In the collection of short stories in Arranged Marriage, the author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, portrays the theme of keeping secrets in two short stories, “Affair” and “Meeting Mrinal”. The protagonists in these two stories suffer from keeping secrets, particularly with important people in their lives. In the story “Affair”, the protagonist, Abha is not able to confront her good friend, Meena and keeps secrets from her. It is most evident in the story where Abha thinks Meena’s secret affair has to do with her husband. However, they resolve their problem by telling the truth. In the other story “Meeting Mrinal”, the protagonist, Asha, is not able to be truthful and suffers from it until she decides to tell the truth at the end. Fragile women from the story “Affair” and “Meeting Mrinal” suffer from keeping secrets from other characters until they tell each other the truth.
Asha’s frailty is shown in her idolization of her friend Mrinal and her need for her friend’s acceptance. She creates an ideal picture of her friend who “has the perfect existence – money, freedom, admiration and she doesn’t have to worry about pleasing anyone.” Asha uses positive connotations such as freedom, admiration, and perfect to create an idea of perfection in her friend Mrinal who seems to succeed in the areas in which Asha feels insecure or fragile about. Asha is left feeling she cannot measure up to Mrinal and her successes. The fact that Mrinal had warned Asha about her life choice to enter an arranged marriage rather than to finish a college and to get a job leaves Asha feeling defeated and proven wrong, but unwilling to admit it. This notion of perfection Asha has created is destroyed when Mrinal admits she is unhappy, lonely, and admits she is jealous of her friend’s husband and child.
Asha realizes when Asha lies to Mrinal about her life in a good way; Mrinal envies her fake life as much as Asha envies Mrinal’s success. At this point, Asha again hides the truth about her life. The creation of perfection shows Asha’s frailty and her attempt to compensate for her own puzzled life. Here she asks herself “What would I live on, now that I knew perfection was only a mirage?” The deterioration of her ideals of perfection in her friend only adds to the fragile nature of her character. She also becomes a child- like figure that in the end needs someone to look after her and help guide her, shown “I can’t focus too well on his face, but I hear the shock in his voice and beneath it a surprisingly prim note of disapproval. It makes him sound almost…motherly” (297). Asha’s fragile nature is shown through her jealousy over Mrinal, ideals of perfection and in her speeches.
Similarly, Abha envies Meena, like how Asha envies Mrinal’s perfect life, and Abha is described as a mother figure to Meena. She is jealous over Meena’s physical beauty, shown on page 235:
“I don’t have Meena’s fair skin, so dramatic with her curly black hair and long lashes. My nose is broad and honest but by no means elegant, while hers straight and chisel-sharp, looks as through it belonged on an apsara from classical Indian sculpture…I constantly battle the inches that accumulate almost by magic around my hips, while Meena glides through life slim and svelte, eating whatever she wants and wearing designer bikinis.”
She uses constantly contradicts herself to Meena to show the differences between their appearances and to emphasize Meena’s physical beauty. On page 266, Meena says:
I was afraid to. I knew you’d be upset. You disapprove of my clothes, even.
How could I tell you I’d fallen in love with another man…Perfect at all the things I didn’t want to do but knew I should. Like a mother, kind of. I wanted your approval. Needed it. For a long time I told myself, I’ve got to stay with Srikant. What will Abha say otherwise?
to show Abha that she was afraid to tell her the truth and wanted her approval because Abha is like a mother figure to her, by using dictions like afraid, upset, disapprove, mother, and approval. Accordingly, Meena and Asha both seek for approval from their friends. Meena also says to Abha:
I couldn’t face trying to explain to you- the expression I knew you’d have in your eyes. Do you know when you get really upset your eyes get opaque, like chips of slate? If I told you I needed to do this to be happy, you’d say happiness isn’t as important as doing the right thing. If I told you that every night I looked at my bottle of sleeping pills and wanted to take them all, you’d say, stop being so melodramatic, Meena. So Californian. Pull yourself together. (267)
This particular passages show that Meena wants to suicide and show her frailty like Asha in “Meeting Mrinal”. As both characters, Meena and Asha, want approval from Abha and Mrinal, they try to keep secrets to themselves because they are too afraid of their friends’ disapproval.
In “Meeting Mrinal”, Asha, the protagonist, feels shame of what has happened to her life and embarrassed to tell the truth to her best friend from childhood while her best friend, Mrinal is confessing her troubles to Asha. Every character except for Mrinal is suffering from not telling the truth until they confront the situation. Asha continues to lie “The words poured out, all the right ones. It wasn’t difficult at all” (293) However, Meena, in “Affair”, feels justified for having an affair with someone even though Meena is embarrassed to tell the truth to her best friend like Asha but eventually confesses the truth to her friend Abha. Abha confronts Meena as she confesses about her affair. Mrinal is also similar to Asha in the way that she is upset with her life and tries to lie about it to Asha to make it seem like she has a good life, but contains her sadness. When characters in “Affair” tell the truth to one another, Abha starts to seek for something new in her life and tries to fix her unsatisfying life. It is shown when she says:
The old rules aren’t always right. Not here, not even in India. … I feel your resentment growing around me, thick and red and suffocating. Like mine is suffocating you. … We are spiraling towards hate. And hopelessness. That’s not what I want for the rest of my lire. Or yours. … It’s better this way, each of us freeing the other before it’s too late… so we can start learning, once more, to live. (271)
Conversely, Asha who decided to keep secrets attempts suicide in her despair. Parking her car in the garage, she attempts to gas herself with the exhaust. In the end like Abha, Asha accepts help and faces her frailty. She moves forward into a life of truth and self-acceptance instead of false images of perfection.
The author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, depicts the themes of fragility in her two protagonists of her two short stories, “Affair” and “Meeting Mrinal.” Both characters show their frailty through the act of keeping secrets from important people in their lives. Protagonists in each story try to hide their important aspects in their lives from people who know the most about them. Both characters seek to gain approval from their friends and show their insecurity through envying their friends’ apparent perfections. Both protagonists realize that perfection is impossible to attain and gain self-acceptance. Even though they suffer from attempting to gain perfection and acceptance from their friends and keeping secrets, at last, as they all confess the truth, they find happiness and feel relieved.