“Whenever I think back to 1991– not that I remember any of it – my heart is warmed as I try to imagine the sense of adventure that led my parents to a foreign hemisphere, their hopefulness, their resilience, and their drive to start a new life on lands unknown to them.
My mother had always been interested in travelling abroad, but I don’t think she believed it would ever become a reality. My father had travelled to Europe and the Middle East for work but if you asked him what led to the move to Melbourne, he’d tell you how it was decided on a whim. A few of his colleagues were applying for an Australian skilled migrant visa at the time that one of his flights to Oman was delayed for an entire day. That night, in his hotel room, he sat at the desk and, using the hotel’s branded stationery, he thought he’d try his luck by writing to the Australian embassy in Delhi. These days, he says can’t remember putting a stamp on it, but he credits destiny for what happened after.
I was only one and a half years old when my parents packed their bags and moved to Melbourne indefinitely.
For the first five years of my life, I could only speak Kannada. I learned English when I started attending school. While my parents generously bestowed me with toys, I didn’t have that many books on my shelf. I only started to take an interest in reading as a lonely kid in grade three who felt safer in the library than on the playground. I even won certificates over two consecutive years for borrowing and reading the most books in my year level.
After primary school, I didn’t read much beyond the books that were included in the syllabus. I was too caught up in family dysfunction, trying to fit in at school as a teenager and, well, puberty! But my vocabulary suffered for it. When I hit my twenties, I realised that not only did I struggle to articulate myself, but I saw my world in black and white terms – good or bad, happy or sad. My lack of nuanced language didn’t allow for any grey spaces.
Fast forward by almost a decade – I decided to write my memoir! By that point, I had done a whole lot more reading. I also completed several writing courses and workshops. I was absorbing a lot in the way of learning, but I was also pouring a lot of myself out onto the page. Storytelling was and is my way of trying to – at the risk of sounding trite – make a difference in the world. Storytelling was also a gift passed on from my South Indian grandmother and then my mother. Through my book, I wanted to add to the conversation about the treatment of women in South Asian families and hopefully help readers, who had been through similar experiences as myself, to feel less lonely.
The book came out on Tuesday 25th May 2021 and Melbourne went into a lockdown that Friday. I got to see the fruit of my labour in bookstores two weeks later during book signing visits. I do feel quite proud of the achievement. To write a 90,000-word manuscript is a pretty massive achievement for a once exceptional student who, by the time she hit university, almost kicked out of the institution for failing every subject over a year and struggled to complete essays of only 1500-2000 words. But you’ll have to read the book if you want to find out more about that.”
Ruhi Lee writes on Boon Wurrung land. Her memoir, Good Indian Daughter, is out now, through Affirm Press. You can find her online at ruhilee.com.