Having been born and brought up by a pair of Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants (who were a "love marriage”) in the UK there were certain principles that have become engrained. Three ideals I heard on a constant basis from my mother:
1) Education is the Key to your future
2) Treat others like you would wish to be treated
3) What's inside a person's heart is more important than the packaging
I also got the old adage, no boyfriends, no drinking, no drugs etc etc.
So I did what every Tamil parent wanted of their daughter - I studied, then studied some more and eventually went to university, completed my Medicine undergraduate and started myself off in the big wide world as a junior doctor. Life was great, I was doing my dream job, caring for people, treating them and unfortunately seeing death on a near daily basis.
I’d become so focused on my career that, to be honest, I’d completely bypassed the typical teenage crushes and dating sagas that most girls my age would have dealt with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m human, I did think about dating but just never had the courage to act upon it - partly due to the background voice of my mother in my head.
Life was great, had an awesome job, I was living with my fellow junior doctors, enjoying late night dinners and prolonged chats about the world, life, religion, politics etc. Essentially developing as an individual and not merely the daughter of x and y. I was on top of the world, nothing could break me.
Unfortunately, the time came to lose a parent. It was sudden and unexpected, my mother had died due to untreated sepsis in a UK hospital.
Apart from the monumental guilt I felt for not being there at the time, and how the healthcare system that I so diligently worked for, had failed my mother and by extension me, I had a whole new saga of drama to deal with.
Being the medical professional, it fell upon me to answer every aunty and uncle’s questions of “what happened?” “why weren’t you there?” I re-lived that fateful day again and again for months on end answering everyones questions, but somehow I got through it, I kept myself busy, focused on work and all the tasks that needed to be done to keep the family going.
To make matters worse, suddenly the questions stopped and the matchmaking began. Every Tom, Rick and Harry had something to say - “we need to get her married off”. Every other phone call was now some aunty or uncle I barely knew trying to set me up with someone - as if that was somehow the solution to the loss of my mother.
To make matters worse, my younger sibling had found someone and wanted to get married - but alas, there were more problems.
“What do they do for a living?”
“What do their parents do?”
To end a long story short, the answers to these questions were not satisfactory - so a rebel was born, my sibling decided to get married without parental or relatives blessings. Good for them - but I didn’t realise the impact this would then have upon me.
The pressure mounted - I had to find someone who ticked all the boxes that the 1960s Tamil society of Jaffna had placed upon my generation (born in the developed western world in the 80s).
Years and years went on, humiliation after humiliation, being degraded to an extreme with questions such as:
- What skin tone is she?
- What size clothes does she wear?
- Is she pure? (Is she still a virgin?)
- Why isn’t she doing GP(Family medicine)?
- What caste are you from?
- What caste did your sibling marry into?
Every degrading question you can think of, I endured and I’m 100% sure I am not the only one who dealt with this. I know what you’re thinking, this is from uneducated folk, let me stop you right there! The most degrading of questions were posed by parents who were the most educated of the Tamil society, engineers, doctors, lawyers etc etc.
So, I decided to write this post. I am an educated independent woman of dravidian descent and proud of it. I don’t look like Aishwarya Rai or whoever is popular in Tamil cinema these days.
People talk about colour, of caste, of body sizes and purity. So, to you the younger generation, I advise this. Be HUMAN, be yourself, follow your own principles and morals.
If they don’t align with your parents so called tick box exercise then convince them. The biggest problem you will find is that actually your parents are worried about perception amongst the community. Your parents will soon realise that what makes their child happy is more important than all these backwards thoughts and judgements by others.
We get one life, one chance to live it, so live it the way you feel is right.