BORN CONFUSED By Tanuja Desai Hidier, Scholastic, $16.95
Problems besieged her once she turned seventeen. Her last birthday had also been a shock to her as her lover, Bobby O’Malley, broke up with her. Now with her seventeenth birthday round the corner, she was going to attend school for the last time in her life. She was nostalgic as well as apprehensive, more so because Gwyn Sexton, her best friend, had announced on the way to school that it was “going to be the first day of the rest” of her life.
Whatever Gwyn might have meant, for Dimple Rohitbhai Lala her last day at school was indeed the day of her reincarnation, a day she felt confused about several things she had earlier taken for granted. “I was born turned around….And have been getting it wrong ever since. I wished there was a way to go back and start over.”
But that was not to be. So Dimple was left guessing about what her friend Gwyn was up to, whether her affair with Dylan was tugging her best friend away from her and whether Karsh, projected by Dimple’s parents as a “suitable” boy, was actually that. She was not sure about how much she should resist or obey her parents and about what she should really aim to be — an Indianized American or an Americanized Indian. As she told Kavita, her cousin sister, “I guess I’m just not Indian enough for the Indians or American enough for the Americans.”
This was how she started questioning her identity, and once she did that her relationship with people around her started changing radically. But one thing that did not change was her passion for photography. She carried her Chica Tikka like a pet and captured at random the moments of life. The camera was her only possible access to the maze of life. In the “small, sacred space” of her darkroom, she spent hours developing stills and discovering life at its intricate twists and turns. Gradually, the look through the view-finder turned into a kind of poetic vision for Dimple Lala as she watched Zara, the transsexual — “mixed, montaged, multiple”.
The words — mixed and montaged — also sum up the novel. Tanuja Hidier’s narration is at some places free-wheeling and sometimes lyrical. The generous dose of humour that suffuses her prose should be enough guarantee against yawns and drooping eyelids.