Dimple Lala thought that growing up would give her all the answers, but instead she has more questions than ever. Her boyfriend is distant, her classmates are predictable, and a blue mood has settled around the edges of everything she does.
It’s time for a change, and a change is just what Dimple is going to get — of scenery, of cultures, of mind. She thinks she’s heading to Bombay for a family wedding — but really she is plunging into the unexpected, the unmapped, and the uncontrollable. Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused gave voice to a new multicultural generation. Now, Bombay Blues explores everything this generation faces today.
Tanuja’s musical accompaniment to the novel, Bombay Spleen, draws from the themes of Bombay Blues — love, home, cultural history, and the mapping/unmapping of identity. The song “Heptanesia” is linked to a chapter of the same name. Watch the video for this book track from the album, and read the excerpt from the book below shared by permission of Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.
I was in VT, Bombay’s Victoria Terminus. Well, now CST: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, as the overhead sign proclaimed. In Mumbai.
To have ended up here, I must have been on the Harbour Line, the blue line, rather than the Western. And I felt tangled up in that hue now, realizing the deeper reason I’d recognized the terminus. I didn’t want to think about death when all around me was Life. But who hadn’t seen that image of the young rucksacked gunman in cargo pants and Versace T-shirt striding in that ’08 day and gunning down all those passengers, those would-be passengers — who could never have foreseen the journey they’d be forced on, fated to. Blood on these marble floors.
But once red, the room was now, I noticed, cast in a bluish haze — a spirit fog.
A blue room. I was in a blue room. Was it my gaze tinting the space, worldviewed through a deep blueshift? But just the hue the doctor ordered, and this one steeped in such beauty it spun my sadness round to something softer, more wistfully alive.
I sunk myself in that shade and found myself experiencing a surprisingly serene moment in the midst of the symphonically human hustle-bustle. Stone swerved, embellished with flora and fauna. Pillars plumed up to the domed sky, flowering into arches in a symmetrical arboreal flow. A Roman-numeraled clock echoed the spidery script of the ceiling architecture, time uttered in an outlier’s tongue.
I craned my neck farther — to be met by an astronomical ceiling beaming heavenly-body bigness back down at me.
I kept craning . . . nearly back-bending now, to meet that sky with my eyes. Though a sense of blue pervaded the space, upon a closer look, it felt as if other hues had swallowed blue. Neelkanth.
The stars were faded — chartreuse nearly, awash in sea green.
Oh, so quiet. I unlidded Chica Tikka. This was the shot I wanted of Victoria Terminus. Something huge had happened here — the wished-upons and the wasted, the blink of the dead emitted in this celestial haze, time-traveling back to us through the light-years.
And this was my link to Grand Central. What I’d wished for — sankalp: the starry night of the terminus ceiling bridging two great cities. Prone seemed the only way to catch these stars. But I wasn’t sure what would happen if you lay down in a train station. Especially this station. Would they call in the medics? Or would you get trampled alive when a particularly popular train began boarding?
Only one way to find out.
I dropped to a squat . . . then lay flat on my back.
Lifted Chica Tikka to eye . . .
Something about the roof softened from this angle, evoked bedding, plush-studded mattressing to sky-sink into. The greenish haze went bluer. Free-falling — but upwards into upended hull, the cupped hand of that constellation.
Shifting the frame opened a portal. Hillbacked hours cloudspotting with Gwyn rushed back to me, stargazing backyard sleepovers. Childhood afternoons on the shag rug, tipping the room upside down in our collective imagination: tiptoeing cross-ceiling, a chandelier’s cavalier flip, a somersault of bonsais balancing clay pots on tentacled bottoms.
I was swept by a piercing longing for that feeling again: the company of a kindred spirit. My commonsensical mind told me I had Karsh, family, friends galore. And hadn’t I just been singing the praises of solitude? But there’d been such a familial freedom, an ease and meld, thrill as well — a discovering, and instinctive scripting of the world we were living — in a childhood friendship that simply wasn’t comparable to anything since.
I ached for Gwyn. Someone who’d shared that childhood sky. With whom, beneath it, enveloped by it, she’d, we’d grown — flown the unknown. She who could see what I saw, and show me a thing or two, too.
And this sky, here. Now. Wow.
Frock, it’s beautiful. . . .
— Very, Indie Girl.
The voice, near familiar, entered me like steam on a blustery day, instantly launching a kindled tingle up my spine.
I turned. I only needed lower my gaze a touch, as the bearer of that warming, wondering accordance was quite tall, tawnily brawned.
Even at a nanoglance, I knew that wide-brimmed silhouette. He tipped the hat at me now. Then, eyes uncovered — those blue-brown grey-green eyes the shade of stirred-up sea — he stepped towards me.
* * *
Related: Find out what ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) means to Tanuja Desai Hidier in her essay for The Aerogram.
Tanuja Desai Hidier is a writer/singer-songwriter, born and raised in the USA and now based in London. Her first novel, Born Confused — the first ever South Asian American coming-of-age story, set in the context of NYC’s bhangra/underground club scene, was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and became a landmark novel, selected by Entertainment Weekly as a contender for one of the best YA novels of all time, as well as by Rolling Stone as a top 40 YA novel of all time. When We Were Twins, Tanuja’s album of original songs based on Born Confused, was featured in Wired Magazine for being a first-ever booktrack. Her latest novel, Bombay Blues, the sequel to Born Confused, is out now with Bombay Spleen, a new booktrack album of original songs to accompany it.