4 South Asian women writers you should check out this month
By Pritika Gupta & Samia Abbasi
Sometimes I wonder if its an act of narcissism or just part of the human experience when I look for glimpses of myself or my family in popular culture and media. There’s an inexplicable joy I feel when I come across something familiar in a book, that reminds me of my mom’s quirks or my aunt’s disposition. So on days when I feel particularly distant from the Indian neighborhoods I grew up in, I reach for South Asian writers to transport me back to a place I know.
While I’m always looking for South Asian writers to read, it’s never been more true than now while staying at home, snuggled with my cats and a cup of chai. Here are four writers I want to share with you.
1. Snigdha Poonam
photo credit: https://themediarumble.com/speaker
I first learnt about Snigdha Poonam on the Instagram story of one of my well-read, fellow bibliophile friends from Delhi. He has historically had excellent taste in books, but he outdid himself with this recommendation.
I am, like most in my demographic, perched in a glass tower protecting my liberal thoughts with the confidence that, for the most part, comes from my star spangled education. Books like Dreamers educate me in ways I’m often not prepared for—it articulates the thought behind right wing ideology, shows the strength of promise that the administration in India brought to this very demographic in 2014 and humbles and enlightens readers on the talent and grit underpinning these very cities in India. Poonam, through the narrative of the people she has met, explains the factors that make India’s youth far more similar than different, irrespective of where they fall on the political spectrum.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri
photo credit: https://www.wsj.com/articles
In all honesty, my introduction to Jhumpa Lahiri was purely accidental. A listicle on the internet titled “The greatest quotes from South Asia authors” featured one of her more romantic lines “That the last two letters in her name were the first two in his, a silly thing he never mentioned to her but caused him to believe that they were bound together.” As someone who was still getting over my high school boyfriend who fit this bill, I marveled at the signs of the universe but in retrospect, I was discovering an author who is coalescing factor for every South Asian reader reading it – whether we are young ones forging new identities in foreign lands or older souls reinventing our identity after years of instruction.
In a world of long ranging novels and woven tales, Lahiri emerges as the queen of short stories. The Interpreter of Maladies is a classically woven tale of different families, generational learning, love, sorrow, death and happiness. Lahiri is a skilled storyteller with a penchant for taking her readers across time and generations, simply within a few pages of a short story. Whether it is the effortless depiction of love and discomfort in ‘A Temporary Matter’ and Mrs. Sen’s or a tale of the family we reminisce versus the family we have in ‘The Third and Final Continent,’ Jhumpa Lahiri is proof that the greatest of tales may sometimes require the least words.
3. Fatima Farheen Mirza
photo credit: dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/books
Books about the Muslim-American experience have been growing in the past couple of years. I get excited when I see a headscarf or a Muslim name on the cover of a book at my local bookstore. Fatima Farheen Mirza is a Muslim-Indian writer based in California who has joined the fold of writers pinpointing language to describe nuanced Muslim-American experiences with her debut novel, A Place for Us. I remember once during the summer, my cousins and sister and I couldn’t stop raving about A Place for Us. Mirza’s writing is so attune to the Indian-Muslim-American experience and how fragile yet important the value of family can be in South Asian culture. I was particularly appreciative to see Shia-Muslim representation, the resonant descriptions of Indian-American households, and characters dealing with the stigma of mental health in Indian culture. Something I’ve been reflecting on as a writer is how to create specificity in cultural experiences, and Fatima Farheen Mirza does that in such a powerful and precise way.
4. Rega Jha
photo credit: https://www.thedailystar.net/online
Rega Jha, while not a published author yet, is perhaps one of the most poignant writers that have emerged in the last 5 years. Jha, the founder and ex-head of Buzzfeed India, is no amateur to thoughtful writing, having built her career on nuanced thoughts and incisive views. Her fearless approach to her public learning and unlearning has earned her a following of enthusiastic women (myself included) on Instagram who are here to witness her own evolutionary process and perhaps more powerfully, watch their own evolution within hers.
A personal favourite of her works, albeit one of her more dated articles, called ‘Priyanka Chopra's Accent Is Helping Me Solve My Biggest Identity Crisis,’ explores the identity crisis most third culture kids have seen. Jha’s honesty is heart-warming and her writing is courageous. This article in particular had me nodding the entire time. My default reaction is to cringe when I am faced with the truth of my sometimes-questionable behaviour. But somehow, not when Rega writes. Her penchant for vulnerability has made it acceptable to wear your heart on your sleeve, or perhaps more terrifying, on your Instagram story.