Who knew The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage – my brown Bridget Jones – would be so contentious?
I almost didn’t publish this post, but there is a huge issue of whitewashing in literature. And with the increased interest in arranged marriages thanks to Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking and the adaptation of A Suitable Boy, this article is more relevant than ever.
I wrote The Secret of Diary of an Arranged Marriage to lift the lid on a world that causes much intrigue and misunderstanding. At a time when society can feel polarised, I wanted to demonstrate the similarities between the arranged marriage process and modern matchmaking. I wanted to highlight the aspirations we all share in a funny, light-hearted but informative way. I wanted to challenge stereotypes and provide familiarity for those who’ve been defined by these stereotypes. I include myself in the latter.
Now, before I launch into my rant, I want to say that this objective has been achieved to some extent. Readers have said the book has challenged their perceptions, without being heavy, preachy or one-sided. The story has garnered much media interest – I spoke on national BBC radio about The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage and have been featured in magazine spreads.
The reception from some media outlets has left me stunned and further perpetuated the issue that when it comes to cohesion and cultural understanding, we have a long way to go. It seems that some editorial preconceptions prevented them from hearing what the book is actually about.
When I first pitched the story of modern Bengali matchmaking, one national journalist suggested that it could work as a feature on how I managed to ‘escape’ having an arranged marriage. Though surprised, I didn’t mind, as the whole point of my book was to challenge this perception that going through an arranged marriage process is something you have to escape from.
When I explained how this concept goes against the very message of The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage, the journalist understood and actually loved the idea. However, her editor had other ideas, saying the story only had merit if it’s my life story, or I had an arranged marriage. So on that basis, I’m assuming every crime writer has to be a jaded detective, or a criminal, for the story to have merit.
I let that one slide.
But it happened again. Another reporter just didn’t understand the arranged marriage process – where you’re introduced to people but also can date/meet people of your own accord. They felt that if you go down the introduction route, you have to have an arranged marriage. They couldn’t understand that it’s a process, not an end result. And they certainly couldn’t buy into a book that doesn’t depict the issue in a negative light.
Again, I let this one go. After all, my most important audience – readers themselves – were approaching the book with an open mind.
But the third encounter really got me. I spoke to a regional publication and the reporter liked the story. The editor’s feedback, however, was that they couldn’t touch the subject matter. Now, I’m not one to challenge an editor’s viewpoint, but I struggled to let this one go. I was told, with some nervous hesitation, ‘we don’t want to cover this in the current climate.’
My first thought was- what climate? What have I missed? My second was, as they haven’t read the book, I’m not sure what they were expecting. Perhaps they expected it to be a 60k word promotional tool for forced marriages? Or maybe they didn’t want to challenge the status quo, whatever that may be. Unwittingly, I felt like I’d stepped on an anti-woke landmine.
The thing is, I wouldn’t mind so much if they said the story was crap. Well, it would hurt my pride, but I’d take it on the chin. But the fact that it’s not even being entertained because there’s a preconceived mindset (which is exactly what I’m trying to challenge) that some people can’t get over… well, it’s just sad. There seems to be a blind spot in some aspects of the media when it comes to certain cultural issues. But unless we approach things with an open mind instead of hearing what we want to hear, it won’t get any better.
I’m super grateful for the media outlets that have covered the story as it should be told. I’m so glad I’ve got this blog as a platform to speak up. Social media may come with its downsides, but one great thing is we can talk to each other directly, and realise we may share more in common that we thought, or are led to believe.
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About the Author
I’m a British-Bengali Muslim mum-of-two. My pictures aren’t filtered and neither are my words. I’m not a makeup artist, chef or lifestyle guru. I’m just me, sharing honest beauty reviews for brown skin, halal restaurant finds, travel inspo, mum life hacks, easy Bengali recipes and more. If that’s your bag, keep reading!