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My holiday read - American as Paneer Pie

Hello Readers,

Wish you all a very Happy New Year. Hope you all had wonderful holidays and New Year celebrations with your friends and family!!

My kid was down with fever due to viral infection and obviously was crankier than usual. So we mostly stayed indoors, except for a hospital visit and a drive to a park to see Christmas lights. Otherwise we were at home most of the time, as the weather wasn't also favorable due to snow storm and rains.  

I would still say my holiday break was good as I spent most of the leisure time reading. I read 2 books and one among those is "American as Paneer Pie", the topic for today's post. Other one was a mystery novel titled "The case of The Maybe Babies" and loved it too.

During a library visit, just before our India trip, I noticed "American as Paneer Pie" in the children fiction section and thought it was mistakenly placed there. Instantly, I decided to read it as it was the first time ever I found books by Indian authors in the libraries here. Somehow I couldn't take this book out of my mind and googled about it during my journey. That's when I knew it is a juvenile fiction indeed. I haven't read any book under this genre except for couple of titles by Sudha Murty in the last 2 decades, leaving out the countless story books, Chandamama, Twinkle etc. during my childhood days. One of my friends, Divya (name changed) had asked me before that why don't I blog about children books, so that it will be useful for parents like her to recommend it to their children. I am not a Harry Potter person and don't prefer reading that genre. When I don't read it myself, I couldn't write or recommend any. I told her the same. Even the books by Sudha Murty weren't fictional. Those were books of short stories from her life experiences. 

American as Paneer Pie is different. Though it is intended for children, it is a subject I could connect with. In fact, many grown ups can relate to it. It is authored by Supriya Kelkar, an award winning author. She is an Indian origin, born and brought up in the Midwest. She won the New Visions Award for her international best selling middle grade novel, Ahimsa. She has written screen play for several Hindi movies. Apart from Ahimsa, American as Paneer Pie, she has written books like The many colors of Harpreet Singh, That thing about Bollywood, Brown is Beautiful, The Cobra's Song etc. 

Delving into the story of American as Paneer Pie, it is the story of Lekha, born to Indian parents who immigrated to the United States. Lekha's father is a Doctor and her mother is a homemaker and they reside in Michigan. Lekha loves to eat Indian food, oil her hair everyday, listens to Bollywood music, dances garbha her heart out - only when she is at her home. She is totally a different person when she steps outside her home. Except for her parents and her close friend Noah, no one knows the home Lekha. The outside world knows only the school Lekha who seldom opens her mouth, even if bullied for no mistake of her; hides her bindi birthmark under her hair, to avoid any unwanted questions; eats her lunch alone, so that no one could mock her food habits. She is afraid and tired of seamless questions about her origin, her skin colour, her culture, her beliefs, her dress and almost everything about her. 

The kids in Lekha's neighbourhood and class are full of natives except for Noah, making her believe that she is the odd person. As she eagerly awaits for another desi (girl) like her to move into the locality, Avantika and her family move to the house next to Lekha. But Lekha isn't happy as Avantika has an accent, which certainly means she is not like her. Avantika is born and brought up at India and has moved to the States just then. Unlike Lekha, Avantika is not afraid to disclose her whereabouts or flaunt her culture. She doesn't take bullying easily, she revolts and never shies away to voice herself and stand up for her friend - Lekha.

One day, Lekha's maternal uncle who is also residing in the States becomes a victim to hate crime. While Lekha and her mom are dreading about the incident, another such experience rocks her locality. It is high time Lekha gathers courage, speaks for herself and puts an end to all the hatred she has been receiving not only from kids, but from adults too. Did she remain silent as usual or did she confidently voice herself?

When I read the book, it didn't feel like a fictional story to me. It is more appropriate to call it a realistic fiction. Supriya has beautifully depicted the emotions of a little girl who silently undergoes the pain when she is bullied for following her culture, humiliated about her origin and made feel out of place, though she is born and brought up in that same country as her classmates and others in her community. It is the state of many kids who are born to immigrant parents. 

This book left me wondering about two profound and important aspects. 

  • How did any country evolve? Aren't we all descendants of immigrants, who at some point made and called our motherland their home?      
  • Voicing out is often considered synonyms to arrogance. Many a times, though we have a nudge to to share our inner voice, many factors make us remain silent - oftentimes anxiety, sometimes respect, love or fear of judgement or losing a relationship. Who else will stand up for us, if we don't? 
American as Paneer Pie is a worthy read for both kids (above 8 years) and adults. The book also has the recipe of Paneer Pie at the end, as a bonus. Both audio and hardcover versions of the book are available on Amazon. Click here to buy. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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