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Questions, a guest post by Supriya Kelkar

Like many people over thirty, after a month of sheltering in place, I finally took the leap and joined TikTok to make videos for AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE. I am lucky to be safe and healthy and have a place to shelter in. But after feeling consumed by stress and worry and sadness with some family members and friends either immunocompromised or sick, and several more employed as healthcare workers risking exposure to care for patients in the hospitals, I needed to take a minute to regroup, and this app was the place for me. Somehow minutes turned to hours, as I found myself laughing louder than I had in weeks at the most ridiculous fifteen-second antics courtesy of other TikTok users.

There were heroic healthcare workers doing the most hilarious dances in between shifts to get a break from their stress, hysterical challenges at home that irritated pets were just not into, and spouses dressing in their Halloween-best to make their significant other laugh during their work calls. It was the perfect distraction.

But within a couple days, TikTok figured out I was Indian-American, and I suddenly found my homepage full of videos from other South-Asian Americans. Many were really funny, full of Bollywood references and entertaining songs and dances, but there were also several TikToks by high schoolers or undergrads that were like short films exploring hyphenated identities, belonging, and microaggressions, and several of them actually listed the hurtful questions the kids and young adults heard all the time.

Surpiya’s book with some yummy paratha

I was intrigued because in my book, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, (Aladdin/Simon and Schuster), the main character Lekha, the only Indian-American middle-schooler in a small town in Michigan that doesn’t value diversity, also lists the questions she hears every day. Questions like “where’s your dot? Where are you from? Where are you really from?” and many more. Questions that aren’t coming from a good place. Questions that are meant to make the recipient feel less-than.

I had based these questions on the questions I had heard all the time growing up as one of the few South Asian-Americans in a small town in Michigan that didn’t value diversity. And now, decades after I’d last been in middle school or high school, desis on TikTok were grappling with those same questions, just like other kids across the country have been, like nothing had changed since I was their age.

I was dismayed that things really hadn’t improved much in all those years but I wasn’t surprised. I had written AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE in 2017, when the hate I knew had never gone away was suddenly emboldened and encouraged by people in positions of power. I was full of fear and worry that in a few years, my young children would be facing the same things I did; they would be forced to answer othering or racist questions every day, as if their existence needed an explanation to be permitted.

I was hopeful maybe things would be better when they got older but the TikTok videos were proving that might not be the case. I started to feel down, remembering how years of those questions had rendered me silent. Remembering how, unlike Lekha, who finds her voice over the course of the story in AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, I didn’t find my voice until years later, in college.

But then, somewhere in between watching the TikTok videos of South Asian-Americans defiantly answering the questions if they wanted to, or literally brushing them aside, swiping the text off-screen, not giving the ignorance their time if that’s what they chose to do, I realized that things had changed. Because unlike the way I dealt with the questions as a kid, shutting down, getting embarrassed or humiliated, these kids and young adults were calling out hypocrisy and appropriation and othering and microaggressions, while speaking up for themselves and speaking out against hate for the whole world to see.

It’s my hope that readers of AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, who haven’t yet found their way to deal with these questions, are inspired by Lekha’s story to speak out against hate as defiantly as that. I hope it empowers readers everywhere to be proud of who they are and to not let the questions get them down. I hope they are no longer made to feel like they owe anyone answers for who they are. And I hope the pages of this book help them find the answers they are looking for, silence the questions, and stir readers to proudly speak up for themselves and others, be it through art, writing, music, song, dance, poetry, their words, and yes, even through TikTok.

Meet Supriya Kelkar

Photo credit: S. Malde

Supriya grew up in the Midwest, where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (Tu Books, 2017), Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Supriya’s books include AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, June 9, 2020) STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME (Tu Books, 2020), and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD (Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, 2021).  Learn more at www.supriyakelkar.com

Follow Supriya on Twitter @supriyakelkar_ and on Instagram @supriya.kelkar

Supriya’s local indies are:

Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, MI. https://www.nicolasbooks.com/

Bookbug in Kalamazoo, MI. https://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/

The Book Beat in Oak Park, MI. https://www.thebookbeat.com/backroom/

Literati in Ann Arbor, MI. https://www.literatibookstore.com/

About American as Paneer Pie

An Indian American girl navigates prejudice in her small town and learns the power of her own voice in this brilliant gem of a middle grade novel full of humor and heart, perfect for fans of Front Desk and Amina’s Voice.

As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

ISBN-13: 9781534439382
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 06/09/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years