Out of sync with self

Born Confused
by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Penguin Books. Pages 413. Rs 295.

"I guess I’m just not Indian enough for the Indians or American enough for the Americans, depending on who’s looking," sadly declares Dimple Lala, who is labouring under the confusion of growing up in different cultures.

"Oh no!" The reader might think, "Not yet another book on The American-Born Confused Desi, who doesn’t know how to act, relate, fit in or face the typical South Asian cultural conflict." For unfortunately, the truth is that the Indian reader has been exposed to far too much of the trials and dilemmas of this breed through films and books for the subject to really excite him anymore. And so, maybe the reader just passes the book over.

This would be a mistake. Born Confused is a highly readable, amusing and charming account of the growing up of Dimple Lala and her interactions with a varied group of people who influence her. In the process, she has to deal with the issues of teenage, of maturity, of getting comfortable with herself and her roots, of accepting her parents and coming to terms with her heritage—all of this in the milieu of the New Jersey society.

When we meet her, she is absolutely out of sync with herself and her surroundings. Her body has too many curves to fit the bill of the typical American teenage body. Her parents, wonderful and caring, though they make her feel "that maybe I hadn’t been traumatised enough by them to make me a regular teenager." Dimple’s passion is photography, which more often than not sees her behind the lens and out of the picture.

"The less evidence of my ungraceful plummet into adolescence the better for posterity, if I ever had one" was now turning into a serious occupation with her, and had come under parental scrutiny and disapproval. In addition, Dimple comes face to face with issues of alternative sexuality, which includes an Indian drag queen and her own cousin making an unorthodox sexual choice.

The cherry on the cake is when her parents arrange for her to meet a "suitable boy," whom she decides to reject even before she meets him. "They could dress me up, but they were definitely not making us go out." Her opinion of him gets confirmed when he declares his love for the songs of Asha Bhonsle and Lata, who, in her opinion, was "this really annoying Indian singer with a voice so shrill it could double-pierce your ears and leave hoops hanging."

However, when she goes to New York from New Jersey, she sees the "unsuitable" Krish the way he really is—the cool DJ who can set the dance floor on fire, a sensitive guy who could be the one to sort out her confusions. But by then, her beauteous friend, Gwen, has staked her claim on him. "In our twosome (Dimple’s and Gwen’s), I was "the other one"—you know the one the boy didn’t remember two seconds after delivering the pizza. The too curvy, clumsy, camera-clacking wallflower with nothing but questions lately."

Born Confused is written in a fun, racy style. Dimple is a self-effacing, sweet girl who can look at her own self as well as the situations and people who surround her with a wry humour. The book is full of funny one-liners and tongue-in-cheek comments that elicit chuckles from the reader. Dimple’s confused search for her identity, compounded by her love for Krish sets her on a voyage of discovery that makes her re-establish a loving relationship with her parents, re-examine her culture, mythology and her place in America as an Indian. The author looks at the universal issues an adolescent girl is faced with. Born Confused is "seriously cool". — A.S.