from the east and the west. Her work delves into the everyday lives of ordinary people to reveal larger, universal truths.”
In a bombastic age, the viewpoints of more reticent people like Usha are perhaps what we especially need to hear.
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She also reviews for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. She has co-authored a trivia book about her native Southern California and is currently working on a screenplay. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.