Saturday, March 20, 2021

Raksha Pande's "Learning to Love"

Raksha Pande is a lecturer in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University in the UK.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Learning to Love: Arranged Marriages and the British Indian Diaspora, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book comes towards the beginning of Chapter 7, which is titled ‘The Ties that Bind,’ and subtitled ‘Marriage, Belonging and Identity’. I use ethnographic and participant-observation research methods in my work. On page 99, the reader will meet one of my key respondents, Dr Shusheela Sharma (pseudonymous name). Most of page 99 includes a long section of dialogue from a transcript of the interview I conducted with her.
Dr Sharma: Well, we are a very traditional family. So, we wanted a traditional girl who would be following the way we have lived our life and been brought up rather than someone from here, who would be more Westernised in every way. Westernised in every way means language; most of the girls who are brought up here don’t know our language, they have forgotten it a long time back, they don’t dress in our Indian way, they don’t eat our food. I have no objection to eating Western food but as a regular thing just Western food and not Indian food. No. Westerners don’t know much about our religion, they don’t follow our religious ways; so, I can’t see why we should forget everything we ever learned and become Western. You’ll never become British or whatever if you live outside your own country, you will never be able to become a person of that country, you’ll always be a foreigner. If I am going to be a foreigner, I prefer to be my own country foreigner rather than sort of half and half, you know, neither here nor there...that’s the reason why we prefer arranged marriage.
The page 99 test works well for Learning to Love by answering a question, I am sure, most readers of my book will ask – Why do British Indians have arranged marriages? The verbatim quote also gives the reader a flavour of the Indian-English register of the speech of my first-generation participants.

The interview excerpt shows that the compelling need to preserve their identity as a migrant in a foreign country is behind the British Indian desire to encourage their children to have an arranged marriage. Dr Sharma’s refrain that she would rather be ‘my own country foreigner’ illustrates her unapologetic view that she will never fully belong to foreign Britain and as such she needs to cling to her Indian identity. However, Dr Sharma’s view was a minority opinion among my participants. Most believed that arranged marriages (which they claimed to have modernized) were not antagonistic to the ‘British way of life’ but are an essential component of their British and Indian identity.

The test does not work so well in highlighting one of the core findings of the book which shows the various modifications that have been made to traditional forms of arranged marriages to give them a modern British Indian makeover. The book examines different types of marriages such as semi-arranged marriages, love-cum-arranged marriages and arranged weddings that make up the spectrum of practices that fall under the umbrella term arranged marriage. This spectrum of arranged marriage practices with the different degrees of choice and agency that it affords is seen as evidence of their commitment to the modern values of their adopted country. It also highlights several instances of how romantic love is weaved into arranged marriages through the idiom of ‘learning to love’ - whereby British Indians incorporate the rituals of dating and romance within arranged marriage. Their focus on recoding arranged marriage as a practice marked by the conscious exercise of embracing a kind of British modernity can be read as the affirmation of a desire to highlight the contestations over what it means to be British and Indian. Overall, the book shows that for British-Indians, the different ways in which they modify and modernize traditional arranged marriages were reflective of something more than the natural evolution of this cultural practice – it was a conscious act of laying claim to a British identity and performing British Indian citizenship.
Discover more about Learning to Love at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue