Thursday, November 5, 2015

Guest Blogger: Tanuja Desai Hidier

Reading While White is pleased to offer occasional guest bloggers who offer their own perspectives on race and books for children and teens.

By Tanuja Desai Hidier 

South Asia Book Award acceptance speech, delivered by Tanuja Desai Hidier, award winner for Bombay Blues (Scholastic/Push, 2014), October 23, 2015, in Madison, Wisconsin.

 Well, as Dimple Lala—my protagonist in both Bombay Blues and Born Confused—would say:


Aaray waah! What a feeling! 

I can’t tell you how honored and happy I am to be here today, sharing this moment with such a wonderful group of authors— congrats, Paula, Padma, and Vivek—and celebrating with a conferenceful of book lovers and people committed to the exploration of cultures, identity, diversity, and the myriad ways in which we express these things. Thank you to the South Asia Book Award committee—especially Rachel Weiss, for her tireless work putting this all so gracefully together, and Kevin King. Thank you to The South Asia National Outreach Consortium: SANOC. And a shoutout to DJ Rekha, whose parties Basement Bhangra and Mutiny, in the late 90s in New York City provided a spark that partly set me off on my writing journey. 

And a huge thank you to my very patient husband Bernard, my little bachoodis Leela Marie and ZoĆ© Rani…and, especially, to the very special people who since I was a child encouraged my writing path and whose own journey was the main inspiration for me to want to get to know Bombay better: So this is for you, my Mommy-ji, Bapuji, and dear, dear brother, Raj.

If as a child growing up in Wilbraham, Massachusetts—home of Friendly’s ice-cream!—and even later, as a much! bigger child in New York City, I could have imagined that such a thing as the South Asia Book Award could exist, this kind of celebration of diverse voices from the diaspora...

If my parents could have imagined it in their first days in the USA, when they were the first from both sides of the family to immigrate, where we were the only South Asians in our entire area, and were regularly asked what ‘kind’ of Indian we were—Cherokee? Apache?...

Well, I guess I wouldn't have had so much to write about later!

One of the reasons I wrote my first novel, Born Confused [prequel to Bombay Blues] was to fill a hole on my childhood bookshelf with an Indian-American heroine. Heroines. Heroes. With an exploration of ‘brown’.

And, many years after that, one of the reasons I recently wrote Bombay Blues was to move beyond, below the skin and a strictly cultural framework.

With an exploration of ‘blue’: the mood, the hue, the music.

The wild blue yonder.

And to forge my own connection with this motherland—Bombay: city of my mother’s birth, my brother’s, and the one where my parents met and married in an out-of-caste love marriage. A metropolis American-born me barely knew—yet that was, is, literally, in my blood.

The title
Born Confused comes from the term ABCD—one that in many ways clarified my writing path. It stands for American Born Confused Desi—desi meaning a person with roots in South Asia— and is a moniker South Asians ‘from’ South Asia have for these second and now third generation Americans who are purportedly “confused” about where they come from. Where their roots lie.

In fact, there are two versions of this alphabet both quoted in Born Confused.

The first:

American Born Confused Desi Emigrated From Gujarat House In Jersey Keeping Lots of Motels Named Omkarnath Patel Quickly Reaching Success Through Underhanded Vicious Ways Xenophobic Yet Zestful.


American Born Confused Desi Emigrated From Gujarat House In Jersey Kids Learning Medicine Now Owning Property Quite Reasonable Salary Two Uncles Visiting White Xenophobic Yet Zestful.

So… zestful, I’ll take! But I have yet to meet an Omkarnath Patel. If there’s one in the room tonight, please make yourself known!

What I wanted to do through my character Dimple, across both books, is turn that C for Confused to a C for Creative.

American Born Creative Desi.

This seemed to me to be a more accurate description of the South Asians who peopled my world—the ones I met in New York City, in the thriving music and arts scene there, but also the ones in my own home. These flesh-and-blood humans who were in fact shaping and creating the culture as they went along. As we went along. Like so many of the people who are in this room tonight!

It seemed to embody the idea that this Neither Here Nor There space is, in fact, a You Are Here.

A viable identity, a truth in its own right.

A WE are here.

And…now…here we are!

A hyphenated identity—well, we are all of multiply hyphenated identities, if you go far back enough (for example, Latin-American, Indo-Chinese, Afro-Caribbean). But not only culturally: As well as in the sense of being composed of many parts we often struggle to bring together. Double, triple lives we strive to balance, harmonize (for example, having one life outside of the home, one in it, in terms of society, sexuality, family, whatever it may be). We as humans are always-evolving jigsaws, constantly fitting the pieces together, making and unmaking and remaking ourselves….

And this hyphenated identity, I’ve come to realize, doesn't mean that you're 50-50, half of each, not quite either.

You can be 100-100.




The city we all live as humans is MULTIPLICITY.

A hyphen doesn't have to be a border: It can also be a bridge.

It can also be a bridge.

And it’s on the bridge—
In the blur—
The in-between—-
Where life—the journey—truly occurs.

Events shape this journey. This history. Herstory. People do, grand actions to little ones, too. But language does as well: Language shapes history. Imagination makes reality. We can dream things into being, speak them into being. Write, debate, discuss—read them into being. And it is wonderful that more and more voices are being heard and celebrated—because only then can we come close to representing the diversity and richness of human experience, to even approximating a kind of truth:

By revealing and reveling in our multidimensional selves.

Because there are innumerable, untold (only some told) ways to be South Asian. Male. Female. Human.

Our stories are our arsenal, our fuel. Our example:

Of other ways to be.




We’re a powerful chorus when we bring our voices together. When we make ourselves heard.

Because we are all, in fact, a wholly different kind of ABCD: All Born Creative Dreamers. And we are creating, scripting our own stories to realize our own dreams, expand and define our own space.

Our own spacES.

And, all of you: Your stories ARE stories. Never forget this.

Never underestimate the value of your own story. Only you can tell it.

Never underestimate the power of your own voice.

We need to hear it.

And thank you so, so very, very much for giving me the opportunity to be here today. For your time.

And for listening a little while to mine.

The 2015 South Asia Book Award ceremony took place as part of the 44th Annual Conference on South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison--the world's largest such event, with more than 800 scholars, students, professionals, writers, artists, and others in attendance. The 2015 South Asia Book Award winners are Paula Yoo (children's book) and Tanuja Desai Hidier (young adult book). Also present at the ceremony were honor book authors Vivek Shraya and Padma Venkatraman
 Read Paula Yoo's acceptance speech on Crazy QuiltEdi.
Tanuja Desai Hidier is an award-winning author/singer-songwriter born in the USA and now based in London. She is the recipient of the 2015 South Asia Book Award for second novel Bombay Blues, the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and the London Writers/Waterstones Award, and her short stories have been included in numerous anthologies. Her pioneering first novel, Born Confused—the first-ever South Asian American coming of age novel—was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and became a landmark work, recently hailed by both Rolling Stone Magazine and Entertainment Weekly as one of the greatest YA novels of all time on lists including such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, and Little Women. Tanuja is also the innovator of the ‘booktrack’: Her first album When We Were Twins original songs based on Born Confused was featured in Wired Magazine for being the first of its kind. The music video for her ode-to-Bombay “Heptanesia” from her second album Bombay Spleen songs linked to Bombay Blues is currently airing on MTV Indies. 


Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

This is an exhilarating read! (Wish I could have watched the speech live.) Love these quotes:
"The city we all live in as humans is MULTIPLICITY."
"A hyphen doesn't have to be a border; it can also be a bridge."

Thanks for the lift.

Unknown said...

Dear Anne,

Thank YOU so much for reading!

I look forward to discovering your own works as well.

Happy Diwali!

Best wishes,

Allen jeley said...