Model of a marriage

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Sushi Das talks to Tanu about her new book ‘Deranged Marriage’, which explores the dynamics of an Indian family in a Western country

Arranged Marriage is the pin around with the Indian society spins, says Sushi Das, a columnist at The Age. As someone who dismantled this comfortable arrangement in her life, her book is aptly titled “Deranged Marriage”.

The book traces her life from growing up in the UK to migrant parents to her new life in Australia. “I don’t want to let on too much about the story as I want people to read and find out about it,” she says while speaking to Indus Age.

Her decision to write about the East meets West culture stems from a series of articles that she wrote about arranged marriages as opinion writer at The Age where she has worked for over 17 years. She feels that not much has changed fundamentally within the make-up of the Indian society and that her story would strike a chord with young people who are caught in a situation that she was in a few years ago. She also feels that her book would also give some insight to parents who are struggling with the culture-clash within the four walls of their home. It is equally important to her that the wider society gains an understanding of the dynamics of an Indian family in a Western country.

What is the book about?
The book is about being Indian and growing up in a Western country (in London). It’s about how I avoided having an arranged marriage and the fallout from that. More broadly, I deal with the East meets West culture clash. It is especially about young Indians and how they have to reconcile their western desires with their parent’s Eastern desires. I wanted to write for a western audience to give an insight into what Indian culture is all about. I also wanted to give the Indian audience an insight about what their youth go through. I wanted Indian kids to feel that they are not alone (in not wanting to go through with an arranged marriage).

What about the context?
I feel that a lot has changed. India is more modern. Migrants who are coming over are not the same as those in the 1960s. It is a different landscape. Indians in India are modern too. They are more urbane.

However, some of the ideas that are embedded deep inside the Indian culture have not changed that much. There is still a premium on girls behaving a certain way. We only have to look at stories that come out of India to know that. We recently heard about a girl who was beaten up while leaving a bar. We have heard enough incidents of that happening to know that not everything has changed in India. These ideas are not completely gone.

Second, I would say that the migration here has changed. There are a lot of international students from Punjab (especially), there are permanent skilled migrant and family reunions etc. We are getting a broad spectrum of migrants. But a lot of the international students are young men. They have been coming for a number of years. They have got their permanent resident visas and have settled here. Once that is done, the next step is to find a wife — whether they are finding wives here or going the way of the arranged marriage. If they are bringing their wives here, she is coming here new. She might be isolated, homesick and there are all the related issues that go with that.

What are your thoughts on the recent murder-suicides of Indian families?
I would not like to make direct comments on that as I’m not an expert. However, we have to be vigilant that they may be unemployed, in the outer suburbs and disconnected as a result. They have lost the community support they have been used to all their lives. This could cause depression. This could lead to tension within the marriage. My mum’s generation faced the same issue. Nonetheless, there are some issues, which affect all humans.

Tell us a bit about the other characters in the book?
I explain a lot of time about my mum’s and dad’s journey — how they reached, what they left behind. There is a discussion about the issue of forced marriage and arranged marriage. I’m asking the reader to make a distinction between the two.
We understand arranged marriage to be parents choosing their children’s spouses. For most people, this is acceptable – on paper at least. However, if you are feeling social pressure from your family, if there is some emotional coercion involved, can you still say the people in the arranged marriage are truly free?

Are you taking a stand against it?
I don’t take a stand. My sister had an arranged marriage and she is very happy. My mum and dad had an arranged marriage and they are still together. I still say forced marriages are wrong but I don’t pass judgement on those choosing to have an arranged marriage.

So what is the story behind you reaching Australia?
I prefer to leave that to the reader to find out from the book. I need to leave something in suspense.

Why would someone read the book?
I don’t see a great deal of books being written by Indians in Australia. I wanted to fill that space. I would like to think that other Indians here, now that there are more of them, who would like to read about something that is close to them.
Of course, the book is not all serious. It is partly entertainment. If you are Indian, you must have some entertainment somewhere.

Do you think you will write another book?
I probably will. I’m sure I will. It was a nightmare writing this, so I need a break.

Having published this book, what advice would you give someone wanting to be a writer?
You have to have a story to tell and second, you have to find time to write it. Having said that, it is not that simple. I work long hours. I am a mum — I have a six year-old daughter. I have taken two years to put this book together. That was the most difficult part.
I was lucky because during my career at The Age, I was a columnist. I wrote a number of columns about the issue of arranged marriages. A publisher approached me about writing a book about it. It was easier for me in that sense. If I had to sell my story to a publisher, it would have been very different.

Why pick such a negative issue?
The arranged marriage is at the very heart of Indian community. It is the pin in the middle and everything spins around it. You can’t think about Indian life without thinking about the family.

So, why the title?
There is a technical answer. Every book needs a catchy title. I explain in the book that I had a marriage that fell apart… both arranged marriages and love marriages have the potential to fall apart. ‘Deranged marriage’ was a way of alluding to it. At the end, we are all human. We make mistakes. The important thing is that we learn from them.