4 original songs from Tanuja’s ‘booktrack’ albums When We Were Twins (songs based on her first novel, Born Confused) & Bombay Spleen (songs based on her new novel, sequel Bombay Blues) to celebrate GayYA’s 4th birthday!
And for now, and always, I knew: Love had to be allowed in wherever, whenever, and in whatever form it took. We didn’t have to shrink to fit it, box it to casket. And even then, when we found it dying, could opt for ashing down rather than burial, scatter it to all five corners of the earth and ether.
Whatever could be celebrated must be celebrated.
I was an oracle today but still had a long way to go. I was an oracle today but still would arrive always here:
Love could be. Must be.
—Bombay Blues (Chapter 47: “Perspective”)
Hello and a most joyful birthday to you, dear GayYA peeps! In honor of it, I’ve compiled a little playlist from When We Were Twins and Bombay Spleen (my ‘booktrack’ albums of original songs based on my novels Born Confused and Bombay Blues, respectively) from my protagonist, Indian-American NYC-NJ young adult photographer Dimple Lala to you: four songs for your fourth anniversary.
A little background:
My books and songs deal a lot with love (don’t we all!). In its many forms, shapes, curves, wiggles, whirlwinds, wanders, wonders. Because the heart isn’t a two-dimensional cut-out valentine, after all — but a bloody, bountiful, beating majestic muscle…and one with more room, greater chambers than we know (or, sometimes, admit). Part and parcel of this, I love exploring hyphenated identities. On all sorts of levels, in all kinds of ways. For we are all of multiply hyphenated identities: culturally, yes, if you go far back enough (or even not so far)…but not only in cultural terms. We are also all of hyphenated identities in the sense of being made of many parts, layers of ourselves that we try, with varying degrees of success, to bring together.
And, on the most basic biological level: because we are one made from two.
Holes and yet whole.
A hyphenated identity doesn’t mean that you’re 50-50, half of each, not quite either. You can be 100-100. 200-200!
The city we live as humans is multiplicity. A hyphen doesn’t have to be a border: It can also be a bridge. People have sometimes asked if I feel more American or Indian. If I’m an author or musician. I’m sure some of you have had similar questions cast your way at some time or another, pertaining to all kinds of matters of the heady heart and hearty head. And that’s okay. But see, I don’t feel there always needs to be an ‘or’. This ‘or’ inhibits us in a lot of ways, our perceptions of ourselves and others—and blinds us to the vital fact that identities, cultures, places, people, are always evolving. We are always evolving. And our relationships, too: with others—but also with ourselves.
So how do you reconcile two, or really, multiple worlds, loves, cultures, languages, sexualities, without losing yourself, in a way that allows you to remain fierce and undiluted? No easy answer, but part of the solution could be to stop seeing things in terms of conventional dualities and dichotomies, as so tidily bifurcated, and to start to come to some sort of more encompassing view of the world and of identity. And to create a language that allows for expansion rather than one that constricts, boxes a person into easy, often inaccurate, and usually suffocating labels and names.
With Born Confused, I wanted to redefine the C in the moniker American Born Confused Desi (a term South Asians from South Asia have to describe these second and third generationers who are supposedly confused about where they come from) to one for Creative—as this felt to me to more accurately reflect the desis that people my world: both at home and in the creative arts scene I discovered during my years in NYC (and since). People who were in fact shaping and creating the culture as they went along. As we went along.
And with Bombay Blues I wanted to move beyond this cultural framework into a more ambiguous space: follow Dimple’s trajectory into the unmapped, the ‘out of frame’ in her art…and heart. Move from ‘brown’ to ‘blue’: the hue, the mood, the music. The wild blue yonder. Travel beyond ‘either-or’, even ‘and-and’: Walk this hyphen, live that bridge — not either side of it.
For it’s on the bridge, in the blur — in the in-between — that life occurs.
In the gradations: For we are all Confused. And Creative.
ABCD: All Born Creative Dreamers.
We don’t have to pick a side — the world is no longer flat. We are multidimensional — even more than that.
There are many ways to be ‘South Asian’. Male. Female. FeMale.
Infinite ways to love.
Let’s please keep working towards this kind of expansion: this blueshift. I believe there are so many of us doing this—living this. Thank you for that.
And many happy returns: to yourself. To our birthing selves. It’s not always easy getting there…but even just heading in that general direction’s a pretty celebratory route to take.
So here’s to sharing that path.
A love song from one female character in Born Confused to another. I wanted to write it in part because this character’s point of view isn’t the main one delved into in Born Confused; it was my way of seeing the situation through her eyes. I also thought it would be interesting to put a twist on the ‘classic’ cowboys & Indians /Wild West theme: Retell it through a modern-day queer love story — in a context where an Eastern culture has sojourned West. (In Bombay Blues, the cowgirls and indie boys find their new avatars in the characters of Cowboy and Indie Girl, exploring a frontierless Wild East of a fictitious space called Unbombay.)
Written by Tanuja Desai Hidier, Atom Fellows, Anne-Marie Tueje. Performed by T&A (Tanuja Desai Hidier & Atom Fellows). Produced by Atom Fellows & Tom Choi.
“Sari” began as a punk-pop song called “Sorry” with the band I was in when I lived in NYC—io (begun by Atom Fellows, my cowriter on both When We Were Twins and Bombay Spleen). We changed the spelling to ‘Sari’…and the song of course immediately revealed (fittingly!) another layer. In fact, it became about layers, on one level: the ones we use to hide, disguise; the ones others use—and we sometimes do, too — to cover our complexities up in something more ‘comfortable’. But it’s about the layers that make up a heart, a human, a life, too. “Sari”, like Born Confused, also explores the Oz-sparked idea that ‘there’s no place like home’. (Bombay Blues takes this theme into another zone: That home is not a place. It’s a sense of sanctuary, which you may find in a person, a setting, a song, a story…a moment. We, as humans, are swimming cities; home is a direction.)
Written by Tanuja Desai Hidier, Atom Fellows, John Fig. Performed by T&A (Tanuja Desai Hidier & Atom Fellows). Produced by Atom Fellows & Tom Choi.
Over the course of February 2011 to March 2012 I spent time in Bombay for Bombay Blues and my album Bombay Spleen. Though not specified as such, much of the temporal setting of the novel as a result refers to this period, up through the end of 2012, when I was in the heart of the writing process. One notable exception is the inclusion of the discussion of Section 377 in the book. Though this recriminalization of homosexuality occurred later, it felt like too critical a topic to omit completely from a story that for me was and is an opportunity to explore the import and necessity of freedom of expression as well as the many wondrous and wonderful and bigger-than-boxable-or- beatable forms love takes.
“Deep Blue She” is Bombay Spleen’s most direct anti-377 track; there are also references in it (and Bombay Blues) to sections 375, 376 of India’s penal code, which does not recognize marital rape as a crime.
The song started off when I began (mentally) riffing off that children’s tune “A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea” on the tube in London. I had this image in mind of a woman standing on Worli Fort (National Heritage site in Bombay, yet nonexistent on an Existing Land Use Plan at the time I was writing Bombay Blues), keeping a telescoped eye out on the bay for approaching marauders…when all the while, the Fort’s crumbling under her very feet, and the pillagers (and literal pokers) are all around her on dry land (even those in ‘law-abiding’ guises; the nightlife crackdowns in Bombay happened soon after my last research trip there and are referenced in Bombay Blues as well).
Everyone trying to blow out her, our, hurricane lamp. But ain’t gonna happen!
In our music session (just after this tube ride), to get into it, my collaborator Marie Tueje and I sang over and over through the opening lines of “A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea”—but a much slower, slightly lamenting version. The song spun into its own zone from there.
I wanted “Deep Blue She” to be a kind of call to rise up: to love our daughters more; our sons, too. Love who we want to love. Be who we want to be. Make room for each other.
Because there’s plenty, and we will not be contained.
Written by Tanuja Desai Hidier & Marie Tueje. Performed by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Produced by Dave Sharma.
Written by Tanuja Desai Hidier & Atom Fellows. Performed by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Produced by Atom Fellows & Tom Choi, with additional production by Dave Sharma.
—But what if you still all the voices and stares, she said. —All the things you think you’re supposed to think or you think everyone else is thinking, and go to somewhere in yourself like when you are underwater, for example, or in an asana, that truly conscious silence — and you look at you?
—Hmm, I said, thoughtfully. —I guess I’ve been so busy feeling I don’t fit so well into either place that I never really thought of it that way.
—But Dimple. Maybe that is because you are too big for one place; you have too much heart and home and information to be contained in one tidy little box.
—You mean I’m all over the place.
—You are . . . interdisciplinary, if you will. But you have to realize, there is no such thing as this tidy little box you think you have to fold up and fit into; it simply does not exist. That’s what I’m learning, learning as we speak.
She was right. After all…: Who could claim the sole right or way to an identity?
—And you have to realize that you don’t need that box, she added slowly, speaking as much to herself as to me. With every word the veil of tears burned off her face like sunned dew. —That there is something that connects it all, even in wide and open and uncontained space. The way a constellation makes a shape.
I tried to picture it, and found to my surprise that I could. It was beginning to make sense.
—The way a silent room has a sound, I said.
She nodded, smiling.
—You, she said.
—Born Confused (Chapter 33: “Homely Girl Seeking”)
Tanuja Desai Hidier is an author/singer-songwriter born and raised in the USA and now based in London. She is a recipient of the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and The London Writers/Waterstones Award and her short stories have been included in numerous anthologies. Tanuja’s pioneering first novel, Born Confused, was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and became a landmark work, recently hailed by both Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly as one of the best YA novels of all time. The sequel, crossover/adult novel Bombay Blues (deemed “a prose-poem meditation on love, family, and homecoming…a journey worth making” in a starred Kirkus review, “an immersive blend of introspection, external drama, and lyricism” by Publishers Weekly), and her accompanying ‘booktrack’ album of original songs, Bombay Spleen, are out now. Tanuja’s first album, When We Were Twins (songs based on Born Confused), was featured in Wired Magazine for being the first ever ‘booktrack’. For more info please visit www.ThisIsTanuja.com. Watch “Heptanesia”, the first music video from Tanuja’s album Bombay Spleen (songs based on her novel Bombay Blues) here.