Sunday, 14 August 2016

D is for Diverse

I have been an immigrant since the day I was born. When I was born my parents had already immigrated to UAE from Pakistan and when I got married I moved to USA. So, the concepts of nationhood and a place to call my own have usually revolved around the locations of my loved ones.
But when I entered into the world of books I realized that feelings of isolation in different cultures, the need to belong were real feelings which people around me were constantly aware of. That is the first time I decided to diversify my reading and read more authors belonging to similar cultures as that of mine. Maybe the feelings I was not feeling was maybe because I could not tap into them. That was the first time I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth and Arundathi Roy's God of Small Things.

Ever since then I have tried to read authors of different cultures, non-white to make it simple. Authors like Celeste Ng, Ruth Ozeki, order to grasp the void that everyone was feeling once they left their countries, their lands. I felt left out because somehow something in me was missing and I did not feel the need to find my own people, or to belong, I had been an alien ever since I was born and I was perfectly comfortable in it.

When I moved to the US, my reading preferences changed once again. Somehow unconsciously, the number of books on my shelves started to be by all white authors; male and female. The diversification that had been taking place in my reading before somehow was disappearing. I was avoiding authors that were non-white for the sheer reason that they could not communicate in English as well as the authors whose mother tongue was English (Despicable, I know).

Another reason why I often stayed away from such books was because I always felt that these books had exploitative depressing undertones. I had rarely read a book that was light or described a happy experience and that in my head was a good enough reason to not read them. But in my adventures as an adult  i have realized that you have got to take the sad with the glad. Over the past week  articles about the importance of reading diversely have surfaced, and I have made a decision once again. I removed all the books by non-white authors on my shelves and put them in front of me in my home office.

Over the remaining months my reading choices are going to involve authors that are not white. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that these authors should be given preference over white authors, who so clearly are brilliant at what they do as well and earn their fame and name. It is just that I as an individual want to give other authors a chance too. When I have a conversation with someone about books I don't just want to give them names of authors like Stephen King, Grisham, Austen, Wharton (All of who are absolutely brilliant, btw), but I would like to name authors from all over the world. You know, 'Celeste Ng? She wrote a brilliant book about inter-racial marriage and coming to terms with being an immigrant in a foreign land.' You know Ruth Ozeki? She wrote a great book about how you may leave your homeland, once you come back it is never quite the same as you thought it would be. These are the kinds of conversations I want to be having. I want to be more empathetic
as I grow. I want to stop and understand where someone is coming from rather than label them or blame their ethnicity for it. I want to be a better person, and I think books are the best way to help me do it.

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