After writing my first novel, Compulsively Mr. Darcy, I didn’t want to write another ‘cultural’ Austenesque novel but wanted to challenge myself with something else, like a romantic comedy of War and Peace or a Regency Suspense. Then, one evening, I attended a book club discussion of Jumpa Lahiri’s novels. Opinions and questions raised from that evening— about family duty, obligation, tradition, cultural prejudice and cultural pride and so on—fired my muse.
I had to write another ‘cultural’ Austenesque novel.
The result is my second novel, Spices of Pemberley.
Blurb: In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy had to overcome family duty and obligation to marry a portionless country miss. In this modern retelling, what if it’s Elizabeth who must overcome family expectation, duty, and tradition to follow her heart?
Below is two excerpts, the beginning scenes of the first two chapters.
Neonatal Care Intensive Unit
“Baby Girl Bennet is a ten-day-old baby who was born via precipitous delivery to a twenty-four year old mom …”
Mohini listened to the intern. By now, she could recite by heart what the young doctor would say every morning. The first day, she was in too much shock and grief for his words to register. What did register were the nervous tone and its implication for her dohti’s survival. The third day, she recognized it was lack of confidence in his voice and not a reflection of her granddaughter’s health. By the fifth day, she could decipher bits and pieces. By the seventh, she could predict what he would say next. By the ninth day, she could recite from memory his presentation of her dohti’s daily intake, her output, her weigh gain and so forth.
As she listened today, she felt proud of the young doctor and of her dohti. Both had made great strides in the last ten days. The young doctor had gained much confidence and lost the nervousness from his voice. Her granddaughter had gained much weight and lost the tubes from her body.
“Good job, Dr. Wong,” the attending, a new one today, said to the intern. “She’ll be ready to go home soon. What are the discharge plans?”
Mohini’s ears perked.
“She’s going home with father and grandma,” the intern answered. “The baby’s parents were crossing the Bay Bridge and their car hit a pillar when a driver cut them off too suddenly. The paramedics estimated Baby Girl Bennet was born minutes before their ambulance arrived. Mom went into cardiac arrest right after, and they couldn’t revive her.”
“She’s the famous Bay Bridge baby? I heard about her on the news last week,” the attending said. “Poor thing, to lose her mother minutes after birth.”
“That’s not the worst of it,” the charge nurse said. “Her mother’s father also died in some freak accident in India on the same day, while grandma was on her way here on a scheduled visit for the baby’s birth.”
Sensing them glancing at her, Mohini kept her face expressionless.
“Wow.” The new attending’s voice lowered. “Poor grandma, losing both her daughter and husband.”
“Mrs. Kumar has been next to her granddaughter ever since she arrived here,” the nurse added. “She won’t leave, even when security came to tell her visiting hours was over.”
The intern added, “Dr. Hart decided last week that, given the circumstance, we won’t push it. Mrs. Kumar doesn’t understand English.”
Mohini suppressed a bitter smile. Not only did she speak and write English well, but also five other languages.
The staff moved on to the next baby’s bassinet and Mohini turned her attention back to her dohti. A nurse dabbed some brown iodine onto her granddaughter’s heel to prepare for some test. Mohini tensed and wished she could absorb the coming pain of the prick instead. Yet, when the stinging bitter smell of the brown iodine reached her, she recalled how her own her mother had used it on her scraped knees and elbows. The stinging bitter smell was that of love, she was reminded, and love sometimes hurt as it did its job.
I am very sorry for your loss. To lose both Purushottam and Priya on the same day! The loss of a daughter is not the same as that of a son, but as Priya was your only child, no one would deny you your grief.
I must need be honest with you, dear sister. Even if Mr. Bennet would agree, you should not bring your dohti home to India, to us. I know you understand my maternal fear. Her being born under the Rohini star—most unfortunate.
I’ve also faxed the pandit’s note to you, though I caution you against too much hope in such an unlikely miracle.
Better to accept and endure our fate.
Mohini crumpled the paper.
“Never!” she uttered softly in the Gujurati language of her saintly mother, a Jain. She said a silent prayer to Lord Jina, the Jain’s lord of the conqueror.
She would never accept defeat. She would conquer what the fate and the stars had predicted for her family. The Hindu priest had given her a ray, however slim, of hope.
Together, she and her dohti would beat the odds, she vowed. She would find the best Indian boy from their jati for her granddaughter. Then, her dead husband’s and daughter’s souls would have a chance for eternal peace.
Twenty-four years later.
Darcy pushed open the glass door of the Arizona Science Center and stepped out onto the second-story patio. He wanted a little solitude before the speech and the reception. Below, in the courtyard of Heritage Square, an ethnic festival appeared in full swing. Upbeat music starting in the square below tempted him. He decided to brave the crowd and descended the steps.
Cloves, cinnamon, and some other spices he couldn’t identify greeted him. The spices’ fragrance lent a pleasantly warm flavor to the crisp November air. In the central area of the square, in front of the Phoenix History Museum, he paused and feasted his eyes on the scene before him.
Strings of lights hung on trees, on surrounding tents, and on various surfaces at different heights. Scattered clay pots, with lit candles inside, imparted an iridescent mood to the evening.
“Welcome to our fifth annual Diwali Festival.” The music stopped and a speaker came on a raised stage. “This festival of lights is one of India’s most popular festivals. During Diwali, we light the lamps to dispel darkness and celebrate the triumph of good over evil.”
While the speaker continued her introduction, Darcy smiled at the ring of children playing around the bronze statue honoring one of his Fitzwilliam ranching ancestors. His mother’s family had donated the land to build this downtown public park years ago.
“…Our dance competition will start the evening,” the speaker continued. “We have troupes from three states here tonight. Our first troupe, from Northern California, will do the Garba Dandiya Raas, a dance originally from the Gujarat region in India …”
With a catchy beat, the music started and four women and four men in colorful silk costumes came on stage. The dance began at a slow pace and gradually gained energetic momentum to a fast drumming tempo. Male dancers shifted to the side and the women took center stage.
One dancer, dancing with a graceful and hypnotic symphony of movements, captured Darcy’s attention.
Tiny mirrors embroidered in the lavender fabric of her costume reflected and dispersed rays of light onto the audience. Bewitched by the profusion of twirling colors the beautiful dancer made, he weaved through the crowd and approached the stage.
When she happened to meet his eyes for one instant, unable to help himself, he smiled up at her.
PS: No romantic comedy of War and Peace yet, but I did finish my Regency Suspense after completing this second novel.
Photo credits: Gujarat Spices by Sudhamshu, Bay Bridge by Hugh Nelson, and Diwali lights by Ramshng.