Halima Khatun’s debut novel, 'The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage' is out 14 February. Here she tells us what inspired her to write something that explores the myths about this 'traditional' form of introduction.

“So, will you have an arranged marriage?” This was a question that came up a few times in my life. 

Growing up in an area with few Asians, I was always the only brown person in the room, be that the classroom or, later, the office. This meant I was the unwitting spokesperson about this very contentious topic.

Back then, I didn’t know whether I’d have an arranged marriage or not, but it was a possibility. In my Bangladeshi community, it’s pretty common. Families have introduced young singletons for generations, so it wouldn’t be surprising if I followed suit. 

But I didn’t always answer honestly.

Why? First, I hated being ambushed. The question was rarely asked during a private discussion. It was usually put forward in an open forum. Second, the question was loaded. I didn’t want to be singled out for something that the general public see as a backward, old fashioned tradition that has no place on British soil.

I don’t blame people for having such a negative view on the subject. The media offers an unhelpful narrative. The news usually reports on stories of force, individuals having to marry strangers without a say in the matter. Modern literature concurs.

Monica Ali’s Brick Lane depicts a submissive woman, while more recently published novels portray arranged marriages as a last resort that the heroine desperately wants to avoid. Going down this route is seen as a resignation, a sign of failure, as you haven’t been able to achieve the desired goal of finding someone of your own accord. Essentially, the protagonist - often a South Asian women – is viewed as an object of pity.

Because of the general view surrounding the issue, people in the know don’t like to talk about it openly. I was one of them. 

Asian Image:

Halima Khatun

However, in its true form, the modern arranged marriage process often offers more choice than is commonly known, and it is usually supplemented by online dating, being set up through friends, etc.

Most people outside of the community are in the dark about the latter. They assume that if you’re being introduced through family, you couldn’t – or more accurately, wouldn’t be allowed – to meet someone yourself. It’s a huge misconception that fuels the perceived differences between Asians and non-Asians. 

Therefore I wanted to challenge this viewpoint by sharing an insider’s point of view, with my novel 'The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage', which has been dubbed the brown Bridget Jones by early readers. As the title suggests, the fictional book explores the intriguing and misunderstood world of modern British-Bengali matchmaking. 

I wanted to share this story because it hasn’t been told before. While I’m not saying that the arranged marriage process is perfect, and I illustrate some of the cons through the narrative, I think it’s high time people got a real honest, picture of how it works.

The biggest difference is, the heroine of the story, whilst doing her own hunting to supplement her parent’s matchmaking efforts, is open to being introduced the traditional way. Oh, and she’s far from submissive. She’s ambitious, acerbic, and the epitome of a 21st Century British-Asian voice.

At a time when politics has polarised the world, my novel actually shows that we share more similarities than differences, as I detail the parallels between arranged marriages and the likes of Tinder and Match.com. 

The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage lifts the lid like never before. I’m hoping it gets us talking.

It’ll make you laugh a lot, and maybe cry a bit. It’ll provide familiarity for those in the know, and be an eye opener for those who aren’t. And if nothing else, I hope it balances out the narrative, and ends the pity felt for many Asian women. We don’t want sympathy.

Halima Khatun’s debut novel, The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage will be released on 14 February 2020.

Halima Khatun is a former journalist (ITV and BBC) turned PR consultant and writer. She has written for the HuffPost and has featured in the Daily Express, Yahoo! Style and other national outlets. Outside of work, Khatun runs a lifestyle blog which has a strong BAME focus.

This feature is from the February Edition of Asian Life