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Straddling two worlds

PREETI ZACHARIAH
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BOOK Moitri Datta’s ‘Yankee Brahmins’ serves the stereotype of American Born Indians

Between past and presentMoitri Datta
Between past and presentMoitri Datta

Popular culture has capitalised on the notion of the American born confused Indian vainly trying to straddle two vastly different cultures many times before. And hackneyed though it is, this stereotype shows no signs of dying. The haplessness of ancient tradition, complex culture and rigidity wrestling with exaggerated Americanism persists in being a laugh riot. And if the American born confused Indian also manages to be a Brahmin, the stereotype intensifies and acquires additional complications.

Yankee Brahmins , written by Moitri Datta — a US-based psychiatrist of Indian origin, as the rather predictable name does complete justice to this notion. Set in small-town India, it traces the life of an Indian born American family who goes back to India for the thread ceremony of one of its members, Siddhartha. According to the author, “There is an autobiographical element as I write about what I know best. However, a lot of it is fictionalised and it is meant to be a fast-paced novella. The background, religious and cultural information is true. The family details are fiction.”

This is Moitri’s second book. Her first, Farewell Sweet Monsoon , a family memoir is very different from this one, she says, “The book starts in the 1920s much before I was born. In addition to my own childhood, there are stories told to me by my uncles and parents. It is completely based in India until the mid-1970s and stops at the point I migrate to America. It has nothing of the US in it at all. That book is my psychological farewell to the country of my birth.”

Yet the multiple identities she has acquired over the years does not seem to bother her, “I am very comfortable in my own skin and am very much an American. My children were all born there and have grown up there. My present and future are firmly rooted in this land for better or for worse. However, I spent the first 24 years of my life in India and it will always be where I come from and the importance of that can never diminish. As a famous TV quotation goes, “I have two homes to hang my hat. I am a very lucky (wo)man.”

On future plans she says that although the urge to write was overwhelming and she loved the process, “I don’t have firm plans for writing now as it would take a large financial and time commitment as I need several free months to write and be creative,” she says adding that if she does, “I might write a psychological thriller next as I have worked in Psychiatry for over 30 years.”

PREETI ZACHARIAH

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