Hy­phen­ated iden­tity

CON­FLICT­ING CUL­TURES NOT ONLY CRE­ATED A FAIR AMOUNT OF IDEN­TITY CRI­SIS IN YOUNG TANUJA, BUT ALSO GAVE HER THE IDEA FOR HER FIRST BOOK, BORN CON­FUSED THAT BE­CAME A RUN­AWAY HIT. WITH A FLAIR FOR WRIT­ING, SINGING AND EV­ERY­THING LYRI­CAL, AU­THOR TANUJA DESA

Deccan Chronicle - - SHELF LIFE - ARUN VENKA­TRA­MAN

With a Vile Parle-born mother, a Gu­jarat-born and raised fa­ther and a brother raised in Marine Lines, singer, song­writer and au­thor Tanuja De­sai Hi­dier’s early life was re­plete with In­di­anisms and In­dian cul­ture. What makes it stand out, is it was based in Mas­sachusetts, not Mumbai.

While con­flict­ing cul­tures may have cre­ated an iden­tity cri­sis in young Tanuja, it also gave her the idea for her first book, Born Con­fused, that be­came a run­away hit. Her writ­ing also owed much to the book­worm she’d been all through her grow­ing up years. “I was al­ways to be found with my nose in a book,” re­counts Tanuja. “My child­hood favourites all have yel­lowed pages from the bath­wa­ter hit­ting my shoul­der and then them. I had shelves upon shelves of books ar­ranged by sub­ject mat­ter: His­tor­i­cal/fac­tual, mys­tery, witch/ ghost/ ESP tales, and Enid Bly­ton.”

Tanuja’s de­but novel Born Con­fused was a land­mark suc­cess and named the Best Young Adult Book by the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion. But it was the ex­pe­ri­ence of writ­ing it that gave her a big­ger rush than the suc­cess it­self, con­tends Tanuja. “At the time when I was grow­ing up, there were no peo­ple of our par­tic­u­lar colour any­where. On book­shelves, in bands, on TV, even fore­cast­ing the weather. Add to that the fact my par­ents were the first from both sides of the fam­ily to im­mi­grate to the USA… So one of the rea­sons I wrote the book was to fill this void on my child­hood shelf: with an ex­plo­ration of ‘brown’,” she says.

She also adds that at the time she wrote the book, in 2002, that par­tic­u­lar type of cul­tural con­fu­sion — “the hy­phen­ated iden­tity di­as­poric sort, was likely more preva­lent among those who were living out­side the coun­try of their cul­tural ori­gin”. “We were first gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­cans. Our par­ents were, in a sense, the found­ing moth­ers and fa­thers of this it­er­a­tion of the di­as­pora. And as we came of age, we had to cre­ate a lan­guage to ex­press this evo­lu­tion as well, through lit­er­a­ture, mu­sic etc.” Tanuja says.

While Born Con­fused paved the way for un­der­stand­ing her own iden­tity, it was her more re­cent work, Bom­bay Blues, that led to an in-depth ex­plo­ration of it, says Tanuja. “Bom­bay Blues is my love song to this city I only lived in for cou­ple of years as a baby but which was like a mys­tery in my blood. My mother and brother were born there; it was the site of my par­ents’ courtship and wed­ding. Bom­bay Blues is set against the back­drop of the indie/al­ter­na­tive arts scene here and ex­plores in part the dy­nam­ics be­tween ex­pat cul­ture (the re­verse di­as­pora) and ‘lo­cal’ cul­ture,” she ex­plains.

Over the years, Tanuja has earned sev­eral ac­co­lades, in­clud­ing a James Jones Lit­er­ary Prize in 1995 for her story The Tale of a Two Hearted Tiger, but lit­er­a­ture is only one as­pect of her ex­plo­ration. She also has sev­eral suc­cess­ful mu­sic al­bums to her name in­clud­ing Bom­bay Spleen (which ac­com­pa­nied Bom­bay Blues). “For me, they are all part and par­cel of the same space: sto­ry­telling. In some ways, they’re even part of the same evolv­ing story. That said, the el­e­ment com­mon to all of them that’s clos­est to my heart is the writ­ing process it­self,” she says.

With her jour­ney hav­ing pro­gressed so far, has Tanuja come to terms with her iden­tity? The an­swer, she says, is com­pli­cated. She says, “When I was in In­dia re­cently for my book/al­bum launch, some­one asked me what it felt like to be an NRI writer back in the home­land. It’s funny, be­cause I don’t feel like one. Re­ally, none of th­ese la­bels speak to me. I won­der how this ques­tion — ‘Where are you from?’, so linked to ‘Who are you?’ — will evolve with the next gen­er­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, my daugh­ters are Indo-Franco-Americano- Bel­gians born and raised in Lon­don.”

So more than cul­tural and geo­graphic el­e­ments, it is in writ­ing that Tanuja has found her iden­tity. She says, “I think writ­ing (and I in­clude in that mu­sic, film, mu­sic videos; any form of sto­ry­telling) will likely al­ways be a part of what I do. It does seem nat­u­ral that the next writ­ing phase would in­clude Lon­don, where I’ve lived for a num­ber of years. And I’d love to write some­thing for chil­dren, now that my own are old enough to read. It’s dif­fi­cult to say how long ideas need to ges­tate. Par­tic­u­larly since this last In­dia trip, though, I can cer­tainly feel a stir­ring. From my end, I’ll just keep cup­ping that lit­tle spark in my hand and see what path it even­tu­ally lights up. And do my best to fol­low it.”

`

BOM­BAY BLUES

by TANUJA DE­SAI

HI­DIER 718, pp 560 Pri­mary and Mid­dle

School

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.