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'Good Indian Daughter', Ruhi Lee's first memoir

Is being a daughter as difficult as having one?


At just 30, Ruhi Lee has written her first memoir. 


‘Good Indian Daughter’, published in 2021 by Affirm Press, is one of the few memoirs penned by South Asian women in Australia. 


Long before Ruhi fell pregnant, she knew she would never be the ‘good Indian daughter’ her parents demanded. But when the discovery that she is having a girl sends her into a slump of disappointment, it becomes clear that she’s getting weighed down by emotional baggage that needs to be unpacked quickly.


Dilpreet speaks with Ruhi.


Dilpreet: Congratulations on publishing 'Good Indian Daughter', Ruhi. Among so many other identities that you hold as a woman of colour, a writer, and part of the diaspora, what prompted you to write about being an Indian daughter mainly? 


Ruhi: Thank you, Dilpreet. Most published works that document women's experiences are done so predominantly from a white perspective, and growing up, I barely saw myself or my experiences reflected in the various forms of storytelling I encountered, whether in books or on film. I wanted to write the book I wished I had access to as a young woman in my teenage and adolescent years. 


I also wanted to explore the art of memoir as a way to preserve my stories. South Asian women I grew up around had experienced some of the craziest things in their lifetimes but had only shared their stories orally and in whispers. I was sick of how we were required to stay silent about the injustices we faced, and I arrived at a point where I was ready to shout it from the rooftops.


Dilpreet: I loved the cover of your book! It is pretty Desi but doesn't lose itself into being just that. Did you have a vision for how you wanted the book to look and feel too?


Ruhi: I did have a vision, but it's not one my publisher shared. This is not uncommon between authors and publishers. At that point, however, it helped me to have a clear idea of what I didn't want. There were a few suggestions I had to push back on because they were either culturally insensitive or stereotypical. And thankfully, my publisher understood. 


In the end, we settled on a beautiful cover, designed by Taloula Press, and while I'm delighted with how it turned out, I would love to see South Asian writers be able to tell their stories in future without feeling like they are limited to bright, loud covers with shapes inspired by Mughal architecture and Mehendi patterns, etc. 


Sure, these types of imagery are a part of our heritage, but South Asians like myself can also find self-expression through pastel colours, soft shapes and minimalist designs. I wish we were afforded the same myriad choices around artistic representation that white writers get without being tied to an 'Indian' box of marketing tricks that people in the West like to associate us with.

 

 

Dilpreet: I find stories that are close to my heart even tougher to tell. Maybe it's the intensity or the fear that I won't be able to do justice to them. Did you have any similar feelings while writing the book, or shall we say you're a pro?


Ruhi: I flinched when you used the word 'pro', and I recognise Imposter Syndrome talking. But hey, it's about time I gave myself some credit. I worked really hard to tell these complex stories in a way that was palatable to readers while not bothering to make the stories easy to digest; the aim was to challenge. 


You know the song lyrics, A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?... Well, it takes skill to do that in a memoir – to balance comedy writing and 'tough shit' writing (that is the style I was going for) – and I'm very grateful for the resources I was able to draw on, made available by Writers Victoria, ACT Writers Centre, Australian Writers Centre, as well as the comedy writers – in literature and on-screen – whose work I was inspired by.


And of course, therapy is a biggie when it comes to finding the strength to relive traumas to confront, process and then pen them. I also had a fantastic team of editors to collaborate with.


Dilpreet: You're one of the very few South Asian women writers in Australia to publish a book, and how successfully! Do you think Brown representation in the country is changing? If so, how?


Ruhi: I see a bit more diversity and inclusion of creatives of colour across the board. To my understanding, this is partly due to traditionally white establishments opening the gates a teeny, weeny bit so that people like me can scrape their way in, with the hope of widening that opening over time. 


But mostly, it's because of people like you, Dilpreet, who walk into an industry with a machine gun that has 'Fuck Colonisation' painted on the side, fire big holes in the walls and bring historically marginalised people with you to walk through. 


Together, we are getting there. But we'll get there a whole lot faster if publishers, producers, curators and other organisational leaders go further than just making space for our stories to be told and actually: 

(1) hire a diverse staff and

(2) work hard to create workplace environments where diversity is valued, and people from all walks of life feel safe contributing and growing.


Appointing a person of colour isn't that hard. Doing the work to keep them there shows real commitment.


Dilpreet: What are some of your hopes from the book? Who do you want to read it, what do you want them to experience?


Ruhi: I hope the book will be eye-opening for readers unfamiliar with some of the challenges faced by countless South Asian daughters in Australia and overseas. For readers who relate to my experiences, I hope it will offer a sense of solidarity and a comforting reminder that an authentic life and self-compassion are within reach. For all readers, I hope it will anger them and make them laugh in equal measure.

About the author

Dilpreet is the founder of South Asian Today. More about her can be found here.

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