“A Suitable Boy” Thesis/Letters

  • Recipient of the Susan B Irene Award.
On Prince Charmings, Frogs, Arranged Marriages and Love Ones

My undergraduate thesis ‘On Prince Charmings, Frogs, Arranged Marriages and Loved Ones (1996) is based on Vikram Seth’s novel ‘A Suitable Boy’. Mrs. Rupa Mehra is determined to marry off her nineteen year old daughter, Lata, and consequently she is on the warpath for a suitable boy. My thesis discusses the difference between mother and daughter’s notions of suitability as well as whether Lata’s ultimate decision will result in a happy marriage or a mere settling down. Central to the thesis were letters I imagined Lata would write, on the eve of their wedding, to her mother, to her elder sister Savita, and her best friend Malati.

A fan girl moment was sending
Vikram Seth the thesis and receiving a letter from him.

 

a suitable boy

Dearest Malati,

I know you think I’m making a mistake, but I don’t really see it as one, and secondly I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know what would happen if I married Kabir, that is if we would still be in love after I waited for him to finish his education. What if he decided he didn’t want to marry me anymore, what would I do? Ma would never get over such an insult, and neither would I.

Malati, I’m not like you, and neither was I born a Trivedi or a Chatterji. You don’t care about what people or your family will say as long as you know you are right for, although your family may disapprove, they still let you do whatever you choose. I wish I had the privilege to think this way, but I don’t. My family, especially Ma, would never approve of certain things, and I can’t force them to. I always thought Ma was old-fashioned and close-minded when she talked of a good boy from a ‘Khatri’ family, and perhaps she is old-fashioned and close-minded, but Malati the difference is that I can now understand a little why she is this way.

For the past year, since I met Kabir, I have been trying to understand the traditions and values that we are supposed to live by. Before Kabir they bothered me. I felt restricted by them because they ‘wouldn’t let me be’. Many of them irk me still, but they do not suffocate me as before, for Malati who am I? Lata Mehra. Five foot five, nineteen-years-old, with a Bachelors degree. But also a girl with a mother, sister, brother, nieces and a whole string of other responsibilities. I owe them all something.

Malu, I don’t want people to look at Varun and say, “No our daughter can’t marry the brother of the girl who defiled her blood.” It would affect everyone and that’s not fair. It’s not that I’m scared of society, it’s just that I have to accept it. I think, and Malati please don’t shake your head, that I love my family more than Kabir. Maybe if he’d…. Oh I don’t know, if he’d what- run away with me after the Blue Danube, or at least bothered to wipe my tears, fought with Ma. Sometimes I think that we might have rowed to the other shore in safety, and then I open my eyes and smile and say “And then what Lata?”

For, Malati, marriage isn’t the end of the world. At the other side of the river I’d still have to set up a home, a family, be a wife, and I don’t think Kabir is enough for all of this. Malu I don’t want strangers holding my hand when I’m having a baby. Like Savita I want my mother and everyone else there. Isn’t it funny that I thought I’d be selfish by sticking to Kabir, but I find some of my reasons for leaving him so much more selfish.

And, Malu, given that everything might have worked out in the end, I couldn’t take such a risk. I’m a strong person, Malati, but not that strong. I can’t change the world single handedly, and I can’t fight it alone. Romeo and Juliet is fine and dandy, but it is one philosophy I can’t ascribe to. Maybe I’m a coward, maybe I’ve taken the easy way out, but what else could I have done. I like to believe that if not me then my children will have this choice. Even if the world hasn’t changed at least their family will support them. If I couldn’t marry Kabir, I won’t stand in the way of my daughters and sons marrying ‘him’. And I believe neither will Haresh.

Haresh is not like Kabir, and I know you’ll scoff at this, but in a way he’s better than Kabir. I mean he’s seen more of life, and he knows what he’s doing. He seems to be willing to work at our relationship instead of thinking that just because we like each other everything will smoothly fall into place. With Kabir I felt we were both floundering. We loved each other and that was it. Maybe I’m building Haresh up, but he’s been hurt too. If he ever finds out about Kabir, he’ll understand. Perhaps this is why I chose him in the end, instead of waiting for another suitable boy to come along, or wait to fall in love with a Khatri boy (Malu, I never want to fall in love like that again. Can you believe that I was even jealous of you).

Though in the end Haresh happens to be in the right circumstances at the right time, I think he really cares about me, and he is reasonable man.

It’s not just that Ma likes Haresh, Malati, I wish you’d understand that. Sometimes when I think of Kabir my heart sinks and all I want to do is go back to him but I know I won’t be happy. With Kabir my feet were never on the ground. I was always wondering where he was, what he was doing, and who he was with. If only somebody could guarantee that it would be different once we got married, that I’d not only feel the earth, but be able to walk on it too. I guess I’ll never know for sure, but I have a nagging feeling that life with him would be a whirlwind. Or maybe not.

Oh Malati, I don’t know what I’m saying anymore, for honestly I don’t know the right answers to anything. Maybe I think too much. Nothing is ever just right or wrong, everything has its pro and cons. I’ve chosen Haresh myself, so I’m sort of having my love marriage anyway, and all I want is for you to be happy for me. I promise you will grow to like Haresh very much. He’s not Prince Charming, but he’s certainly no frog either.

It’s been a tough years Malati, and I’ve struggled with a lot of things. You know what I’ve lost in terms of both people and those dumb romantic notions I used to have (if this is growing up I don’t know if I like it much). But Malu I’ve gained a husband, future children, and am finally beginning to see what priorities are essential and meaningful to me. Some of them make a lot of common sense especially in the times we live in. I wish love did conquer all, and I hope one day it really will, but for Kabir and me love would really conquer nothing much save a giddy ideal, and that’s not what I want for myself after all.

Please Malati don’t be angry or disappointed in me, please believe that I’m actually going to be happy. I hope.

Lata

Dearest Savita,

Do you remember my asking you if you loved Pran? You said you did. I used to be really confused over how you could love someone who has been chosen for you, whom you hardly knew, and who wasn’t very attractive at all. It still confused me very much, how you could marry someone I knew better than you did.

In fact I really admire people who can marry strangers. I don’t think I could ever really get myself to do that, although I thought I’d never even meet someone Ma suggested, no matter how much Ma praised him. Malati however thinks that in marrying Haresh, I am marrying a stranger, but Didi, Haresh and I have been writing to each other for so long, and have met each other many times, so I don’t really feel like I’m doing what you did. Any feelings I have for Haresh are based on what I know about him. I get worried sometimes over the ‘you’re so mean’ incident, but then I recall that Haresh is dependable and reasonable, and that we can clear up misunderstandings. Anyway all couples have them.

Lately I’ve been thinking that if you are introduced to someone who could be a potential husband, and you are not immediately repulsed, the person then begins to grow on you. Not that I fell madly in love with Haresh, but I began to feel little attachments towards him over things like ‘Umesh Chacha’ and the ‘Czechs’. Is this what love is all about— the development of tiny ties, finding oneself feeling affection, and one fine day the growth of love, even if it’s only a placid love? It’s very different from what I felt when I was…I mean from what I thought love was all about.

I thought love was all about sparks, Didi. I didn’t see how there could have been any sparks between you and Pran. I understand now that the sparks I was referring to are like a racing heartbeat, while yours were a steady pulse. I mean I didn’t feel any initial spark for Haresh but, now, well now I feel that I do want to marry him, and have our children. Goodness Didi, I still can’t believe I’ll be getting married like this. Did you feel a little apprehensive too when you were getting married? You’re always so calm and in control.

Part of me knows that this is the right thing to do, and that I really will be happy, but there is another part of me that says “Run! Run Away!’ Problem is Didi, I don’t know what I’d be running to.

I’m glad this will be one less worry for Ma, though knowing Ma, she’s probably already latched on to a new one. You know, Savita, I love Ma very much, yet Ma and I hurt each other so many times. I still don’t think she understands me or even half of why I think the way I do, yet she cares so much. It’s so strange, she’s too embarrassed to directly mention some subjects, yet she gives me a book called the ‘Ideal Marriage’. So typical of our part of the world. We do everything yet shroud it in veils of silence. Tell me someday how Ma always manages to get her own way.

Anyway I just wanted to say that you don’t realize how much your relationship with Pran, as well as Uma’s birth, have helped me sort things out. I’ll never be like you, or think like you, but Savita, thank you for being a sister.

Lata

Dearest Ma,

You will find enclosed a handkerchief. I don’t really know what to say except that I love you, and I know that all along you’ve just wanted to me to be happy. I think I will be happy with Haresh. Daddy would have liked Haresh very much for Haresh, I think, follows ‘his own heart’. Well Ma we can now all worry about Varun together.

Lata