Photo: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrie / Flickr
Photo: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrie / Flickr

The marriages in-between

A review of Sidharthan Maunaguru’s 'Marrying for a Future: Transnational Sri Lankan Tamil Marriages in the Shadow of War'.

A year before the Sri Lankan civil war ended, I published a novel, which began,

In this globe-scattered Sri Lankan family, we speak only of two kinds of marriage. The first is the Arranged Marriage. The second is the Love Marriage. In reality, there is a whole spectrum in between, but most of us spend years running away from the first towards the second.

I had written those lines sometime in college, before I knew much about anthropology. But in the year before I finished this novel, Love Marriage, I took a Southasian anthropology class with E. Valentine Daniel (author of Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence and Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way). At the time, I was studying journalism, but I became close to several graduate students writing anthropological dissertations connected to Southasia. In this way, I became the outside observer in a community of anthropologists, most of whom were themselves Southasian. Anthropology and its approaches, as well as the self-critique and critique of the field modelled by several of my classmates, became important to my writing. In the years since, the tree of that class has grown new branches and revealed hidden flowers; path has led unto path. One of those paths led me to the annual conference on Southasia in Madison, Wisconsin, where some years ago I met Sidharthan Maunaguru, an assistant professor of anthropology in the South Asian Studies Programme and the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. I heard him give an exemplary paper, after which we had a brief conversation. These are my limited qualifications and disclosures as I review his brilliant first book, Marrying for a Future: Transnational Sri Lankan Tamil Marriages in the Shadow of War.

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Himal Southasian