Book: Love Marriage
Author: VV Ganeshananthan
Price: *Rs 350 *PP 310
Vasugi (‘SUGI’) Ganeshananthan is a young Sri Lankan Tamil in the US who, with the instinct of her race, seems to have found refuge in learning when her world was taken away. Her first novel,
, is signed VV Ganeshananthan, which tells you at once that here is someone who wishes the world to acknowledge her culture; she will not shorten or anglicise this deliciously long concatenation of vowels.
It helps, besides this quiet but uncompromising opening statement that ‘VVG’ (to use the Tamil penchant for initials) was managing editor of the Harvard magazine Crimson and mastered from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. Along the way she interned at The Wall Street Journal, worked for
The Atlantic Monthly and attended the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. She looks up to Pulitzer nominee Suketu Mehta as a mentor and has a taste for capital letters that seems directly derived from Arundhati Roy. Having noted these points, what’s the story? It’s about a ‘globe-scattered’ Sri Lankan family who align their world through family relationships. The tale is told by Yalini (which means ‘music of Eelam’ in old Tamil), whose parents, a doctor and a teacher, escaped the ethnic violence against the Tamils of Sri Lanka and made a new life for themselves in America.
But one day, a stranger with a daughter arrives, for whom Yalini’s parents quietly pull up roots from the US and relocate again to Canada. It is Kumaran, Yalini’s ‘maama’, her mother’s favourite brother, who was an engineering student decades ago and was tipped over by circumstances into joining the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: “Kumaran began as someone who planned to put places together and he became someone who planned to blow places apart.”
But Kumaran is dying of cancer now and the Tigers, who never let anyone go, have let him go across the world to die in his sister’s house. But there are conditions. The family must move to (then) Tiger-friendly Canada and Kumaran’s daughter, brought up among militants and knowing no other life, must marry the son of another expat Lankan Tamil, an LTTE sympathiser settled in Toronto.
As Yalini bonds with her long-lost uncle through his bedside stories, the lost beauty of life in Jaffna comes alive to her as does her people’s horror at being betrayed by their own government, the things that hurt them besides the killings, like the burning of the Jaffna Public Library, which destroyed whole histories. Yalini discovers, too, that Kumaran’s daughter is perfectly willing to marry the stranger.
There are only two types of marriage among respectable South Asian people: Love Marriage or Arranged Marriage and the best one is ‘love by arrangement’. The pace and telling of this strange yet painfully familiar story are gentle but implacable. As Yalini is told by her cousin, “You cannot just opt out… you have to choose.”
Both its lament and its lyric quality are sweet, strong and dignified, given that civil war killed over 60,000 people: but since Sri Lanka has no oil, the world did not notice. In sum, a heartbreaking page-turner, especially for an Indian.