WHERE EAST MEETS WEST

October 13, 2015
Priya A. Desai

Someone recently asked me how I would describe my brand. When I bookwormed my way through Judy Blume, Scott O’Dell, and Enid Blyton as a child and, in later years, moved on to Donna Tartt, Junot Diaz, and Zadie Smith, the notion of a writer’s brand never once came to mind. If the book was good, it was a joy to lose oneself in it. Why should a writer be required to shoehorn herself into an ill-fitting box? Alas, the times they are a-changin’, and anyone with something on offer to the public must have a succinct logline to describe themselves in half a millisecond’s time.

I brushed the question aside until visiting London with my family last summer. While walking to Hyde Park Corner with one of my children, a cheerful, candy apple red double decker sped by with a massive advertisement for an Indian matrimonial site plastered on its side. It was a complete non sequitur, for when did the East go public with its preternatural obsession with marriage and procreation?

Later in our visit, I picked up a volume at a charming bookstore and serendipitously came across the line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet…” Just a few days in London had turned this proclamation on its head. Indians outted themselves as an arranged marriage-loving people on the sides of buses traveling through the most populated parts of the city; pub menus included bangers and mash as well as that most British of foods, chicken tikka masala; fashion, music, art, theater, and film—indeed all the reflections of the zeitgeist—smacked of fusion, mixing, melding.

There is a curious, delectable morsel of a place where East meets West, and that is where I believe I reside. I claim it as my brand. My voice originates from the shaded portion of a Venn diagram. Inhabiting this place is sometimes painful, often joyful, and never uninteresting. While London Town is a particularly glaring example of the phenomenon of cultural confluence, it is evident all over the world. While I am no poet, I offer a riff on Kipling: we are experiencing such an unprecedented free-flow of cultures and ideas in our time that anyone who fails to embrace it will be rendered obsolete—East is East and West is West and forever the twain shall meet.

And, by the way, fear not darlings. Dive in.

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