|Kavita Ramdya: Decoding Wedding Dreams
|Bollywood never entered my mind in the four months of library research, reading and prep work…
"Why do we fall in love with the people we fall in love with?" - Kavita Ramdya's debut book BOLLYWOOD WEDDINGS: DATING, ENGAGEMENT AND MARRIAGE IN HINDU AMERICA attempts to answer this age-old question through an interesting study of twenty love stories.
She provides readers with a window into second-generation Indian-American Hindu couples navigating identities through a major life rite of passage, marriage where the Mumbai-based Indian film industry "Bollywood" emerges as a significant force in formulating conceptions of love and identity. Bollywood culture - it's fashionable aesthetic and symbolic representation of a modernized India - becomes the method by which Indian American Hindus negotiate two diametrically-opposite value sets: that of pre-modern India and mainstream America.
Ramdya married a Muslim in ceremonies, which were far from traditional Hindu customs. Up until that point she had always assumed that her peers secretly wished for a wedding like hers: one where they could express both their American identity as well as their Indian background. However, through conversations with family and friends, she realized that her wish for a hybrid Indian-American wedding day was an anomaly. Her peers almost exclusively desired a wedding that would adhere to age-old Hindu tradition followed by a western-style reception.
Thus began her quest for understanding why and how second-generation Indian-American Hindus living and working in arguably the most diverse and media-driven place in the United States, New York City, could possibly escape the seductive nature of mainstream American wedding culture, a tradition that emphasizes romantic love and the couple's union over ancient customs which adhere to strict religious codes that felt so distant from the way her peers led their lives.
Ramdya shares the book's literary journey with Desiclub.
Writers are known to draw inspiration from their own backgrounds and family histories, is that the case with Bollywood Weddings too?
Although I was born and raised in America, my parents are from Madhya Pradesh. When it came to writing my book, my ideal audience was my parents. I wanted to write a book that they would read and appreciate and one that I would enjoy writing and researching and be excited about sharing with my family and friends. And, of course, I wanted to write a book that would make a contribution to my community, South-Asian Americans. I've always strongly identified as a second-generation American. "Bollywood Weddings" is my contribution to the community but it is also meant for mainstream reading audience, people interested in reading about South Asian diasporas and love, globalization and popular culture.
What was the most surprising fact that you came across during your research?
I was surprised at how successful and effective Internet dating websites are for enabling South-Asian Americans to marry. Up until recently, Indian Americans looking for a spouse had to rely on their network of friends and family, or their parents placed personal ads in newspapers like "India Abroad". Now, with the popularity of the Internet for researching and shopping, dating websites such as Shaadi.com have emerged as a popular method for finding a life partner.
The book says Bollywood forms a significant force in formulating conceptions of love and identity. When did you realize that Bollywood formed the common theme?
What amazed me was how Bollywood emerged as an influence in the way second-generation Indian-American Hindus planned their weddings. They wore wedding lehenghas styled after modern-day Indian clothes worn by Bollywood film stars and struck poses in their wedding photos that were reminiscent of scenes in Bollywood movies. Bollywood represents modern-day Indian culture for the second-generation Indian-American women and men who don't relate to the mainstream American wedding culture or the traditional wedding culture of their parents" generation.
So, to quote myself, the "Bollywood movie industry, where the immigrant and second generation can conceive of romance and love marriage in India, is the terrain upon which both generations collect inspiration when planning an Indian wedding" (page xii).
Bollywood never entered my mind in the four months of library research, reading and prep work I did before embarking on my field research and interviews. Instead, I was solely thinking about two very antithetical cultures: that of mainstream, modern, American wedding culture as elucidated in magazines such as "Modern Bride" and movies like "Sex in the City" versus traditional Indian culture circa the 1960s and "70s when the first generation immigrated from India to the United States. The original dichotomy I was working with was America's modern, love marriage versus India's traditional arranged marriage. However, while conducting my interviews of approximately twenty couples and attending wedding after wedding, Bollywood kept popping up as a recurring theme. The second-generation Indian-American women I met couldn't relate to the fitted, strapless white wedding dresses worn by models in mainstream wedding magazines since white is traditionally considered the color of mourning in Hindu culture and showing skin and putting one's sensuality on display is frowned upon in Indian families. However, these same men and women I interviewed couldn't relate to the way their parents married: none of the couples I met had arranged marriages; they were all in love and had a modern way of life.
What has been the most interesting aspect of this study?
For me, the most interesting aspect of my study was in realizing how significant a role popular culture plays in young people's lives. In my book popular culture comes in the form of Bollywood films and these movies influence young, professional, well-educated Indian-American Hindus" perceptions of love, romance, Hindu rituals, Indian culture and tradition.
Has anthropology as a subject always fascinated you?
Thank you for asking this question. It's a good one. I find many subjects fascinating, including anthropology. I studied American Literature and Politics as an undergraduate student and then American History, Religious Studies and Sociology as a doctoral candidate. I love writing about art and popular culture for my weekly column in "News India Times" and I enjoy reading creative non-fiction in "The New Yorker" magazine as well as journalism in "The Economist" magazine and "The Financial Times". As you can see, I love reading and writing about people - anthropology is, according to my Google search, "the scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans" which makes it appropriate that I write an anthropological study.
Any other book in the making?
Yes, I am currently working on a project about contemporary, modernist South-Asian popular culture. Watch this space!
You are a banker by profession but literature seems to have been your interest area all along?..
Writing is the core of who I am. Everything I do - teaching, reading, managing a team, charity work - is an outgrowth of my writing.
What do you hope people take away from this book?
Marriage remains the most significant life event in India and the South-Asian Diaspora. Often the second-generation Indian-American Hindus and their immigrant parents are so focused on marriage, settling down and having a family that they lose sight of the fact that ultimately love is essential in any marriage.
The best way to purchase my book is on Amazon.com. For a sneak preview, visit my website www.bollywood-weddings.com to read Chapter 1, "The Marriage Market: Choosing a Suitable Boy.