The year I turned seventeen I fell in love with a cynical older man who was unaware of my existence; causing devastation in a heart that would never heal. I used this unusual experience and wrote a story about it. It was imaginatively titled ‘A Matter of Destiny,’ and published by an Indian women’s magazine called Eve’s Weekly. I was paid 200 Rupees for this, my first publication. My mother insisted I do ‘something useful’ with the money, so I bought a sari. I still have it, the sari, that is, not the story, which was excruciating in its unrequited-love-as-despair-and-I-know-this-will-never-get-better-ever theme. The heartbreak did not last beyond my seventeenth year.
A couple of years later I discovered Ayn Rand, Salman Rushdie and Anita Desai, in that order, and decided that writing romance was not for me. This caused me a lot of grief, I might add. My steady consumption of English classics and Mills & Boon books had led me to believe I might have a career as a Romantic, in both the classical and commercial sense. I was convinced my superior grasp of the English language would lead to a superior brand of romance writing. However, the worlds I encountered in Midnight’s Children, Fountainhead and Fire on the Mountain, disassembled me. The people in these books were deeply unattractive, fatally flawed, completely manic; and I loved them. They set fire to forests, destroyed buildings and had enormous noses that could sniff out trouble. Not a handsome Spaniard or brooding English marquis among them. More than that, I became aware that I was reading about my people, in the language of my colonisers, for the first time since being force-fed Malgudi Days in high school. While my Ayn Rand phase was brief, Rushdie and Desai persuaded me to consume contemporary Indian literature written by people supremely unafraid to break the rules, and crucially, with no interest in Romance, classical or otherwise. All my love affairs, imaginary and word-based, required a re-think.
Just as postcolonial literature was being spoken about, and ‘other literatures in English’ were becoming known, I moved countries. I left the land of my birth and all my familiars and came to Australia as an immigrant. Consequently, the stories I thought I might write someday, jostled about in my mind as I attempted to settle into an amnesiac settler colony. During my first few years in Perth I did not see or meet a single Aboriginal person. Occasionally I saw brown people who rarely made eye contact. I knew I needed to read my adopted country in its own words but neither Patrick White nor Henry Lawson showed me the landscape I was yet to learn. Sally Morgan’s My Place changed everything, and I began to understand a little. I became familiar with amnesia, cultural cringe, flora, fauna and the troubled history of invasion that was easier to ignore because reckoning would mean unravelling.
As a writer I try to point out the contradictions. I try to tell the truth obliquely. I try to foreground my complicity in the tragedy of dispossession. An Aboriginal writer friend told me once when people have had their country, language and children stolen from them, the only thing they have left is story. Storying our world means we remember, we take ownership, we matter.
Rashida Murphy is the author of The Historian’s Daughter. Her short stories and poetry have been widely published. Her latest story is forthcoming in a new anthology published by Margaret River Press and Ethos Books.
Read Rashida’s previous blog post: ‘Loving Hardy‘.