Desai Hidier, Tanuja
Desai Hidier, Tanuja
Born in Boston, MA. Education: Attended Brown University.
Freelance writer. Singer/lyricist for London rock band San Transisto.
James Jones First Novel fellowship, 1995; award of merit, Sinking Creek Film and Video Festival, 1996, for The Test; American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults designation, New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age designation, and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best designation, all 2002, all for Born Confused; first prize for fiction, London Writers/Waterstones Competition, 2001, for short story "The Border."
Born Confused, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of video screenplay The Test, 1996. Contributor to anthologies Big City Lit, 2001, Desilicious, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2003, and Sixteen, Crown (New York, NY), 2004.
Tanuja Desai Hidier is a second-generation Indian American whose novel Born Confused tells a comingof-age story of a young girl living in suburban New Jersey. The novel has won several awards as well as the attention of many in the Indian-American community.
Desai Hidier was born in Boston and grew up in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. "It was a sanctuary of trees and fields and apple orchards and dogs on no leashes and safe trick-or-treating," the author explained in an interview on her Web site. Her parents had come to America from India and settled in Massachusetts. The young Desai Hidier showed an early interest in written expression. "I began writing poems at age six for fun and turned to fiction at 10 or 11," she explained in an interview for the News India Times. "I realized that I could best express myself through writing, so I kept it up." Speaking to Preeti Thandi in an online interview for My Bindi.com, she recounted: "When I was little I dreamed of being a writer—one of the reasons possibly being that I loved to read and the other being that sheer transporting power of putting pen to paper." After attending Brown University, Desai Hidier worked for a time as a freelance journalist, contributing to magazines and Web 'zines in New York City. She also took fiction-writing workshops, wrote short stories, and made videos, including The Test, which won an award from the Sinking Creek Film and Video Festival in 1996. These efforts helped her to clarify the kind of fiction she wanted to write: stories about the experience of second-generation Asians in the United States.
Through a friend, Desai Hidier was scheduled to meet an editor at Scholastic to discuss what she thought was possible copyediting work. The editor thought they were going to discuss her novel. Since she did not have a novel, but knew an opportunity when she saw it, Desai Hidier began discussing an idea she had for a novel. "I said I was interested in doing an Indian-American coming-of-age story," she recalled to the News India Times. "He was immediately very excited about the idea and said that was a book he'd never seen and he'd love to help get it onto the bookshelf." It took some five months to put together an outline and sample chapters, then another four months to finish writing the nearly three-hundred-page novel.
Celebrates Pain, Excitement of Heritage
Desai Hidier's title for Born Confused is taken from the Indian-American slang expression "ABCD," which stands for American Born Confused Desi. The expression is a derogatory description for those children of Indian immigrants who have supposedly forgotten their roots in favor of U.S. culture ("Desi" is a Hindi word meaning "from my country"). The novel tells the story of Dimple Lala, a New Jersey teen who hopes to become a professional photographer. She also enjoys the exuberant South Asian club scene in New York City. Feeling like she does not quite fit in either as an American or as an Indian, Dimple tries to blend in as best she can and please her parents and her friends in the process. "The heart of the book is about learning how to bring two cultures together without falling apart yourself in the process; in short, learning how to become yourself," Desai Hidier explained at her Web site. "On one level," a critic for Publishers Weekly noted. "the book explores the growing pains, rebellious phases, peer pressures and first love experienced universally by teens. On a deeper level, it celebrates a harmonious blending of cultures as it traces one adolescent's bumpy trek towards self-actualization." Desai Hidier recounted to Thandi in My Bindi.com: "In many ways, I wrote Born Confused to make sense of things, to shape a period of cultural confusion and cultural exhilaration—which can be one and the same thing at times! What does it mean to be Indian? To be South Asian? And, at the heart of that: To be American? And at the soul within that heart: To be yourself?"
Dimple is used to being only one of two Indian Americans in her high school. However, after she accidently gets drunk while on a date with a Caucasian boy, her concerned parents introduce her to a new boy in town, Karsh, the son of friends who have newly arrived in America. This Indian American, they believe, is more suitable for their daughter. At first turned off by Karsh, Dimple soon sees that he has many of the same interests she has, including an interest in the dance clubs her family finds distasteful. At the same time, though, her best friend Gwyn shows an interest in Karsh as well, and Dimple is confused about what to do. "The family background and richness in cultural information add a new level to the familiar girl-meets-boy story," Betsy Fraser wrote in a review of Born Confused for the School Library Journal.
Several critics especially praised Desai Hidier's use of vivid, metaphoric language in her novel. Claire Rosser in Kliatt found that "clearly Hidier loves words and knows how to use them lavishly. In a way, it is a reflection of the Indian culture in general, filled with colors and food and aromas and action." A critic for the Independent on Sunday claimed that Desai Hidier "writes with a flamboyance full of rich description," while a reviewer for London's Sunday Times explained that reading Born Confused is "like walking through lush undergrowth." Frances Bradburn in Booklist wrote that, "while it is the story of every teen, the writing is dense and detailed, with a vocabulary and references that will challenge readers. It's the careful choice of every word that marks this reading experience." A critic for Kirkus Reviews concluded: "If the plot is a tad predictable, if the love interest is just about too good to be true—who cares? The exuberant, almost psychedelic linguistic riffs will catch readers up in a breathtaking experience that is beyond virtually anything being published for teens today."
From Novelist to Sitar-less Rock Singer
Following the publication of Born Confused, Desai Hidier moved to London, where she became a singer and lyricist with the rock band San Transisto. She recounted on her Web site: "I've noticed that very often South Asians—usually first generation, sometimes second, and multi-generational South Asians from South Asia—want to know right away whether I sing in Hindi. (No.) Well, then is there a sitar involved? (Not at the moment.) Tablas, at least? (Sorry, we're straight-up rock 'n' roll: bass, guitar, keys, drums, and mikes, and a little body glitter for good measure.)" By 2003 the band was working on songs based on Born Confused, a kind of soundtrack to the novel, with the intent of releasing an album.
If you enjoy the works of Tanuja Desai Hudier
If you enjoy the works of Tanuja Desai Hudier, you might want to check out the following books:
Kavita Daswani, For Matrimonial Purposes, 2003.
Bharti Kirchner, Darjeeling, 2002.
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake, 2003.
Amulya Malladi, A Breath of Fresh Air, 2002.
Speaking to the News India Times, Desai Hidier had this advice for aspiring writers: "Trust me, writing is a lot less exhausting than not writing. Write a little bit every day—even putting pen to paper, or finger to key, for a page or two of anything can help ward off the 'blank-page' syndrome. Do whatever works: Take writing workshops and do open mike readings to try out pieces you are working on, read, run, listen to music, see films, pay attention to your surroundings and the people in your world. Don't wait for inspiration—create it. Everybody has a story to tell, and a story that is worth hearing."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 15, 2002, Frances Bradburn, review of Born Confused, p. 753.
Cambridge Chronicle (Cambridge, England), April 2, 2003, Susie Davidson, "Across-the-Pond Collaboration Celebrates Shared Heritage."
Financial Times, June 28, 2003, review of Born Confused.
Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 22, 2003, review of Born Confused.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Born Confused, p. 1387.
Kliatt, November, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of Born Confused, p. 10.
News India Times, November 22, 2002, interview with Desai Hidier and review of Born Confused.
Publishers Weekly, October 28, 2002, review of Born Confused, p. 72; June 30, 2003, review of Born Confused, p. 82.
School Library Journal, December, 2002, Betsy Fraser, review of Born Confused, p. 136.
Sunday Times (London, England), June 22, 2003, review of Born Confused.
My Bindi.com,http://www.mybindi.com/ (December 21, 2003), Preeti Thandi, interview with Desai Hidier and review of Born Confused.
This Is Tanuja Web site,http://www.thisistanuja.com (December 21, 2003).*