I can hardly believe it’s January 2021! I find myself still writing” 2020”, which worries me because I don’t want to feel like I am stuck in a weird time loop since 2020 is a year that most of us are ready to let go of. I have been very intentional about writing 2021 over and over again every chance I get, like this–Happy 2021! That being said, I am excited to be in January because we are exploring India over at Atlas Book Club this month.
As you may know, I was born in the United States but grew up in Nigeria until I moved back to Maryland when I was 16. As such, my formidable childhood years were spent in Nigeria. The one thing most people do not know is that Bollywood was an integral part of growing up in Nigeria in the 80s and 90s. I loved watching Bollywood movies. I have so many fond memories hanging with the cousins totally enthralled by the music, the dancing, and the colorful traditional outfits. Looking back now, I didn’t understand the words and could barely keep up with the subtitles, but boy did I know all the choreography to some of my faves!
As such, it’s no surprise that next to African literature, books set in South Asia are some of my favorites. In fact, one of my favorite authors is Khaled Hosseini whose novel The Kite Runner is easily in my top ten list of books. I think it might have to do with the familiarity I sense when reading these stories that are steeped in culture and tradition not dissimilar to mine. Maybe it’s the feeling of nostalgia that creeps in and harkens back to a simpler time of my life. Undeniably, I do connect with these stories in a comforting, familiar way. I suppose that is what books are meant to do, right?
I have said before that becoming more globally and culturally aware can be achieved in a number of ways. Of course, one way is through travel. However, since travel is so restricted during this unprecedented time, we have been forced to be even more creative about how we experience other cultures and how we intentionally expose our children to them.
I asked myself these questions last year. What am I consuming? What is the nature of the media that I consume? Who is represented in that media?
Having been all cooped up in our homes for months, we have turned to social media for connection and streaming of shows online for entertainment. For example, Nielsen, the media data and marketing firm, reported that streaming of shows increased by 50% in March 2020, the onset of the pandemic. There is no denying that this pandemic has drastically changed our digital habits. What shows am I watching? Who am I following on Instagram? What does my social media feed look like? These are questions we should all be asking ourselves, and when we do, we should find ways to supplement the areas where we are lacking. Because, at the end of the day, our cultural awareness inevitably influences that of our children.
Today, I would like to share with you some of the media that I have consumed recently as part of our exploring India month. I hope you enjoy these recommendations and that they bring the joy and celebration of Indian culture into your physical and virtual spaces.
- The Clever Tailor by Srividhya Venkat–This is easily one of my favorite picture books featured in our Atlas Book Club box. This gorgeous picture book was in our January 2020 box. I love that it showcases a normal Indian family and just tells a beautiful story of repurposing and creativity. Books featuring characters of color as “regular” people are easily my favorite type of children’s books. You can still get this box and the immersive materials (including a Rajasthani puppet handcrafted in India as a souvenir) on our website and have your kids exploring India in no time.
- When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon–I loved this book! Think YA (young adult) and Bollywood meet Nora Ephron. This is a contemporary Indian-American love story, a match-making gone wrong set in California. I loved the seamless and effortless weaving of Indian culture into the story of these two characters, the authenticity of each character as they each stay true to themselves, and the simplicity of the storytelling. This is a fantastic YA read that any adult would enjoy. Recommended for kids 15 years old and above and for adults who love a good YA read.
- What Maya Saw: A Tale of Shadows, Secrets, and Clues by Shabnam Minwalla–This fun YA book is perfect for lovers of mysteries and codes. Set in modern-day Mumbai, follow along as 16-year-old Maya and her friends embark on solving solve a murder on the college campus where she is enrolled in a summer program. Chock full of clues, Indian culture, and magic realism, this will have the teens in your life hanging on to the edge of their seat! Recommended for 13-year-olds and above who are interested in exploring India through great story-telling.
- Mismatched on Netflix–Of course after reading When Dimple Met Rishi (“WDMR”), I went down the WDMR rabbit hole and discovered that there is a show based on the book. Let the bingeing begin! I love this show–especially that it’s set on a college campus in India, instead of in California as portrayed in the book, because it allows an even wider window into the culture. I have not finished my binge–due to work calls–but I enjoyed the episodes I have watched so far.
- Indian Matchmaking on Netflix–This was a fun one to binge-watch. I loved the window into the world of match-making and arranged marriages in India. Note that, like all things, this show is not representative of all match-making or arranged Indian marriages. It was still pretty cool to get a snippet of this aspect of Indian culture.
- Funny Boy on Netflix— This coming of age movie focused on a gay Indian boy checks all the boxes for an epic romance story that will appeal to all audiences. This is high on my “Must Watch” list!
- The White Tiger on Netflix–I cannot wait for this movie. Coming to Netflix on January 22, 2021, this drama produced by Ava DuVernay looks amazing. Perfect for late-night viewing once the kids have been put to bed.
I love South Asian food! The smell of curry reminds me of home and Nigerian cooking. It just spells comfort for me. As such, here are a few of my favorites to follow on Instagram for their culinary visuals:
- Harpal Singh Sokhi / @chefharpalsokhi
- Anagha Godbole / @saffrontouch
- Maunika Gowardhan / @cookinacurry
- Padma Lakshmi / @padmalakshmi
Be sure to check out Atlas Book Club for even more great recommendations on different countries and cultures. Their exploring India month is just the beginning!
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