Hinduism in YA Lit: A #FSYALit Guest Post by Shveta Thakrar
As part of the Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit (#FSYALit) Discussion, we are honored today to feature guest blogger and YA author Shveta Thakrar to discuss Hinduism in YA Literature.
One thing that frustrates me is seeing the word religious come to be equated with “Christian.” Not only is this inaccurate, but it also erases those of us who practice any other faith or even just come from a background associated with one. Even if you don’t often see them on TV or in movies and books, Hindu teens exist all over the world, and their stories deserve to be told, too. (Since I live and write in North America, I’m going to focus this post on that market.)
Literature helps shape how we view those around us, so it’s vital that writers not only think about why they are writing their characters (going beyond straight, white, able-bodied, cis, Christian people) but how they do it. Like with any other faith, not everyone who is nominally Hindu practices, not everyone even believes, and for the gods’ sakes, we’re certainly not all repressed! But many of us do believe and practice in different ways, and I’d really love to see all these journeys depicted respectfully and thoughtfully in young adult novels.
Worldwide, the Hindu population is projected to rise by 34 per cent over the period, from a little over 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion, roughly keeping pace with overall population growth, the report noted. – Source: The Hindu.com
I’ve noticed a general lack of familiarity with Hindu dharma/Hinduism or misunderstanding of what it is in North American media. Spoiler: it’s a very old and rich, complex collection of beliefs, scripture, and practices that vary from region to region in South Asia and was really only brought under one umbrella during the British occupation. And no, despite what Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom claimed, we do not eat eyeballs. In fact, many of us, but not all, are vegetarian—inspired long, long ago by Buddhism. No stereotypes or dismissive attitudes, please.
I’ve been told I’m exotic, whatever that means, I’ve had my bindi mocked, and I’ve even been told I would burn in hell for not being Christian. Please don’t do those things, and writers, please, please, please don’t put them in your novels. Instead, do your research! Hindu dharma is far more than (often misunderstood) karma, chakras (pronounced “chuk-ruh”), and (again misunderstood) tantra.
When I was a teen, I would have given anything for characters who looked like me with names like mine, who grew up in the West but with Hindu rituals and beliefs shaping our lives in overt and subtle ways—so I would have known I was okay and important, too. So I’d like to see well-researched novels star Hindu characters in a story that isn’t about them struggling with being brown or Hindu. That happens sometimes in real life, sure, but there’s so much more to us, and for some reason, with a couple exceptions, that’s the only story we ever get. Why? We should get to have magical adventures or go on epic road trips or win art contests or dye our hair bright pink and teal (yes, you can like saris and punk rock, or not; people are complex) or have huge crushes on boys/girls/people outside the gender binary just like any other character.
I’d especially like to see novels that use Hindu mythology and folklore—with Hindu characters. I cannot stress this enough. This means no white saviors coming in to save the day, and no one showing us the light about how being Western/Christian/fill in the blank is the right way to be. Just exciting, well-researched, well-crafted, thoughtful, fun books!
And one thing we can all do—writers, booksellers, librarians, reviewers, readers—to help right the incredible imbalance of white characters to everyone else in YA is to support writers from the background they share with the characters they’re writing about. In other words, let us tell our own stories first, and use the megaphone of your platform to boost them. Erasure happens on many fronts, but at the end of the day, because Hindus are an underrepresented group in North America, no one else is going to be able to tell our stories as well as we can (Coe Booth nailed it in this podcast with Sara Zarr.) Our voices matter.
I’ve compiled a list of the few titles I’ve found in the North American market that deal with Hindu dharma in some way. It’s not a long list, and I definitely hope that changes in the near future. (It’s a mix of contemporary, romance, historical fiction, and fantasy, with the role of Hinduism in the text ranging from large to incidental, just like with any faith or religi
Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi
5 to 1 by Holly Bodger. I haven’t yet read this, but the author told me that while religion has been banned in the book, Hindu influences linger in various ways, including in the characters’ names. (May 12, 2015 from Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (the first in a middle-grade trilogy)*
Ash Mistry and the City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (book two)
Ash Mistry and the World of Darkness by Sarwat Chadda (book three)
The Bride of Dusk and Glass by Roshani Chokshi (out in 2016)
Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
“Believe it or not, Dimple–and I would believe it–I am just a regular person who has decided to be who I am in life. That’s all. That’s how you make your life magical–you take yourself into your own hands and rub a little. You activate your identity. And that’s the only way to make, as they say, the world a better place; after all, what good are you to anyone without yourself?”
― Tanuja Desai Hidier, Born Confused
Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier (the sequel)
Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia (out fall of 2015)
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki
The Third Eye by Mahtab Narsimhan (the first in a trilogy)
The Silver Anklet by Mahtab Narsimhan (book two)
The Deadly Conch by Mahtab Narsimhan (book three)
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins
My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma (out in 2017)
Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson (a retelling of the Charles Perrault fairy tale)
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
* Yes, this trilogy is middle grade, but I’ve yet to see anything like it in the North American YA market—books that use Hindu myth and folklore in contemporary/urban fantasy.
Meet Our Guest Blogger:
Shveta Thakrar is a writer of South Asian–flavored fantasy, social justice activist, and part-time nagini. She draws on her heritage, her experience growing up with two cultures, and her love of myth to spin stories about spider silk and shadows, magic and marauders, and courageous girls illuminated by dancing rainbow flames. When not hard at work on her second novel, a young adult fantasy about stars, Shveta makes things out of glitter and paper and felt, devours books, daydreams, draws, bakes sweet treats, travels, and occasionally even practices her harp. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.
“Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar appears in the young adult speculative fiction anthology Kaleidoscope, which made the NPR Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2014 and 2014 Locus Recommended Reading lists.
(You can also find her at the Star-Dusted Sirens website. You should check it out.)
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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