Issue 18 / Tanuja Desai Hidier Rattles And Hums With Her Latest Book Bombay Blues

Tanuja Desai Hidier Rattles And Hums With Her Latest Book Bombay Blues

Oct 10, 2015

Award-winning author and singer-songwriter Tanuja Desai Hidier wins the 2015 South Asian Book Award for Bombay Blues.

South Asian first and second-generation young adults face some growing pains. They sometimes have difficulties coping with peer pressure and making sense of their hyphenated identities. As a result, they are forced to choose the values and customs of their home and a host country, which may or may not apply to their current lives. These are some of the challenges Tanuja Desai Hidier’s female protagonist Dimple Lala faces in Hidier’s well-known novels Born Confused (2002) and Bombay Blues (2014), a sequel to her first novel. Lala is an Indian-American teenager who grows up in New Jersey.


At The 2015  Jaipur Literature Festival.
Photo Credit: 
Early Beginnings

Born and raised in Western Massachusetts, Hidier grew up in a small and predominantly Caucasian town. Her family was among of the first South Asian families. At this time, Hidier also realized that that there were no visible contributions of South Asians in literature, television, music and films. It was also a challenging time for her as a writer because she struggled to recognize the power of her story. In an interview with Anokhi Magazine, she says that as a writer, she faced “utter confusion about what to write, how to express my cultures — what they even were. In short: not recognizing the value of my own story. That, though I’d never fully felt a part of either side of my hyphen — Indian-American — that was a part of being part of it.”

Photo Credit: Tanuja Desai Hidier

The Success of Born Confused

Born Confused was one of the first South Asian-American coming-of-age novels that was warmly received by a wide variety of readers who were able to resonate with Dimple Lala’s life. Hidier recalls, “I often hear from non-South-Asian readers telling me, 'That’s exactly my life . . . except the food is different!' A hyphen [referring to Indian-American identities] doesn’t have to be a border: it can also be a bridge. And it may be, in fact, by inhabiting this in-between that we finally ‘arrive.'" In a 2006 interview, Hidier told Desi Club that Born Confused was a semi-autobiographical project. She adds, “I hadn't read any books I could recall with a South Asian American teen protagonist [before I wrote mine] … To the best of my knowledge Born Confused was the first book with a U.S. female teen desi heroine. That was one of the reasons my publisher wanted it, and it is certainly one of the reasons I wrote it. It was, and is, important to me that a young South Asian American have a voice, and that it be heard and read by people of all backgrounds and ages.” True to her words, Hidier’s Born Confused has been called a “breakthrough” novel by Brown Girl Magazine and others because it was one of the pioneering novels in South Asian American literary canon.


Photo Credit: Tanuja Desai Hidier

Followed By More Success of Bombay Blues and its accompanying music album, Bombay Spleen
Unlike Born Confused, Bombay Blues was inspired by the time Hidier spent in the city (one year living in Bombay while spending three more years working on the novel). As a child, she had spent only a year in the city and was curious about her culture, family heritage and wanted to draw a life-long connection with her country and home, much like Dimple Lala. Even though she wanted to explore the culture of the city, the artist in her was drawn to the colours that painted the city. As she was conceptualizing the novel, she was drawn in particular to the idea of exploring the concept of the ‘bigger’ blue in the music and mood of the city and was fascinated by this ambiguous space of colour, culture and music. “So, like Dimple with her photography, my modus operandi — my unmapping map, if you will — while writing this book became this: To follow a colour,” she says.

Photo Credit: Tanuja Desai Hidier
Bombay Blues/Spleen is Hidier’s second successful book track. She had earlier released " When We Were Twins" (featured in Wired Magazine) after Born Confused was published. While both can be read/heard independently, Bombay Blues is Hidier’s prose poem to Bombay while Bombay Spleen is the sonic expression of the novel itself. The writing process for the book and album, which are fully intertwined took three years from inception to completion. Passionately, she would spend the day in a very hectic NYC in studio with producer Dave Sharma, while working her editor, David Levithan, at night for her novel. Having a unique talent to combine music and writing, Hidier was able to blur the lines between language and sound to create a unique experience for her reader and listener. The novel and book track were launched in India at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2015. Bombay Spleen track “Heptanesia” was a Mumbai Boss culture pick and Polka Café playlist pick. Some of the other tracks were also popular: “Seek Me In The Strange” was selected for the soundtrack of director Liz Hinlein’s feature film Other People’s Children while “Deep Blue She” was selected for the #VogueEmpower playlist (Vogue India’s social awareness initiative for women).

While she may write a trilogy in the future documenting the life of Dimple Lala perhaps exploring the city of London where she currently resides, she is also making music videos for Bombay Spleen and another album titled “Angels With Whips EP” with Marie Tueje.
To learn more about her, please visit her official website,

Main Image Photo Credit: Tanuja Desai Hidier 

Nidhi Shrivastava


Nidhi Shrivastava (@shnidhi) is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at Western University and works as an adjunct professor in at Sacred Heart University. She holds double masters in South Asian Studies and Women's Studies. Her research focuses on Hindi film cinema, censorship, the figure o...


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