"Meeting Mrinal" by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the last story in the collection Arranged Marriage, which was published in 1995. Most of the stories in the collection examine the experiences and perspectives of Indian women who have immigrated to the United States, often through a traditional arranged marriage. The stories show women who find themselves caught between two cultures, the restricted but comforting Indian culture of their birth and the freer but ruthless Western culture. The protagonist of "Meeting Mrinal" is Asha, an Indian-born woman who immigrates to the United States to join her Indian husband (acquired through an arranged marriage). In her new home, she leads the life expected of a traditional Indian wife until an event occurs that forces her to move beyond her accustomed role: Her husband leaves her for a younger white woman. The story opens at this point, recounting Asha's attempts to come to terms with her feelings of failure and her need to carve out an independent life in an alien culture. This process reaches a crisis during a meeting with Mrinal, a childhood friend from India who is now a successful businesswoman. Divakaruni explores the immigrant search for identity and coherence in the adopted culture, in which the traditional assumptions do not work and the new ways require unexpected and sometimes painful growth.
When "Meeting Mrinal" opens, Asha, the Indianborn protagonist, who now lives in California, is somewhat guiltily preparing a ready-made pizza for her teenage son, Dinesh. Asha's husband, Mahesh, with whom she had an arranged marriage in India, has left her for a younger white woman. Though Asha used to spend hours preparing complex Indian meals from fresh ingredients for the family, she has almost given up cooking since Mahesh left. She now spends her time studying library science in order to get a full-time job and getting fit in an exercise class. Since Mahesh left, Asha and Dinesh no longer talk much. He shuts himself in his room, listening to or playing music.
One day, Asha gets a telephone call from Mrinal, a childhood friend from India whom she has not seen for nearly twenty years. Mrinal is now a successful businesswoman living in Bombay. She is coming to San Francisco for a conference and wants to meet Asha and her family. Asha has always had a competitive relationship with the glamorous, career-driven, and unmarried Mrinal and inwardly feels inferior to her. Asha's delight at hearing from her friend soon gives way to fear and shame at the thought of admitting that her husband has left her. Asha feels particularly defensive as Mrinal had counseled her against agreeing to an early arranged marriage, advising her to finish college and get a job. Asha talks to Mrinal as if her marriage is still intact but makes up excuses to get out of meeting her, saying that Mahesh is out of town, that she is busy, and that Dinesh has pressing engagements. Finally, she realizes that she cannot disappoint her friend and sets up a meeting.
Dinesh is angry with his mother for lying to Mrinal. He asks why she could not tell the truth: Mahesh got tired of her and left her for another woman. Asha slaps Dinesh, claiming to object to his swearing, but in reality, she is inwardly furious at his voicing an uncomfortable truth. For the next few days, Dinesh avoids Asha. She tries to win him over by cooking his favorite Indian dish and apologizing, but he says he has already eaten and coldly dismisses her attempts at reconciliation.
Asha rummages for an outfit for her meeting with Mrinal, worrying that all her clothes are too garish or too drab. She recalls the day when Mahesh told her that their marriage was over. Asha could scarcely believe what she was hearing, as she thought back to their apparently happy family life. When Asha asked him whether he had ever been happy with her, Mahesh said that he thought he had, but he did not know what real happiness was. Asha fought against the divorce, even buying a sexy...
(The entire section is 1,180 words.)