Tanuja Desai Hidier,
Born Confused has been released to
tremendous hype and has even attracted the attention
of Larry King. Written by a young Indian American,
Tanuja Desai Hidier, the novel is classified as "young
adult fiction". Before I proceed, I must confess
that I am no longer a "young adult" and
all my comments must be evaluated in that light.
The jacket of Born Confused claims:
"This is a story about finding yourself, finding
your friends, finding love, and finding your culture—sometimes
where you least expect it." I should have known
I was already in trouble then. The story revolves
around the primary protagonist Dimple Lala, who is
having a serious identity crisis and trying to fit
in. She moans, "Of course I had to be like them
(white Americans). But how was I ever going to be
like them? That was more than half the problem. I
was born different—it started from the skin
and seeped all the way in, till nothing matched."
Dimple is moving along through high school with a
set of parents who love her too much—a mother
who smelled of "If you Like Chanel No.5 You’ll
Love and gentle-on-the-hands dishwashing liquid and
spices", and a father who was a big fan of Lata
Mangeshkar. Dimple has a best friend Gwyn, who acts
like she is the Marilyn Monroe of the new generation.
Dimple envies Gwyn for her beauty, her boldness and
ease. Gwyn in turn secretly envies Dimple’s
rock-hard family. At one point she even exclaims:
"You’re so lucky that you have more than
one part of the map that means something to you. I
wish I had something like that. A culture, a country."
Trouble floats along in the form of Karsh Kapoor,
who Dimple dismisses at first. Of course, Karsh turns
out to be Mr. Sensitive and extra desirable when best
friend Gwyn trains her sights on him. In the end (after
an agonizing 400 plus pages), everything turns out
rosy and just right.
Desai, as an author, shows a lot of promise. The
plot chugs along at a fairly good pace and the dialog
is quite funny in many places. But the book is ridden
with so many clichés it was enough to make
me gag. Dimple's white American boyfriends turn out
to be jerks, her hottie, Julian, sees Dimple as nothing
more than a potential "kamasutronic" babe
and then unceremoniously dumps her. Ditto for Gwyn’s
bf who thinks nothing of abruptly walking out on her.
Gwyn, the white best friend, of course has to come
from a broken family and have a never-present mom
who does drugs. And yes, the Indian boyfriend has
to be Mr. Sensitive and very aware of his feet in
both cultures and make Dimple realize the true meaning
of her culture and the importance of being herself.
I fully appreciate the teenage identity crisis and
the angst that accompanies deep self-introspection.
When the voyage has been undertaken and resolved though,
does one necessarily have to swing from one end of
the pendulum to the other? In the end, Dimple admits
that an Indian classmate, who wanted to be called
Jimmy Singh now wants to be called his Indian name,
Trilok (Jimmy) Singh. And Dimple is comfortable at
last with bringing defrosted samosas to school and
addressing her boyfriend as "jeevan saathi".
These images hint at a solution to the identity crisis
but as images they are so extremely contrived, it
is hard to take them seriously.
Born Confused will be remembered as
one of the first significant contributions to fiction
targeted mostly at Indian American youth. Sadly though
it is nowhere near being a great one.
October 5, 2002
Poornima Apte lives in the greater
Boston area with her husband and two daughters. Her
passions include reading, gardening and often, writing.
She reviews books for Desi Journal, curledup.com