September 02, 2014


I was just starting grad school when the bright, thick, door-stopper of a book, BORN CONFUSED came out. I read it in between cramming other studies in, and found its sharply delineated cross-cultural content unlike much of the homogenized young adult literature I'd read before. Dimple Lala was American Born Confused Desi - the ABCD designation a stinging slur which identified she and so many other South Asian American young people -- too Indian to be American in the States, and in India, too American. I wasn't the intended audience for the novel - neither a clubber nor bicultural -- but I identified with the cultural confusion and the lack of identity Dimple found - and surfed on the heady, bright-light descriptions of the bhangra-club fusion scene, sampled the richly layered scents and sounds of South Asian culture as filtered through the lens of young America, and most of all, enjoyed the thoughtful, deep, and often silly Dimple, lining up the world in her viewfinder, doing her best to be real.

Of course I signed RIGHT up to read the sequel as soon as I heard about it.

Summary: A bright doorstopper of a book, I dove into a world where it was instantly apparent that everything had changed. Dimple was older - still hopeful, but foreshadowing clearly indicates to the reader that Something Of Portent will happen. Soon. Dimple and fam are going to India, for her parent's anniversary celebration AND for her cousin-sister Sangita's wedding, but it's clear not all is well. While her mom and dad are off on their own little jaunt, it's clear Sangita is not at all the girl Dimple knew - she's quiet, eyes modestly lowered, and she dresses like a Mumbai Auntie. What's up with that? Where did the jeans go? Kavita - wearing and buying rainbow colored everything - is going to use this trip to come out -- because, it's time to be herself in her own country, what? -- but her mother is so stressed marrying off Sangita -- and making remarks about marrying her off - that Kavity's more caustic and stressed out than ever. And Karsh - Dimple's precious, DJ-music magician man - has lost his groove entirely. Shattered over the death of his father - the shiftless, gambling alcoholic father he so rarely lived with growing up - he's directionless, rudderless... and sailing right into unfriendly waters, as far as Dimple is concerned. The Hare Krishna - and some rasta'd up, dreadlocked little trying-to-be-Indian yoga-blonde - are NOT the answer. Heartbreak looms around the corner.

When Dimple runs into a guy she met in the airport for the second time, it seems like fate. I mean... maybe fate is what's taken Karsh from her, right? So, anything else that happens is... fated? Or, do we -- with both hands on the wheel, eyes open -- construct our own fates?

Another brightly chiaroscuroed, strobe-lit stream-of-consciousness dip into the land of the Lala, BOMBAY BLUES is a non-stop slog to another level of maturity for our girl Dimple.

Peaks: In the extravagant language of the novel, Dimple Lala is headstrong and timid, confident and foolhardy. She's dealing with some serious stuff this time around - more serious, now that she's nineteen and in college. Her cousin's in an arranged marriage -- and just got accepted to art school... where she won't be allowed to go. For Dimple-follow-your-heart-Lala, that's a huge, multi-armed elephant in the room. How can they be together to celebrate a marriage and ...that? Meanwhile, Kavita is trying so hard to be real - own her life as a lesbian woman, but homosexuality - and sex toys - are illegal in India. Who are you if your motherland tells you you're nothing? If your own Mother doesn't see you... who does? Dimple's identity has been to be Karsh's girlfriend -- never the other way around. Always the DJ's appendage, never he, hers. Now that Karsh is stumbling - unrecognizable, with new habits, new friends and new -- utterly foreign -- music, does his stumble pull down Dimple, too? And, once she falls - how far will she go, and how will she be when she lands? Circling from America to India to London and back, Dimple's identity is no longer just a question of ABCD -- now it's American Desi vs. South Asian Desis - two vastly different groups. And the question, as always, is - who is Dimple? And, is loving her as she is... enough?

The vast breadth of this novel -- the stream-of-consciousness, blow-by-blow, tell-every-thought gives the reader the feeling of really being there, and reminds me quite a bit of the vibe I got from reading THIS IS ALL: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn awhile ago. This book is intensely crammed into the present - there's just a LOT on every page, in every chapter.

Valleys: The language of the novel is both beautiful and at times relentless and impenetrable. Readers might find their gazes glazing at the stream-of-consciousness outpouring, reminiscent of a club scene where all is frenetic, intermittently lit, and whiplash inducing. While the chaos is reflective of both internal dis-ease and the constant pulse of Bombay - or Mumbai - the sea of bobbing, bouncing, color-smeared crazy sometimes leaves the reader outside of the narrative. It was something which with I struggled in the first book, but a second read enabled me to gloss over the concepts which didn't matter, and the hopefulness and naiveté of the protagonist dragged me to the conclusion. In the sequel, Dimple is - understandably - weary. Betrayed - betraying - and so eagerly hoping for a new lease on life that she takes risks which seem a little out of character. In the end, the overarching storyline reaches out and pulls her back into its grasp -- with far fewer consequences, perhaps, than would have taken place in real life. Though I sort of phoned it in during the clubbing scenes, I know that other readers will find the vibe intoxicating. This book is a worthy offering to the BORN CONFUSED fanbase.

You can find BOMBAY BLUES by Tanuja Desai Hidier online, or at an independent bookstore near you!


Sarah Stevenson said...

It sounds...intense. But I remember one of the things I liked about BORN CONFUSED was that it didn't pull punches. The problems it brought up were very real and not sugarcoated.

Having been to India now, I wonder if I'll view the story differently...

tanita✿davis said...

@Sarah: I read this one thinking of your trip, and I do think that the smear of color and frenetic activity will definitely put you back in India! There's a lot to love in this novel - a lot of vivid life and texture and just -- a LOT. It's definitely intense.