Escape from an arranged marriage


©2004 Duleepa Wijayawardhana
Published: Edmonton Journal, Ed Magazine, Edmonton, Alberta, 14 February 2004

It isn’t every day you open your e-mail and find a marriage proposal in your inbox.

“Dear Duleepa, your parents and I have been in contact. We have compared your horoscope with our daughter’s and they have matched well. We have attached more details, the horoscope and a picture of our daughter for a proposed marriage.”

You could have hit me with a mallet and I wouldn’t have noticed.

“Our family and our daughter live in Australia and we feel that you would be an excellent match. She is very fluent in spoken Sinhalese. We have kept our cultures and traditions intact by various means, including regular visits to Sri Lanka.”

My own version of Bollywood/Hollywood was taking shape right before my very eyes. In Deepa Mehta’s excellent send-up of Bollywood films, a young Toronto man suddenly finds his mother giving him an ultimatum: marry an Indian girl or else.

I could actually hear my mother’s voice echoing through Bollywood/Hollywood: “I am so unlucky”, she says, as her head bobs in sorrow and she stares up to the heavens, “My son should marry a good Sri Lankan girl”. This, despite the fact that I can’t string together a coherent sentence in the native tongue.

My own parents, living in Sri Lanka, just off the coast of India, had suddenly decided that I, single and over-ripe at the age of 29, now needed a wife. I should not have been surprised.

They had intimated this desire with every visit and phone call, especially when I was single. As my mother rather eloquently put it over my cell phone while I was out for a walk on rather brisk (-15 Celsius) Edmontonian day: “Wouldn’t it be better if you were out walking with someone hand-in-hand?” I tried to explain to her about the 50 degree temperature differential between myself and any girl living in Sri Lanka.

An hour into staring at this e-mail, mouth wide open in a state of shock, I could hear the internal thunder of cultures clashing. Then, salvation, and I knew how to save both mine and my parents’ honour while refusing this marriage proposal in a polite way. I started typing.

“Dear Sir, thank you very much for your letter. You have a very lovely daughter. From your letter you seem to be looking for a traditional Sri Lankan. I am afraid that our cultures are very different and I am not your “traditional” Sri Lankan. It is with great displeasure that I write to tell you that this proposed union will likely not work.”

My self-congratulation knew no bounds. I was saving the lives of two people. Did she realize that our parents were plotting to send her to sub-arctic temperatures in Edmonton?

A few days after my self-effacing apology, came the reply. My heart stopped beating.

“Dear Duleepa, thank you very much for your e-mail. My wife and I are very pleased that you are not a traditional Sri Lankan. If we had wanted a traditional Sri Lankan, we would have looked for a husband in Sri Lanka. We think this match would be excellent. Our daughter will e-mail you personally.”

So how does this story end? Is there a Bollywood or Hollywood ending? Do the children fly off for an international courtship? Do they fall in love at first sight, forgiving parents and reconciling their South Asian and western upbringings in a romantic union between cultures and countries?

My feelings were mixed. On the one hand, I was single and obviously my debonair charm wasn’t working in the Edmonton bars. My mum obviously had good taste in beauty and the thought “why not” kept flashing through my head.

Was it any different from The Bachelor or a host of other reality TV shows? From my understanding, no one could force us to marry — it is more of a dating service these days. My friends were jubilant and promptly drew up plans for a TV show about me looking for Sri Lankan brides from around the world. After meeting my mother, each potential bride would throw on a pair of ice skates and fend for herself. This could be a ratings bonanza.

On the other hand lay the awkwardness of such a meeting, the shock and realization that this would not be a simple date at a coffee shop. This would be a one-way ticket to the altar based on a couple meetings. There were no legal loop holes to escape through once I embarked upon this path. The shiver that went through my spine shattered any hope of a softening in my stance.

Thankfully, I had only to wait a few more days to hear from the lovely daughter in question.

“Hi Duleepa, I don’t know what my parents have been writing to you behind my back. I have only just learned about what they were doing. I have no intention of having an arranged marriage, I assure you.”

With a relieved sigh, I turned off my computer. My cultures would have to clash another time.

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