Indian girls only make the front page of the Dudley News if they’ve landed a role in an Indian flick, had a forced marriage or run away. I had apparently done the last.
In retrospect, the era when I came of age, bookended roughly by the Gurinder Chadha films Bhaji on the Beach (1993) and Bend it Like Beckham (2002) seems a vision of post-racial multicultural harmony. Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha even got to number one in the pop charts, a thing I’d never imagined possible watching TOTP during my 1970s childhood. But all that’s over now, shattered by Brexit.
The Pocket Guide to Being an Indian Girl by B.K. Mahal (2004, now out of print) came in on the end of the wave. I don’t think a book like this would be published today –it’s bawdy, funny, peppered with Punjabi slang and Bollywood in-jokes, the narrative has odd changes of tone and a disjointed plot.
I loved it.
I loved our heroine Susham (Sushi), big sister Kully who’s about to get hitched to the scion of a Brummie Asian mafioso, little sister Kiz & her Bollywood dreams, and their put-upon mother. Their father has been sectioned for manic depression, absconds from hospital and hides out in Dudley allotments–but only Sushi seems to care.
I loved the way the book skewers stereotypes of Brit Asian culture: big weddings, overachieving children, food, romance and Bollywood, adds gritty reality (financial struggles, mental health issues, a patriarchal culture, never losing face ‘in the community’) and manages to be both very very funny and completely real. Yet, as far as I can tell, the author never wrote another YA book.
Diversity is having a ‘moment’ again in kids and YA spurred on by the We Need Diverse Books non-profit in the U.S. Let’s hope it sticks around for good, this time. Teens 12+