Introducing Nishta Mehra

Nishta Mehra recently wrote The Pomegranate King: Essays, which grew out of her musings about food and life on her blog, Blue Jean Gourmet.  I interviewed her about this collection at The Aerogram.

I first came across Mehra and her blog a few years ago as I sought out writers and creatives in the Houston metropolitan area.  She reminded me of someone – everyone – I knew growing up. The neighbor’s daughter, one of my friends in the extended South Asian community, a friend from school, and even my “cousin-sister.”

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That’s exactly Mehra’s strength: she reminds you of the girl next door – and yet she’s uniquely her own person.  Reading her blog or twitter feed is like being invited over to Mehra’s home for a cup of chai (or bourbon – a drink that was her father’s, and now her own), a pan of corn bread, and meaningful conversation. Welcome at her hearth is for everyone who has an open heart and mind, and intellectual curiosity.

From reading her blog, I was curious to know what wisdom informs Mehra’s life, and her singular voice. She shares her experience of earning that hard-won wisdom in The Pomegranate King, exploring themes of identity, death, community, and belief as they have forged her life. Sonata, an essay published in Trop, gives the reader a preview of Mehra’s collection of essays, and the impetus for much of Mehra’s writing: the untimely death of Shubhash Mehra, her father.

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Mehra gave a wealth of perspective during the interview, some of which was edited for length.  Of writing and having been published as a South Asian author, she states:

“…it’s amazing to me just how pervasive the exoticization of South Asian women still is in our culture; I’ll hear my mom tell stories from when she first moved to the States in the late 60s, and there are pieces of her experience which don’t sound so far removed from 2013.”

“I can’t speak for others, but, for me, being South Asian descent does not define me any more or less than any other facet of my identity does.  Of course, when it comes to book marketing (or any kind of marketing, for that matter), facts and reality aren’t necessarily of interest or use, so lots of authors (of all stripes) are pushed to make their material more fill-in-the-blank (brown, gay, feminist, etc.), and/or they see their work being marketed and sold with a particular sensationalist edge.

“This is a two-way street, though–on the one hand, I don’t want to be pigeonholed, but on the other, I do want to see stories being told by people who aren’t typically represented by the market.  To do the latter, you have to, at least to some extent, be willing to have your “otherness” pointed out or played up.

“The Pomegranate King is, as far as I can tell, pretty far from the…stereotypical South Asian story; to be honest, I don’t read those kinds of books, mostly because I find them so flat and lacking any real commentary or interiority.

“With these essays, I’m not purporting to tell anyone’s stories but my own, and if I’ve done my job well, they will speak to a general human experience that isn’t dependent on tropes or stereotypes.”

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Read the interview here.

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