led you to the world of alphabets and words? Did you always
aspire to be an author?
been writing for as long as I can remember-though I would
say I put a pretty good effort into procrastinating for
nearly just as long! I started writing poems when I was
six and kept on for years after. When I was ten, I wrote
two mystery books, around 100 pages each. From about high
school on, I wrote primarily short stories. 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. That dream never
truly went away though it definitely got a little tangled
and twisted during my later periods of wondering whether
I could really do it, and would I?
gave birth to Born Confused? Where did you strike upon the
themes in BORN CONFUSED are issues I'd been thinking about
whether consciously or not for a few years beforehand-or
maybe even all my life, depending on where you draw the
line. One big inspiration was my own discovery of the desi
'scene' in New York City-it was a confusing, stimulating,
experience to suddenly come across a way of life that was
taking this 'neither here nor there' culture and making
it a You Are Here, a new and viable space in its own right.
I really wanted to pay homage to that experience, and to
New York City, who played no small role in making it possible.
fascinating factor thrown in to the mix was that at the
same time that you had (and have) this explosive and exciting
birth of desi culture as a culture in and of itself going
on, as second generation South Asian America gains critical
mass in the arts, media, business, on the dance floor and
in university departments created to explore this very topic-you
had mainstream culture jumping on the South Asian bandwagon:
bindis on music videos, chai in Starbucks, and so on. The
resulting dynamic was a complex one: amongst desi youth
there was a simultaneous sense of exhilaration at all the
attention and panic, frustration, in some cases anger, that
these elements of the culture were being taken on by MTV
before we'd gotten fully gotten a grip on them ourselves.
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
reason for writing BORN CONFUSED is, simply, that I wanted
to get a strong, smart desi heroine --and heroes--out there
and onto the page. She was nowhere to be found in books,
cinemas, TV shows when I was growing up--though happily
that's changing more and more now-and I still feel a deep
commitment to including her in everything I do.
How many of Dimple's dilemmas are your own? Did you go
through the same confusion while growing up?
the book feels very true to me. The questions about identity,
the sudden revelations about the South Asian scene and desi
culture in New York-these were similar to the questions
I had, to the illuminating moments I experienced when I
discovered that scene. However, my own dilemma didn't come
about from having to lead one life at home/another outside;
rather, my own not-Indian-enough-not-American-enough dilemma
expressed itself in my writing process.
a few years before writing BORN CONFUSED I'd been working
on a series of short stories; I'd realized in the process
that I really wanted to tell a tale of South Asian America,
but at a certain point I hit a block. I felt I wasn't Indian
enough to tell the Indian parts of the story, nor American
enough-in what I then narrowly defined as American-to tell
those parts. I was sharing this dilemma with a friend one
night and she said, Well, that's your topic: Not Indian
Enough. That really struck a chord for me: What I'd all
viewing as the lack of a story was the very story itself.
the portrait of the parents in the book an image of your
dialogue and situations in the book are invented-although
now we've so confused fiction with fact that my parents
have begun to use phrases in the book, such as Good one,
Mummy!-- but the sense of humor, the warmth and compassion
and spirit is totally them. Also the story of the Lalas
out-of-caste romance is based strongly on fact (as is the
description of the living room!). My
parents have been my greatest support in following my dreams,
and have had even more faith in me than I had in myself
for many years. On a very personal level, one of the reasons
for writing BORN CONFUSED was to honor them by writing a
story about an immensely loving family, one where the bonds
only grow stronger
over time, where the connections deepen in spite of differences.
inspired the character of the 'supertwin' Gwyn?
I wanted to have two of the lead characters embody the two
forces I mentioned earlier-the desi-culture-coming-into-its
own force (Dimple and others) and the mainstream-culture-becoming-obsessed-with-desiness
one. This is where the idea of Gwyn initially came in. But
on another level, and probably a more important one, I also
wanted to have a non-South Asian heroine in the book, someone
to show that though some issues a person deals with can
be race-specific, there are many others that are just human
issues, that are simply about growing up and finding your
place in the world, coming to terms with yourself and learning
to really see the people around you.
experience in New York, I found there were certain elements
of the desi culture that could be pretty exclusive, and
that was an area where I never really felt at home. I've
never in my life only had South Asian friends, or even thought
about friendships in those terms. Growing up, my closest
friends were white, partly, I'm sure, because I grew up
in a predominantly white town. In college and after many
of my dearest friends were/are Latin and South American.
My jeevansaathi is white and French. My niece and nephews
are half Indian half white-Jewish-American. You connect
with who you connect with. There can sometimes be a tendency
towards antagonism directed at people 'outside' of the ethnic
culture, specifically whites, who are 'appropriating' the
culture. But I
think it's really important to learn to take the context
into account, the intention. If that interest is coming
from a good place, if there is real love and respect and
curiosity, then it's probably not such an awful thing, this
interest; it can open doors that sometime remain open after
the larger wave of trendiness passes. Culture is a shared
thing, and is always in flux, always evolving. And I realized
as I got to know and really love Gwyn that her friendship
with Dimple could involve this idea.
Tikka', the camera is a comrade and breathes a presence
of its own. Where did you draw the close insights into photography?
the more I wrote the more the camera became a character
itself. It's funny, but it wasn't until I was well into
the book that I realized the camera should be named-we always
name objects of affection, or rename them with nicknames
and such, and it seemed so strange to keep saying 'the camera'
Tikka is so close to Dimple's heart and soul.
that I wanted Dimple to have an art form, a mode of self
expression through which she'd learn to rethink her conceptions
and preconceptions and come into her own, and I was attracted
to the idea of photography because it seemed it would be
such a joy to write long descriptive passages of beloved
New York, and people and places through the eyes of a photographer.
Also, the art form suited Dimple, who at the outset of the
book uses the camera as a sort of tool to hide behind and
spy on the worlds she feels she can never truly be a part
of; by the end of the book this same hiding place turns
out to be her very window into her own life, in shaping
her own story.
writing, I began to live my day to day life looking at the
world through Dimple's eyes-if she took a photograph of
this street, this café, this face what part would
she pay attention to, what would be in the frame, what would
be left out? How would she see things, and how would that
change over time?
The idea of having her progress from black and white to
color and then to a new understanding of even black and
white as being made up of shades of grey also seemed a good
visual counterpart to her own journey towards embracing
her multicultured self. As far as the technical details
went, I hung out in camera stores and did little experiments
(would your reflection in the lens be convex
or concave?), went to lots of films and photo exhibitions
(the former which I do anyways), drew a little on my own
filmmaking experience, read how-to books and pestered a
couple generous photographer friends with fact-check questions.
Despite the various twists and turns in the story, it has
an underlying fairy tale element to it, especially the end,
was that intentional?
Frock, what's wrong with a little happiness, I figured.
Dimple deserves it!
to play around with/rewrite the fairy tales a little. For
example, at midnight, the pumpkin hour when things go back
to being what they usually are, Dimple discovers what Karsh's
identity truly is. Zara I imagine as a sort of fairy godmother-though
she's probably rather different than the one in the tale!--who
grants a few wishes along the way. And towards the end,
I wanted to
set up a reverse Cinderella, a reverse Rapunzel: The princess
doesn't sit around waiting for someone to find a shoe that
fits, doesn't stay trapped in a tower waiting for rescue.
Dimple returns the slipper/sneaker herself, and climbs the
tower/ladder herself. The waiting is over: She knows now
there is no such thing as being a passive observer, and
she takes action to shape her own
life, to tell her own story, to become her own princess.
me something about your involvement in the rock band. How
often do you perform?
a five piece, two women and three men: guitars, bass, drums/bongos,
keyboards. I'm lead singer and a songwriter in the group.
The name of the band is San Transisto and the other four
members are all from the UK. We've gigged around London
quite a bit, but are now in the middle of writing a soundtrack
of original music to BORN CONFUSED. We're aiming to incorporate
these songs into upcoming book events (I did something similar
in Boston with a group of musicians last April and at the
UK launch of the book, my bandmate, guitarist Anne Marie
Tueje, and our adopted bandmate, who plays tablas, accompanied
"Visionary", the Chica Tikka theme song, as part
of the readings). The CD-meets-audio book should be ready
by the end of the summer/early fall.
does Tanuja go from here. what more would you like to accomplish
and what projects are you currently working on?
the moment, the focus is on finishing the writing/recording
for the book soundtrack. I'll be doing some recording in
New York in July with my ex-bandmate from the punk pop band
I was in there to this end, and the majority of the rest
will be done here in London with San Tran and possibly a
few deejays. I'm also working on a couple of short stories
that will be coming out in
anthologies later this year/next year, as well as a couple
more journalistic pieces. And I am just beginning to work
on adapting BORN CONFUSED for the screen-so to all the Dimples,
Karshes, Kavitas, and Gwyns out there, watch the space at