Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Vik and Vimi's Infinite Playlist

These days, it's rare that I don't read something that someone has not already recommended to me. Gone are the days when I would just skim the shelf and pick up a book because it looked interesting. Yet, that is essentially what happened with Born Confused, by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Granted, I did get confirmation from some of you before actually buying it, but I just came across it in a used bookstore and was intrigued. According to the blurb, it was a "story about finding yourself, finding your friends, finding love, and finding your culture—sometimes where you least expect it." Right up my alley, eh?

Dimple Lala is an Indian-American teenage girl with very traditional parents. She loves photography and her white best friend, Gwyn Sexton. Enter Karsh, a Suitable Boy for marriage. Dimple, of course, thinks he's totally lame...until she meets him in his natural environment, DJing a party. But as soon as she decides she actually likes him, Gwyn gets all starry-eyed for him. Hijinks ensue.

That's the précis, and it's a fairly generic plot with the exception of the arranged marriage element (which doesn't really even figure in that greatly since Dimple has been allowed to date white boys before). But there's so much more to the book than that; it's quite dense. It takes over a hundred pages of setup before Karsh even enters the scene (and another hundred before the main plot really kicks into gear). But the book isn't just about an angst-ridden love story and the bonds of friendship. Much of the book is spent on Dimple's connecting with her family: her cousins, her parents, even her late grandfather. The story takes place in the summer before senior year, a time of transition, so Dimple learns about not only her own culture but others as well, finding a kinship in the identity struggles of lesbians and drag queens.

The major appeal for me, of course, was that it was a book whose target audience was, well, me. An American-born confused Desi. Here was a book with Indian characters that I really related to and that felt real. Desai Hidier captures all the little details like Dimple's parents' use of the "fancy schmancy"/"Leno Schmeno"/"altoo faltoo" construction (though sometimes it makes them seem like caricatures) and the gender separation in the temple. All these little things that I'm familiar with that made me feel like, since they were in this book, I shared a common experience. To my surprise, Desai Hidier defines almost none of the Hindi words and sometimes doesn't even provide enough context for a non-Indian reader. Other times, she does give extensive descriptions of Indian things, even when I was already clear what she was talking about.

Besides that, it is a good book. Dimple is an endearing protagonist (even if her narration is a little more sophisticated than I'd expect from a seventeen-year-old), and the other characters are fairly well drawn. So much of her journey is universal; you don't have to be born confused to identify with her struggles and conflicts and eye-opening experiences. The book has some deliciously punny chapter titles. It feels like a good teen movie, you know? Crossed with a good indie movie that addresses issues like cultural appropriation and cultural identity.

My cousin threw a Desi Bash a couple weekends ago, and I sold snacks. I publicly read my book, and several people there commented on it. My aunt showed it to some of the other moms. One of my cousin's friends—who wants to be a DJ—thought it was like her dream story. I don't know how many books there really are about us ABCDs, but it's clear Dimple's story is appreciated.
Tags: being indian, books, desi arranged marriage notification, family, personal
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