In modern-day middle class India, Megha Ramnath, a twenty-one-year old bride of one year, awakens from an exhausted sleep to discover her husband and mother-in-law plotting a gruesome death for her, the mother-in-law furious that Megha's dowry has not been forthcoming. An overweight, homely woman, Chandramma chose the educated young woman for her beauty and dowry, but has since come to loathe the compliant girl, her natural beauty making the older woman even uglier by comparison. At first disbelieving of what she is witnessing outside the wood shed, Megha is petrified, finally taking flight before her devious relatives can act. Racing through the night, Megha can only think of one destination and that one risky, knowing her own family will send her back to her murderous in-laws.
In an evolving society that values educated women, Megha is caught in a world where differing belief systems are practiced by families who sometimes choose traditional ways, restricting the influences of modern society, clinging to the practices of generations. As a dowry bride, Megha falls into a family that views her as a servant, her worth tied the amount of money her family can provide. At the mercy of her mother-in-law, Megha is a pawn and can be disposed of without much investigation into her disappearance. Escaping to the one place the family will not think to look, her temporary protector is of sufficient wealth to avoid the prying eyes of strangers. Yet after weeks of hiding, Megha again falls prey to those who would harm her. In a mix of drama, from Megha's impulsive flight to her constant fear of discovery, to humor and romance, the girl's spirit remains constant.
Targeting a very special audience, the author points out in an afterward that most Indians write literary novels that are "beautiful but don't always reach large segments of the reading public." Bantwal hopes to reach a mainstream audience, one that expects "romance, mystery, sadness and humor". With that in mind, the author accomplishes her goal, a horrific tale grounded in reality but spiced with romance and drama. The fact is that dowry brides are often the unacknowledged victims of a social convention that turns a blind eye to their plight. The Dowry Bride shines a light on an ancient practice that still exists. Although Megha's troubles are tempered with the promise of romance and an opportunity for a changed future, the reason for this protagonist's dilemma is based in uncomfortable reality. Luan Gaines/2007.