Convene to Discuss Problem
NEW YORK — Indian filmmakers, authors, dancers and other artists gathered Monday at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop to discuss the communityâ€™s ongoing obsession with arranged marriage and food.
The idea for the meeting, which attracted the who’s who of artists in the Indian diaspora, was borne out of the anger and frustration author Lara Mookhey-Schmid felt after thumbing through Sonia Prasad’s newly released The Exotic Arranged Marriage Spices Club at Barnes and Noble.
â€œArranged, Re-Arranged, Aloo Gobi and Me, My Vegan Arranged Marriage, Mistress of Spices, I could go on,â€ Mookhey-Schmid said. â€œI noticed that desi artists are using food and marriage as culture symbols over and over again. Itâ€™s a cop out, and itâ€™s getting old.â€
Mookhey-Schmidâ€™s recent book, This Book is Not About Indian Food and Does Not Involve Arranged Marriages, was shortlisted for the American Book Award. The award instead went to Farha Mirzaâ€™s book, My Chicken Tikka Masala Marriage: It Was Arranged!
Meeting attendees were not shy about expressing their views on the food and marriage issue.
“The Exotic Arranged Marriage Spices Club is an intertextual study of how arranged marriage is enacted in non-Indian, non-Hindu spaces,” said NYU English professor Manorama Chugh. “Unfortunately, thatâ€™s all it is.”
Others are not so diplomatic.
“I’ve read this crap twenty times before,” said UCLA history professor Vinay Pal. “Enough!”
Participants acknowledged the growing problem, and decided to place a moratorium on weddings and certain foods.
“Arranged marriages are definitely out,” said Laila Ranveer, a filmmaker and meeting facilitator. Foods that made the list included tamarind, rice, dal, spices, the word “masala,” and fish (only for Bengalis). Participants also agreed that characters in their works could no longer longingly remember their mother’s/aunty’s/grandma’s/maid’s homemade cooking.
Sonia Prasad, however, was unfazed by criticism that she is focusing on arranged marriage because it’s a safe topic in ethnic literature.
“Perhaps my focus on arranged marriage is a bit too much for you, but that’s probably because of your Eurocentric way of perceiving my culture,” she said. “Shit, all Indians talk about is marriage. What’s wrong with making a few extra bucks off of it?”
South Asian audiences so far have negative reactions to her book. The most ardent fans, for some reason, are unanimously American females who are not of Indian origin.
“Wow, itâ€™s so fascinating to learn about the exploitative and repressive means which the Indians use to control women,” said Lynn Babcock, a publishing editor. “Oh, and I really do love Indian food â€“ so spicy!”
Note: Many thanks to the anonymous tipster on the newstab for the tip, and to my buddy Ansour for the inspiration.
I’ve read this post several times now and just can’t get over that The Exotic Arranged Marriage Spices Club is the title of a seriously-intended book and not funmaking. It’s so stereotypically … hilarious.
Oh, and kudos, Naina, this “news report” was very nicely done.
Check out this book: http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/Books/BookDetail.asp?ID=6329
“No Onions Nor Garlic” by Srividya Natarajan. Yeah, it’s got food in the title, and there is a lot about arranged marriage in the story, but it’s not that kind of a book (really). It’s more like a Wodehouse story set in Madras. And the title refers to a line from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The students at Chennai University stage the most hilarious version of this play in the first few chapters of the book. This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Not sure if it’s available in the US yet.
Notes to self for next book:
1) No names that Bollywood stars happen to share. 2) No easy-to-pronounce names. 3) Must have a character named Lakshmi. 4) No food. Definitely no curry! And no spices, either. 5) Nothing remotely “exotic.” 6) No arranged marriage. 7) No cross-cultural love. 8) Brown chick must choose brown dude. 9) No “hot” topics; if too many people are interested, it can’t possibly be worthwhile. 10) Nothing “too” realistic/authentic…then it’s stock/stereotype/cliche.
I know that list is sarcastic, but it really oughtn’t be that hard to not be so formulaic. I found this entry really hilarious and on-the-mark. There’s a reason why none of these books every really resonated with me on almost any significant level, and have been recommended most enthusiastically to me by gushing white people (not that desis don’t read or enjoy this stuff).