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Author justifies curry condom metaphor

Shyam Bhatia in London | June 28, 2003 17:09 IST

The Indian American author who drew attention to the curry flavoured condoms on sale in London says she doesn't regret mentioning the subject, but hopes she didn't scandalise her audience.

A pub in London's fashionable Kensington is one of the distribution centers for the condoms that Tanuja Desai Hidier uses as a metaphor to describe the differences between the conservative South Asian community in the United Kingdom and their more adventurous counterparts in the United States.

Hidier, the 34 year old author of Born Confused, rated 22,000 last week on the Amazon list, told rediff.com, "Curry flavoured condoms, they exist, they exist indeed. I know of one specific place where they exist and that's just off Kensington High Street.

"When I mentioned it to some friends, they'd seen them as well, but not in the same pub. I guess they exist, maybe not in plethora, but in more than one place.

"I would hope I didn't scandalise my audience, it was in the context of how I found the differences between South Asian culture in UK versus the States. That to me was great proof of the extent that the culture has integrated."

At a London presentation to boost the sales of her book about the identity crisis of an American-born Indian girl, Hidier's play on the sexual practices of the South Asian community sufficiently annoyed some members of the audience who walked out without hearing the rest of her talk.

Hidier is unrepentant. "Actually, if the end result is that it subverted your idea of what a proper Indian girl should do or say, then that's also one of the ideas I was exploring in the book. Do you know what I mean?

"I don't think there's anything shameful about making a mention of that at all. If anything at all, it would be connected to safe sex. Its a condom we're talking about and no, its not something I think about as scandalous and the book deals with -- not curry flavoured condoms -- but it deals with issues about sexuality and mild use of drugs, alcohol etc.

"So there's no shame about talking about things openly. I think there's a difference about talking about things openly and talking openly on chat shows."

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Hidier now lives in London's trendy Notting Hill with her French husband.

She says the cultural coming of age of Indian Americans and the evolution of the 'desi' era has its roots in the UK, especially when it comes to music.

"Almost all of the things, most of the Asian underground and Bhangra started off in the UK.

"Now there's quite a strong music scene that's rooted in New York, people like Karsh Kale, whose worked with Phil Laswell, there's a female double player named Safala, there are all sorts of singers and DJs and rappers, people who combine... there's a collective of jazz and funk that combine Asian fusion music with hip hop and jazz.

Hidier is upbeat about the South Asian community in the UK, but says Indian families in London seem to be more conservative and traditional than their friends or cousins in America.

"This is in terms of boyfriend-girlfriend issues, job types of things", she explains. "Mostly it tends to come out in romance and in career choice type of things. It seems to be in those sorts of areas.

"Otherwise I would have thought that London and New York are comparable in terms of what happens on the social scene.

"But there is one thing I have noticed. In New York the phrase "desi scene or desi friends" is used quite a lot and that term has become a word spoken with friends. It sort of became almost as slangy as home girl or home boy. I don't see that kind of thing here. I don't see people using that term here. British Asian is used here.

"Possibly when the first wave of immigration happened, there were so many people who came here that there were enough people to resurrect the communities and keep them, such as Punjabis, Gujaratis, etc.

"In the states, like the town where I grew up, there weren't other Gujaratis or Maharashtrians. So its not as though you identify with that group. You have to mix more."

Hidier, who sings for a rock band called San Transisto, is a great believer in the power of music bringing people together. She says it enables people from diverse backgrounds to express themselves freely.

"Music makes the people come together. A lot of the time people let their inhibitions go on the dance floor, it's a state where you can get a sense of harmony. You don't have to worry about being Punjabi or Gujarati, or Indian/Pakistani.

"I think that's why I wanted to incorporate the music scene in my book and use that space on the dance floor as a space where people become who they really are or dream what they want to be."

Green-eyed Hidier says she often gets asked about here true origins. "My green eyes are real", she insists. " You can put that in there. They are real, my parents have brown eyes, my mom has a cousin with blue eyes, and my niece has the same colour as me.

"Someone got in there a long time ago and there was no curry flavoured condom in use when that character got into our family scene."

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