Divakurani’s short story, “Clothes,” recounts the story of an Indian woman, Sumita, as she begins an arranged marriage that takes her to America and introduces her to an entirely new life. I found it fascinating to read, in part because its account of Indian society’s view of a woman’s role is as different from my own experience as it is from the role women play in American society. The story begins with a ritual bathing, in preparation for Sumita’s bride-viewing, the moment when she will first see the man who is about to become her husband.
When I came to the United States to study, two years ago, I was struck by the enormous cultural differences between this country and my homeland. I was especially shocked by the almost unseemly behavior of American women. Now I realize how far I have come in just such a short time, because the concept of having one’s future mate chosen by others and presented almost without introduction seems much more shocking to me now than does the American expectation of finding your own husband – or even of choosing not to marry at all.
Sumita’s culture, while perhaps a little more accepting of women than some of the Asian and Muslim societies with which I have become acquainted, still sees us as a gender with limited options. Women, at least in the context portrayed in this story, are to be protected and sequestered. I came here alone at age 17, and that kind of freedom would never have been allowed for an Indian woman in Sumita’s situati