A novel by Ranbir Singh Sidhu
Reading Deep Singh Blue, I was reminded of an incident from a different phase in life. A long time ago, I spent half a day in a mall in Cleveland, because I needed to kill a few hours until I boarded the bus that would take me home. I wandered for a while, looking at clothes I couldn’t afford. I got myself a muffin and sat down with a book. Someone came up to me and said Hi. He was an Indian-American who called himself Rohan. Decades ago, his parents had come to Cleveland from some nondescript town in Maharashtra. He worked as a bagger in Target. He spoke of trying to save to go to college. We chatted for about an hour, after which I went back to my book. And then I realized he was the first Indian I had met in the US who had a blue-collar job, not for pocket money, but as a means of livelihood. You could say I knew too many Indians in the US, but they were the same type. They were all doctors, engineers, professors, scientists, and programmers.
Deep, the titular character, is the sixteen year old son of a Sikh couple who migrated from Punjab to the United States. They came with the hope common to countless others undertaking the same journey – the promise of a better life. The family moves from one dusty town to another, whenever the father decides it is time for an uprooting. Deep is the kind of person we don’t take too kindly to – the Indian who is too American, the American who is too Brown. Growing up in the eighties, which wasn’t a decade trying too hard to be politically correct, Deep is often called “Paki.” This might also be one of the more benign slurs he’s subjected to.
Deep wants out. He dislikes his life. He cannot stand his family – a brother who stopped talking, a mother who insists on pretending everything and everyone is normal, a controlling father. In junior college, Deep meets Lily. Lily is a much older Chinese-American stuck in an abusive marriage. She is alcoholic, looking to escape her past and a mother she finds despicable. As Deep spends time with Lily, he is fascinated and repulsed by her in turns. He obsesses over her, stalks her, convinces himself that he is the one to rescue her from her misery. Meanwhile at home, Deep’s older brother Jag retreats further and further into himself, and his madness seems to be evident only to Deep. Their mother continues to believe her eldest son is alright. She makes up cheery lies. She insists she has conversations with him in which he shares details of his life. Deep is at times angry enough to want to break her bubble. But it is these lies that hold her together. We get the sense that Deep and the story are both rushing towards some inevitable tragedy.
This is a brave novel. Suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, mental disorders and our uncomfortable relationship with it – the author shows us how his characters cope with all of these and more. He takes a sympathetic look at those making terrible choices. He pushes us to wonder if we would have fared much better under similar circumstances. Deep Singh Blue tells the story of Other Indians – the ones without multiple degrees and jobs in Silicon Valley. It is also a coming-of-age story. Deep finally finds in him the strength to pick up the pieces of his life. He may even want to become a doctor. After 243 pages, you really want him to find happiness. Some closure wouldn’t be so bad either.