The Paths of Marriage, available as a paperback and eBook starting October 1, follows three generations of Indian and Indian-American women from the harsh slums of Chennai to the whimsical streets of New Orleans to the bustle of New York City. Determined to provide her family a better life, Lakshmi immigrates to the United States from India. Scarred as much as she is shaped by her past, she forces her daughter, Pooja, to have an arranged marriage. When Pooja’s daughter, Deepa, finally comes out to Pooja as a lesbian, these three dynamic women face a complicated and cathartic generational collision. This story is about building collective wisdom and empathy to move forward. Watch the book’s video teaser and read the excerpt below for more on this new book.
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Lakshmi noticed her granddaughter was sweating as her dear friend Alpa had in the hottest Chennai months. She gingerly took her first steps inside the apartment and recalled how she had calculated the expenses when Deepa had decided to move out of the university dormitories. Deepa’s rent was more than any mortgage Lakshmi had ever had.
From Deepa’s reaction, Lakshmi could tell this was not the best first thing to say. On the other side of the six-meter apartment, she saw a brown-haired woman stirring a pot and staring in her direction.
“Avva, this is Audrey,” Deepa introduced.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Audrey followed.
“What is your accent?” Lakshmi asked.
“It’s French, I’m from Paris. Have you been?”
Deepa shot Audrey an expression that to Lakshmi communicated constipation.
“Try a laxative,” Lakshmi advised.
Deepa whispered to Audrey in language Lakshmi could not understand.
“Sure, I will give you two some privacy,” Audrey agreed.
Following Deepa’s cue, Lakshmi waited for Audrey to leave before she offered an explanation of why she had come, and had come alone.
“Audrey appears kind. You have chosen your partner wisely.”
“Partner? How do you know that word, Avva?”
The story was still hard for Lakshmi to piece together. It had started two Christmases ago, when she had approached her other granddaughter, Sahra, for a bit of information.
“Pooja was always insistent we never push you to get married,” Lakshmi said to Deepa.
“I know. She wanted me to establish myself as a person first.”
“Still, I would sometimes press the little ones for updates.”
As a New Yorker and a child, Sahra was terrible at keeping secrets. Lakshmi took less than five minutes with Sahra to find out Deepa was in a relationship.
“Sahra’s main concern was losing her ski trip,” Lakshmi said.
“How did Pinni react?”
“Alpa forced me into a confrontation.”
“She phrased it differently. An intervention.”
Alpa was first to use a set of words Lakshmi had found highly offensive:
– Sexual orientation
Not wanting to be any part of the discussion, Lakshmi had tried her best to leave the room whenever possible. On her last attempt, Alpa stopped her with one powerful question.
“Do you want to make the same mistake you made with Pooja?”
Lakshmi had never been so caught off guard. She screamed at Alpa for comparing the situations.
“This is different, this is sick,” Lakshmi argued.
“This is no different. This is you not understanding,” Alpa retorted.
“Too much New York has ruined your judgment.”
“Mom, you have the chance to accept your granddaughter as you never did with your older daughter.”
Lakshmi told Deepa how many times she had cried inside, seeing Pooja cry outside. Pooja had sacrificed everything for Deepa; Pooja felt like no one had sacrificed anything for her.
“That’s not true, you did so much for my mother,” Deepa countered.
“And she did so much for you.”
“She took her empathy for me much further than you did for her.”
That was precisely the point Alpa had tried to make to Lakshmi. For all of the battles Lakshmi had conquered for her daughters, she had not taken the initiative to understand her path of marriage should not be the same for Pooja.
“Pooja never found the words to tell me, how could she?”
“And you never found the courage to listen.”
Alpa presented to Lakshmi a new choice with Deepa. “Mom, if I connect you to the right resources, will you try to understand? For Deepa?”
Lakshmi relied entirely on faith to respond as Alpa had hoped. “Yes.”
Lakshmi brought her hands up to her granddaughter’s and gripped with a gentle, but strong assurance. “I am going to sessions about minorities, beta.”
“What kind of minorities?”
“They are very informative, talking about challenges in the work place, at home, why stereotypes are hurtful.”
“What kind of minorities, Avva?”
Deepa looked into the eyes of her tired grandmother. Lakshmi knew in that moment that her face communicated the depths of her struggles, triumphs and losses.
“What kind of minorities, Avva?”
“The LGBTQ community, beta,” Lakshmi replied.
A river of emotion seemed to erupt within Deepa. “What finally convinced you to go?”
“I was born into this world a Shudra, a peasant caste.”
“You overcame all odds to be here.”
“I did, though the costs entailed were pure injustices.”
Lakshmi and her family had endured the evils of society in exchange for Lakshmi’s progression.
“Deepa, many people in India said I did not deserve an education. Many people said educating a girl was unnatural. Just because there were many people does not mean they were right. I will not be a part of the many against you.”
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Mala Kumar is an international development and ICT4D practitioner based out of New York City. She recently relocated to central Africa for her job with UNICEF, and will be making frequent trips to Europe and NYC. Mala is excited to use her global network and The Paths of Marriage to connect people as part of a growing community and dialogue on building a more compassionate, open, and empathetic world. When not immersed in work or writing, you can find Mala exploring NYC’s culinary adventures, in an intense workout at the gym (often to mitigate the effects of said culinary adventure), planning her next international excursion, or blocking out subtitles on the latest French film. Contact her at [email protected].