It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a South Asian mother in possession of an unmarried 20-something daughter, must be in want of a son-in-law.
Marriage is an essential part of life, many a South Asian mother would say. Therefore, the goal of an unmarried 20-something daughter is to find a quality match. A quality match has at least the following traits: a similar background, a good job, and a good family.
The process of finding a quality match through an arranged marriage has been the topic of romance media, which centers the experience of South Asian people for decades. It’s been seen in Bollywood, Pakistani dramas, and films which bring together South Asian cultures and Western culture, but now it’s also being seen in OwnVoices romance novels.
ARRANGED MARRIAGES IN THE COMMUNITY & ROMANCE GENRE
Arranged marriages have taken place in South Asia, and many other places in the world, for centuries. Arranged marriages still happen in the community, although the degree of arranged ranges from couple to couple. It can be a casual introduction between the couple or a sit down with the parents invited along, before the couple decides whether or not they like each other enough.
These meetings, when explored in media, can be a source of humour. A certain degree of awkwardness between the young people exploited for wider amusement. In reality, these kinds of meetings allow introductions to take place and for families to meet one another.
Being raised on a somewhat healthy diet of media from the motherland is an experience many can relate to. The latest Bollywood movies bought on cheap disks from the local Indian store were a feature of almost every weekend for me while growing up. Films such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham are famous for children causing rifts with their parents over arranged marriages.
However, this media has rarely accurately represented the experience of the diaspora, because it is not made with us in mind. Therefore, media which was able to represent that experience became vital. For me, this was films like Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. These films, and others like them, depicted the clash of cultures, or rather, of expectations of parents and desires of children. Young men and women defied expectations to marry someone of their choice. There is an alternate take on this where those in arranged marriages do find love with their partners.
The trope of the perfect arranged marriage, where a couple is arranged to be married and then finds love with their partner, has been a part of historical romance since the beginning of the genre. Additionally, the trope of the marriage of convenience, where a couple marries due to their circumstances and then finds love with their partner, has also been a feature of historical and contemporary romance. These are delightful tropes with stories that range from lighthearted fun to serious where the couple confronts a number of truths about themselves and each other.
Now, the perfect arranged marriage trope is being written by authors from South Asian backgrounds. Some of these authors, like Nalini Singh, have seen family go through the process of an arranged marriage. Reading these stories, there is something real and relatable about the experiences of the characters. It is that relatability that makes the reading experience enjoyable, because, for once, it is possible to see yourself and your experiences represented by authors similar to you.
LOVE FROM PERFECT ARRANGED MARRIAGES
While I have talked about the ‘South Asian’ experience here, it is important to note that South Asia is not a monolith of culture. More stories from South Asian authors from nations other than India are desperately needed. There are a number of experiences of people from the region and of diaspora that are unexplored.
Additionally, the idea of finding a ‘Bollywood’ hero remains rife in many books which feature South Asian heroines. This demonstrates the influence of popular Bollywood media throughout the region and among the diaspora.
These are some recommendations for South Asian representation in the perfect arranged marriage trope in romance:
🌻 Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh — m/f, perfect arranged marriage; Fiji Indian hero and heroine who meet each other at a formal meeting between their families only to realise they’ve already made out with one another at a party.
🌻 Startup Fiancé by Shilpa Mudiganti – m/f, perfect arranged marriage, enemies to lovers; two Indian-American rival startup owners who are determined to make a mark in their industry. Their families arrange an informal meeting at a coffee shop between them that goes horribly wrong, however they can’t help their attraction to one another.
Augvocate for the Day
Romana is an avid reader of romance novels that promise a happily ever after. She believes in using her blog to promote the voices of authors who have traditionally been excluded from the romance genre.
This guest post is part of a month-long collaborative series called Augvocacy, which is shorthand for August with an advocacy. Essentially, this project aims to bring together like-minded individuals — be it bloggers, authors, or readers — in actively forwarding a particular advocacy. All contributors to this project are referred to as Augvocates — and each Augvocate will share their thoughts on my blog from the 1st day of August
until the 28th.* Find the rest of the Augvocacy 2019 posts here.
For this year, Augvocacy hopes to discuss and encourage the importance of amplifying Asian voices in books and in media. While this particular call brings attention to the oftentimes-ignored demand for more authentic Asian representation, it also aims to debunk the bigoted view that Asian cultures are a monolith and to shed light on the nuances of struggle, privilege, and identity within and across our own communities. Learn more about Augvocacy 2019 in this post.
* Note: Due to unforeseen delays on my part, the posts for Augvocacy 2019 will keep coming until the 23rd of September! Hence, the new title: #Augvocacy2019 (Extended).
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 What do you think of Romana’s article? What’s your opinion on depicting arranged marriages in books and in media?
🌻 Have you ever read a book with the ‘perfect arranged marriage’ trope? If you haven’t, is this a trope you’d be interested in reading about?
🌻 What aspects of arranged marriages would you like to see explored in literature, particularly within the romance genre?