Discovering the Story

This post is both an apology and a discovery. I went off this morning thinking I had attended to everything that needed attending to, and then came home to realize I was wrong. So, late but here is my post along with my apologies.

When I began working on the Anita Ray mystery series I knew there would be a wedding in the story arc, and I assumed I knew who the bride would be. After two entries in the series I zeroed in on the prospective bridegroom. But after another two novels I found I was wrong. The character who was the obvious candidate wasn’t all that obvious anymore for reasons not known at first. I don’t want to give away what happened to him, but he lived to appear in a later story.

I continued with the fifth book in the series, In Sita’s Shadow. Each mystery is named for an Indian deity whose temperament matches one aspect of the story. Sita is the wife of Lord Rama, and is considered the quintessential wife, the spouse deified, her perfection unmatched in this world or any other. 

The choice of this figure for the title was meant to underscore the character of one of the main figures in the plot, but then the story got out of hand, and all of a sudden I had a love story in my lap.

Many Indian weddings, if not most, are still traditional, which means they can take hours. Every step in the ritual must be exact—the roles of the relatives are strictly prescribed, the recitations must be exact (no stumbling over the lines), and the families must meet all the requirements.

I thought it would be fun to write about a traditional Malayali wedding adapted to modern requirements, and it was. The first ritual is the presentation of the dowry. Among the Nayars in Kerala, the groom is required to provide the dowry; his “gifts” must be exactly what was agreed to. The gifts are inspected by the father of the bride and his agent before the ritual can begin. There’s something about watching two men with their agents calculating the pile of gold sovereigns, jewelry, saris with gold borders, and keys to cars or motorcycles, and more.

The guests watch it all. Women sit on one side of the room, men on the other, and we check out what the groom provided. I once made the mistake of saying, “So is that what the groom offered to give?” And the father of the bridge pounced and said, “Must give!” He was adamant, even fierce. Marriage is serious business in India.

The wedding in In Sita’s Shadow is adapted to the needs of a Westerner and an Indian woman, and figuring out how this would work required creativity as well as consulting with an anthropologist, but we figured it out, and it’s now one of my favorite scenes of all I’ve written about India. Auntie Meena, originally a skeptic of this relationship and the marriage rites between them, is won over. I hope the readers will be too.

Coming in August, In Sita’s Shadow: An Anita Ray Mystery.