Fun take on education in rural India

V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR

Ms Suchandra Roychowdhury's (right) debut novel Shotgun Wedding narrates the curious experiences of Dita Ray, a young woman recruited by the government to teach in a remote corner of West Bengal.

It's only an hour-and-a-half drive from Kolkata but she is caught in the dilemma of a cultural shift.

Set in a rural college in the sleepy little village of Phulpukur, the novel is an amalgamation of romantic comedy and political satire. It showcases the rural politics of Bengal, reflecting how it affects the administration of educational institutions.

"This was a story that had been with me for a long time, it needed to be told," said Ms Suchandra, an English language and literature teacher at the Global Indian International School in Singapore. "It's like holding a mirror to our society and reflecting the outlandish challenges faced by educators in the hinterlands of Indian states.

"The government does its best to support education, tries to reach out to the masses, but what happens at the grassroots level is sometimes beyond imagination.

"Shotgun Wedding gave me the chance to explore the unforeseen, often hilarious perspectives of education in rural India."

The driving force of the plot comes from the 48-year-old's own experiences after being recruited as an English lecturer at a rural Bengal college.

The story takes on a life of its own, following a flight of fantasy where the protagonists are thrown against each other in a collision course of politics and unsuspecting romance.

"The socio-cultural fabric of rural Bengal is sometimes most intense around its educational institutions," said the Kolkata-born Ms Suchandra, who has been living in Singapore since 2012 with her husband and son.

"Schools and colleges in villages are prominent sites for students who are involved in politics as well as wily politicians.

"The backdrop for Shotgun Wedding and the unique challenges that Dita faces cannot be set against an urban campus. The rural campus is a prerequisite for the pandemonium that is unleashed as the plot progresses."

Those who love a good tale will find the novel engrossing. It has a cross-cultural appeal and can engage with readers of all ages.

The story resonates with challenges that are still encountered by young, inexperienced women venturing into the troubled waters of professions dominated by men.

Patriarchy is an overarching issue in rural India and the discrimination that women encounter is hardly a myth.

Shotgun Wedding is available on Kindle at amazon.com and in Print on Demand at amazon.sg

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