Deranged Marriage—Launch Speech
The following speech was made by Virginia Trioli at the launch of Deranged Marriage by Sushi Das.
So what exactly is the problem with an arranged marriage?
Let me tell you—as a step-parent of children now in their late twenties, I’ve seen the endless parade of God-awful boyfriends, and feckless youths; the hopeless cases and the bastard of the ‘bastard’ phase that every girl goes through but spends far too long in.
I’ve seen the horrors and the shockers—and I’ve picked up the pieces and mopped up the tears—the rivers of tears after it’s all gone so terribly wrong.
Some of the paramours were ok—sort of.
They were the kids who are nice enough, but nowhere good enough for your precious child.
…When I think about setting up a nice little marriage between say, the adorable baby daughter of dear friends of mine—intelligent, lovely thoughtful people who will raise their child impeccably—setting her up with my own baby boy, well, I think it makes absolute sense. And it puts my heart at ease.
And surely, being as gorgeous as they both are, they wouldn’t be able to help themselves but love each other…over time…?
I’m just saying—the idea is not an awful one…
But this of course is not what Sushi wants to hear me say.
Sushila Das—to use her full formal name, and the name her parents use when they are cross with her—has written the memoir of herself as a young woman of Indian parents living in sheer terror of the tradition of an arranged marriage.
For her parents, it is the most reasonable of inevitabilities.
For Sushi, it is a looming trap that sets in motion a life of fear, anxiety and escape—in one form or another.
It is grimly honest, painfully funny and in that particularly Sushi way—of revealing something truly startling in calm, precise prose—it is also very real.
But there is a paradox at the heart of Sushi’s book: the arranged marriage that actually works.
Sushi is disarmingly tender as she recounts the small, sacred moments of devotion and faith that comprise her parents arranged marriage: one that of course has its trials and shadows, but one that truly lasts.
Was this marriage really a success? That’s probably none of our business, but Sushi takes us as close as any outsider could dare to be to a long and apparently successful mingling of two souls—two people who, it seems to the young Sushi, want to bind her in the same traditional marital chains.
There is another arranged marriage surprise in the book—but I won’t spoil that here. Suffice to say there is love avoided, love attempted, love failed…It makes this central paradox of the longevity of arranged love even more intriguing.
In one way, any memoir of a woman’s youth is a story of otherness: there are few conditions so completely alienating and isolating as female adolescence.
The migrant experience only doubles that dislocation.
Add to that the helpless terror of a young woman whose parents are insisting on selecting her life partner and Sushi’s story takes on the dimensions of an obscure foreign film.
Except that this all takes place in London in the 70s and 80s, with the Boomtown Rats as the background score.
It’s a surreal experience.
But one with strong connections to our time and place.
Sushi recalls one uncle saying at the time of a general election that he was going to vote for the National Front.
She asks in disgust how he, as an Indian man, could even consider voting for such a racist group. He replies with a grin that he wants to go home.
This is the eternal dilemma and trauma of the migrant, wherever they are in the world. One part of them—probably always the most important part of them—wants to go home, but that home of course no longer exists.
It set me thinking about the National Front’s taunting slogans about sending the ‘Pakis’ back and also about the slogans we hear now: what those crowing about ‘towing back the boats’ will never understand, is that most refugees and many migrants would happily climb on that boat and be towed, if only the home they once knew actually existed anymore.
I don’t think I need to provide a spoiler alert here to say that the book has a happy ending, because the happy ending is here before you tonight.
Sushi and Tom’s felicitous discovery of each other at The Age newspaper—that place where many a happy marriage, tormented affair and incendiary divorce has been made—resulted in the fairytale ending of the arrival of Lotus: the greatest happiness of all.
Why should we be surprised that a girl from Twickenham who struggled all her young life against her ethnic heritage should name her precious daughter after the most revered Hindu symbol of divine beauty?
The Indian girl comes home after all…
Unsparing self-revelation is rare; that it can be done in such an elegant and entertaining form, and with a moral at its heart, is rarer still.
That moral—that living a life that is true to yourself eventually requires you to honour the place from which you come—is one that connects Sushi’s story to all of us.
We have all travelled far from home, and in some way—at some time—we need to find a path back.
Sushi—it’s a mighty achievement—many congratulations.
Your book, and all the yearning, love and fulfilment that sail in it—is now launched.
Deranged Marriage was published on 18 October 2012 by Random House Books, Australia.
Virginia Trioli is currently on leave from presenting ABC News Breakfast.
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