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Untold Anthology: Stories by and for the South Asian Diaspora

This month our noses were buried in Untold: defining moments of the uprooted by Brown Girl Magazine, an anthology of 31 stories and personal essays by South-Asian female-identifying authors reflecting on their experience growing up in America, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Our Book Club facilitators had heard overwhelming praise for Untold, with many readers giving it positive reviews, sharing that they felt validated after reading the collection.

Untold, is a ‘collection of 31 real stories through the lens of identity, being, and relationships.’ These 32 voices share deeply personal accounts on topics ranging from gender identity, colourism, religion, racism, immigration, infertility, divorce, mental health, sexual orientation, racism, casteism, on top of trying to walk the line between belonging to two cultural hemispheres that pull you in different directions.

Our Untold Book Club Sessions were particularly special as we hosted some of the Untold writers, including Neha Patel (Someday, Maybe), Apoorva Verghese (Dark and Lovely), and Nisha Singh (Puttar). We really appreciated the authors taking the time to attend Book Club (at 3AM!), speak to us about their stories, and answer our questions about their work.

Mini Anthology Review: Reviewing Someday Maybe, Dark and Lovely and Puttar

If you’re a South Asian Woman who has ever felt misunderstood or misrepresented, then this is the book for you. This collection consists of 31 stories, which are deeply personal and evocative.

Someday Maybe by Neha Patel, explores the sexist traditions, which often apply to daughters-in-law in South Asian households. The story unpacks how everyday activities from cooking to household chores are ‘duties’ for women, and parts of her personal identity like her career, interests are secondary or even non-existent to family obligations.

Someday Maybe champions women to stand up for themselves and other women in public and private spheres; whether it’s at parties where uncles and aunties pick apart our appearances or in relationships where we’re required to conform to archaic, sexist traditions. Although these cultural beliefs are deeply rooted within our communities, change begins with small acts of defiance with women, like Neha, simply clicking her wine glass at a family gathering.

Neha Patel
Apoorva Verghese

Apoorva Verghese’s Dark and Lovely navigates the complexity of colourism in the South Asian community. She takes us on her journey, as a woman with dark skin, and consequently how she felt compelled to lighten her skin because traditional South Asian beauty standards taught her that dark skin wasn’t ‘lovely’ or to be celebrated.

Dark and Lovely will bring back memories of family members urging you to remain or become lighter-skinned or ‘fair’ whilst growing up. For some, this meant not playing in the sun or not drinking chai (because it apparently makes you darker). For Apoorva, it was the classic ‘Fair and lovely’ products that undermined the celebration of her skin’s natural hue. One of our Book Club Facilitators, Maneet, connecedt with this story. She said, “Although growing up I never tried fair and lovely, as I was often told that I was ‘too white to be Indian,’ Apoorva’s story gave me an insight into how colourism destroys body image, self-esteem and identity of South Asian Women.” Apoorva’s realisation of these distorted standards and her journey of reclaiming her identity is a heart-warming tale for all South Asian women grappling with the remnants of colonial standards of beauty.

Puttar by Nisha Singh highlights death and funeral rites in our communities, and particularly how patriarchal rituals within Sikhism prevent women from properly honouring and saying goodbye to loved ones. Nisha questioning these rituals helped validate the many questions our Book Club members had asked themselves during their relative’s funerals that they and their female relatives felt excluded from. Questions like, ‘Why are the women of the family not going to the crematorium?’ Or ‘Why does my grandmother have to stay confined in our house for 30 days after the passing of my grandfather?’ On reviewing this story, Maneet shared, “While reading Nisha’s story I found myself breathing a huge sigh of relief as I finally felt understood and that these questions I had me were not mine alone.”

Book Club members felt that their expectations were exceeded by this collection, and appreciated the nuance and depth that each of the stories and essays possessed. Although largely from the South Asian diaspora, South Asian readers from outside of the diaspora said that they also felt connected to these stories and were surprised to find familiarity in their shared struggles.

Nisha Singh
Source: Brown Girl Magazine
Book Club Discussions and Author Chats

At Book Club, Neha expanded on the theme of women’s personal identity in her story and spoke about how daughters-in-law traditionally are expected to make compromises for the family, sometimes to a point where they lose their sense of self.

It’s not uncommon for women in our culture to lose themselves, their personal dreams and desires through becoming consumed by their ‘expected’ roles over the course of their lives in order to be perfect daughter-in-law, wife and mother. “It took me 15 years to reach the point where I reflected on who I had become,” Neha said. We found that society sees the way daughters-in-law behave as more than just a reflection of themselves, it’s a measure of a family’s social standing; which makes, ‘What will people say?’ a greater consideration than womens’ individual happiness and agency.

Book Club members were keen to discuss the topic of colourism too.

One member asked Apoorva, “What steps can we take as individuals to end colourism?” Through our discussion, we found that the answer lies in educating ourselves and unlearning the harmful messaging we were surrounded with growing up. We acknowledged that even though we condemn colourism and what it stands for, we also recognised that it’s subconsciously embedded into our psyche, social hierarchies and systems; it’s something that influences our decisions and behaviour without us largely being aware of it because it’s so deeply rooted in our society. That’s why actively seeking out resources and personal stories, like Dark and Lovely, about how colourism affects people is so important.

Our conversation also touched on many issues within the South Asian community including religion, societal expectations, racism control, family dynamics, patriarchy, Indian rituals, widowhood and societal expectations attached to this identity.

Untold Authors Insights on Publishing Industry

To wrap up our discussion, we asked the authors what was the most valuable thing they’d learned from publishing their stories.

Here’s what they had to say:

Neha: “This anthology was a learning experience. As a writer, knowing that your words connect and resonate with other people, was the best feeling.”

Nisha: “The process of writing opened up vulnerability for me. It allows you to learn more about yourself and your community”

Apoorva: “It was beautiful to learn about the publishing process in such a supportive environment. When you write, it’s not as much about your own story and your spotlight, it’s about the people you bring together”

To join us at our next Book Club session, sign up here.

It’s okay if you’re a slow reader, can’t finish books before our Book Club sessions or haven’t been part of a book club before, that’s not what ASAC’s Book Club is about.

ASAC Book Club is a safe place for South Asian women to connect and chat about our experiences and thoughts about books predominantly written by South Asian women. If this sounds like a good time to you, we’d love to see you at our next session!

 

Written by Anika Baheti and Maneet Hora

Edited by Erika Menezes and Sehar Gupta