Do you smell like curry? If you’ve ever had a hard time getting the smell of simmering onions and masala out of your clothes, you’ll identify with Sanjit Singh’s new book, Are You Indian? A Humorous Guide to growing up Indian in America.
His wacky take on his life makes this a book anyone who grew up in the South Asian diaspora can identify with, and one hilarious read. Jugni Style spoke to Sanjit about his inspiration to write this book and his fondest memories growing up in the USA.
Jugni Style: What inspired you to write a book based on your “Indian” experiences?
Sanjit: I, like most NRIs that I know, am obsessed with content that speaks directly to our bicultural (or tricultural, quatracultural, etc) experiences [like] YouTube videos of Russell Peters, movies such as Bend it Like Beckham, and music that fuses Indian and western ideas. I just thought to myself, “Someone needs to write a book about growing up here and make it really funny.” Then I thought, “Well maybe I should just go ahead and write it myself!”
JS: What has been your experience living in and growing up in the South Asian Diaspora?
Sanjit: It’s hard to know what to compare it to but versus my American friends, I suppose I would [describe] my young life as “quirky.” My family just did things very differently from most other families so I just felt like we were weird. There really weren’t that many Indian families in our town in the late 60s and early 70s but, we weren’t a very typical Indian family either. First, my father, while a Punjabi, grew up entirely in the UK and speaks very little Hindi, while my mother went to mostly Catholic convent schools in India. There was a lot more European influence in our home than I saw in other Indian households. Second, I grew up with acute but undiagnosed ADHD and more creative career interests.
JS: The South Asian Diaspora is complex with different identities, do you think your book can reach out to those beyond those that are Indian?
Sanjit: I think that the broad appeal and success of movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding have taught us that we are all outsiders and can relate, at least in some way, to the immigrant or second generation experience. While I wrote this book, Americans and non-Indian immigrants in my writing group said they completely related to the stories that I was telling. My friend’s wife, who is French but lives in the UK, said she couldn’t put the book down and laughed all the way through. I expended a great deal of effort footnoting Indian terms and creating an extensive glossary at the end of the book to ensure that Indians and non-Indians alike could follow along.
JS: Did you feel that it was better to deliver your experiences through laughter and comedy?
Sanjit: Humor has always been a passion of mine so I’m not sure that a serious approach would have made sense. I’ve been obsessed with humor since I was a child memorizing stand-up comedy routines, seeing witty movies, and writing funny vignettes. I love to laugh and, when I can, make others laugh. I just naturally try and look for the humor in everything. Plus, there are already so many other talented Indian authors, such as Jhumpa Lahiri, that write about the serious side of the Indian diaspora experience.
JS: You make many references to your relatives, have they read the book? What has their reaction been like?
Sanjit: So far, they have all said that it is much funnier but a bit more crass than they expected. My parents have been pretty cool about it so far, but I think they are at a stage of life where they are more laid back about everything. They were the ones I was most worried about but they seem ok despite the fact that I lampoon them extensively in the book. Luckily, they know that I love them very much and that my teasing is all in the spirit of good fun.
JS: What do you hope people take away from the book?
Sanjit: I would love people to have a good belly laugh and perhaps experience some catharsis from the knowledge that they were not alone in their odd, culturally awkward childhood experiences. I would be especially tickled if people think that I was weirder and more maladjusted than they were, especially if it helps them feel better about their childhood.
To give you a taste of Sanjit’s work, read these sample pages from his book: “Introduction” from Are you Indian? A Humorous Guide to Growing up Indian in America
To purchase a copy of the book, click here.
Story By: Daniel Ashwin Pillai