Review: One Way to Love by Andaleeb Wajid
In One Way to Love, the first novel of the Jasmine Villa series, the beautiful Tehzeeb Hasan marries the man she falls unexpectedly in love with and goes on to discover the complexities of marriage
Set in a rundown old house, the home of Tehzeeb Hasan, her two younger sisters Ana and Athiya, and their father Yusuf, Andaleeb Wajid’s Jasmine Villa Series presents realistic love stories that reiterate that marriage is not a bed of roses.
In One Way to Love, the first novel of the series, the author sets the tone by doing a thorough character sketch of the three sisters who are the protagonists of each book. A tall and slender Tehzeeb is kind hearted, well read and excellent at studies. “Observant to a fault and very good at reading emotions”, she is also depicted as someone who takes into consideration everyone’s feelings. Ana, on the other hand, is portrayed as reserved and self-possessed.
But to get back to the central character of the first book, young and beautiful, Tehzeeb is happy working at an NGO for women. Though her father had received many rishtas for her, she isn’t looking to get married anytime soon. Yusuf’s wealthy college friend, Bakhtiyar Ahmed, comes home one day, with the proposal that Tehzeeb marry his son Ayub. Already a prominent architect, twenty-eight-year-old Ayub is one of the city’s most eligible bachelors. However, he isn’t looking to get married anytime soon either. Tehzeeb still decides to meet him at a coffee shop. What follows is a scene straight out of a rom-com.
A miscommunication leads Ayub to think he is interviewing a girl for the role of his assistant. Tehzeeb, on her part, believes Ayub has agreed to marry her because he is gay. From the minute they set eyes on each other, however, the two feel an instant attraction. It is love at first sight. Ayub admires Tehzeeb’s frank and forthright personality, which sets her apart from the other girls he has met. Despite their many differences – Ayub lives in a big bungalow, and Tehzeeb is used to spending money only on essentials – they are swept away, and agree to the marriage.
Tehzeeb meets Ayub’s family, and finds that they are starkly different compared with her family. While her prospective father-in-law, Bakhtiyar, is a ruthless businessman, her mother-in-law to-be, Aafreen, who is not very supportive of the match, is always occupied with ladies’ lunches, extensive beauty treatments and spa visits. Ayub’s sister, Maira, is somewhat of an “airhead” who spends most of her time posting makeup videos on Instagram.
As the reality of her new situation dawns on her, Tehzeeb feels overwhelmed with the thought that much of her lifestyle is going to change, and begins to wonder if she will fit into this sophisticated new world. Still, the engagement and the wedding follow. But once the excitement of the festivities is over, Tehzeeb finds herself missing her tiny and unkempt Jasmine Villa house, and feeling isolated in her new home. She misses her sisters, and the constant camaraderie they shared. It takes her a while to even get used to the servants who cook, clean and do everything that she and her sisters were used to doing themselves.
Struggling further with the idea of having to perpetually doll up in the finest of clothes to greet Ayub’s relatives and acquaintances, Tehzeeb finds it hard to relate to anyone in her new family and their larger social setup. According to her, all they do is to “meet for lunch, size up each other’s outfits and jewellery, talk about their latest shopping secrets and then make plans for the next lunch.” Moreover, having quit her job, she is bored and yearns to feel accomplished. Gradually, she learns to go along with whatever is happening around her in order to be accepted. “Pretend to be dumb and you score points” is the strategy she adopts – and it seems to work. However, a part of her still wants to rebel and be her own person.
After their honeymoon, Tehzeeb mentions to Ayub that she would like to work, and begins to manage the accounts and CSR activities of a small interior designing firm run by women. Her new job gives her a sense of purpose and newfound independence. The reader learns of Tehzeeb’s first fight with Ayub, who expects her to make a compromise. Towards the end of the book, Tehzeeb discovers the real reason for her and Ayub’s union – a form of redemption for Bakhtiyar, who had wronged Yusuf in their youth.
In the second novel of the series, Loving You Twice, Ana is paired opposite Luqman Ahmed, Ayub’s best friend, who also features in the first book. The final novel in the series, Three Times Lucky, features Tehzeeb’s youngest sister, Athiya, an impetuous firebrand who finds love while working at Farhaan Ahmed’s office.
The author of 40 published novels within a span of 14 years, Wajid is a prolific writer. Light and breezy, this series reads almost like a contemporary Indian version of Mills & Boon. The prose is easy and the plots move along smoothly in short, snappy chapters even if some situations remind the reader of cliched scenes in TV series about young love. What sets these books apart from the numerous run-of-the-mill cheesy romances out there, however, are their modern Indian Muslim woman protagonists. In telling their stories in the way she does, the author removes them from the margins to which they are often relegated in much of contemporary Indian English popular writing and places them at centre stage. The universality of the characters’ dilemmas combined with the specificity of their identities is what sets Andaleeb Wajid’s books apart and makes them appealing to readers.
A freelance writer based in New Delhi, Neha Kirpal writes primarily on books, music, films, theatre and travel.