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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Adolescence/Teen Years (07/16/09)

TITLE: Clashing Values
By Seema Bagai


“Mark the date for your 20th high school reunion,” the postcard announced. I grabbed a plastic box from the closet. Among bits of nostalgia, I found my senior yearbook and a card inside. “The Senior Class Announces the Magical Memories Prom.” Mentally I returned to 1989.

I set the table. Mummy chopped cucumbers. Last week, I had shown her the card and asked permission to attend prom. Ticket sales ended Friday and I needed her to consent.

“Nisha, I already said you aren’t going.” The knife’s chops reverberated across the kitchen.

“But, Mummy, you don’t understand. Everyone goes. I’ll be the only one sitting at home watching an Indian movie.”

“If everyone jumps into the river, you will jump in with them?”

I rolled my eyes and placed spoons beside each plate. “It’s dinner and dancing. Teachers will be there, too.”

“Indian girls don’t date.” She dumped the cucumbers into a bowl of yogurt.

“It’s not a real date. It’ll be a bunch of us going together. Please.” I gave her an imploring look.

“I said no.” She snatched a mixing spoon and beat the pot of lentils.

“You have no clue how important prom is. I’ve spent the past four years buried in books, taking AP classes, getting on the Dean’s List.” I banged bowls upon each plate. “I’ve never asked to go to a school dance before. Why can’t I have one evening of fun?”

“See. Your papa and I pushed you to study. Now look. Full scholarship to Stanford. Not like those American girls who go around with boys.”

“I’m an American, too, remember?” As I filled the cups, water sloshed on the table, which I mopped with a towel.

“You are still Indian. Never forget.”

“I know. But I can be both American and Indian. You’ve taught me Indian values and Hindi and stuff.”

“Yes. You speak Hindi beautifully. Not like Gunjan’s children who never say namaste to their elders.”

“Mummy, don’t change the subject. We’re talking about prom.”

“What will people say? That Nisha Pareja dated before getting married. Is that the reputation you want?”

“My reputation won’t change by going. Besides, who cares what ‘people’ say? Other Indian kids are going.”

“Let them go. I don’t care. My daughter is not going. Look, with all this talking, all my potatoes burned.” She slammed the pan into the sink.

“Mummy, it’s almost the nineties. You need to get out of the sixties. Back then, guys and girls in India didn’t do stuff together. Times have changed.”

“Values still are the same.” She handed me the bowl of dough and a rolling pin to make the chapatis.

“You know, things in India have probably changed. Look at the movies. They show couples dating and stuff.”

“It’s all fake. You think life in India is like that?” She reached into the freezer for a bag of vegetables.

“How would you know? You haven’t been back there in 13 years.” I slapped a chapati onto the skillet. “Why did you even come here if you weren’t going to become an American? You should have stayed in India.” I clenched my jaw and stared at the dough, waiting for bubbles to appear so I could flip it.

“You know why. Your papa lived here. He wanted to marry a girl from India. Your grandparents introduced us, we got married, and I moved here with him. I decided to keep my values and not become like the Americans.”

“Going to the prom won’t change who I am. I’m capable of making good decisions. You really need to learn to trust me.” I flipped the chapati and rolled another.

“It’s not about trust. It’s about what is right and wrong. You aren’t going. Enough of this. I’ll finish cooking. You do your homework.” Mummy grabbed the rolling pin out of my hand. I stormed upstairs to my room and slammed the door.

I reopened the yearbook, remembering the AP picnic, French club dinner, and senior breakfast. Even with those memories to savor, I wondered what prom would have been like.

I now understand Mummy’s thinking, even though I still disagree. As she’s aged, Mummy softened, even once mentioning she regretted not letting me date when I was younger. For years, I was resentful and bitter toward her restrictions. Now that Christ has softened my heart, I have forgiven Mummy and extended her grace for raising me the best way she knew how.

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Joy Bach 07/24/09
Very interesting article. I could totally relate, having never been allowed to date or attend prom. So glad that both of us have learned how to forgive.
Loren T. Lowery07/24/09
An intriguing look at the culture and values of not only another generation but of a very proud people as well. The clash between the mother and daughter seemed very authentic and the respect the daughter had for the mother evident. Isn’t it strange, how years can soften people’s hearts on both side of the aisle? Nicely done
Jan Ackerson 07/27/09
I love what you did with the dialogue--it clips right along because of your use of action tags, and it sounds and feels absolutely authentic.

As far as the ending--it does feel a bit like a summary, even though I really like the framework of the 'present day' at the beginning and end.

What about if you put the action of the last paragraph right NOW, and had you narrator come to her moment of forgiving her mother as she's looking at the invitation?

I really loved this--it's a very strong, well-paced entry.
Karlene Jacobsen07/27/09
Like Jan said, this is very strong. The title fits well.
I had a thought of the ending maybe flowing with the rest of the dialogue (i.e. looking back at the yearbook, some sort of dialogue whether as thought or spoken, forgiving her mom.) Just a thought.
Kristen Hester07/27/09
Great dialogue! Very realistic and the action rather than tags works well and moves it along. It is still very clear.

I was a ready for the discussion to end, though, but that's probably because of my own impatience with lengthy discussions. It was so real, I wanted it over. LOL.

The ending works, but maybe a little less "teachy." (does that make sense?) Maybe she's holding the card and she wipes away a tear. And you say something like she's thankful that through Christ she's forgiven her mom, but still wonders what prom would have been like. OR have her own daughter come in and ask about buying a prom dress or something and show how she maintains values and the Indian culture, but allows some things her mom didn't?? Just some thoughts.

This is really a strong piece - especially the dialogue!!

The only other thought (but this might mess with your intent or the integrity of the story) is to add some unexpected element to the story. Maybe something happens at the prom (an accident involving her group of friends or she's named prom queen even though she's not there) that the reader doesn't expect. Or maybe the reunion has a prom theme and a former class mate asks her to go and she finally gets to go to prom years later. But like I said, that might be messing with your intent. I often take a true story and add some fiction to liven the story. However, when it's very personal or meaningful, I often have trouble messing with history, so to speak. I like to keep those as true to what happened as possible for some reason. So I totally understand not wanted to fictionalize too much.

Good job. I had an Indian sweet mate in college and she struggled with these very things. We had lots of long talks.

Laury Hubrich 07/27/09
I really liked this entry. It's not only an Indian conversation but conversations that happen no matter what the background. The dialogue was very real and didn't need tags. It was back and forth and it worked great. I felt like I was there yet relieved I didn't have to make any decisions;)

I didn't go to prom either but my best friend's boyfriend is AG and couldn't dance. I didn't miss it one bit.

I agree, the last part is kind of clunky. Just work on that and this piece will be really really good. Love this piece.
Gregory Kane07/27/09
The clash of cultural values and expectations comes across loud and clear. The dialogue was long but it moved along smoothly, and I was impressed by the respect shown by the daughter.
I did wonder, mind, why the 20th reunion was brought up right at the beginning but then not developed further. Would she choose to go and find out how the choices of her friends from long ago had worked out?
Joanne Sher 07/27/09
I agree - you did a SUPERB job with the dialogue, hun. And I also think the ending is too "summaryish." A bit more action and/or emotion - perhaps interacting with the reunion invitation or the yearbook.
Lisa Johnson08/01/09
I enjoyed reading your story, and liked the cultural as well as generational contrast. I could picture the action in the kitchen as I was reading.
Thank you for your kind words about my entry.
Helen Dowd08/06/09
Seema, I love the way you wound Indian culture into your story. I could just hear the arguing you and your mother had. And I am glad she allowed you to argue, as it helped you grow. Having gone through my teen years "WAY BACK" in the late 40's, we never dared talk back or argue with our parents. Their word was LAW, especially with Dad. Once I remember wanting to go to a mixed birthday party, and my mom said: "Well, you know I'd rather you didn't, but you make the decision. You know how Daddy and I feel."...I was glad she put it that way. I chose not to go, and have never been sorry....Good writing, Seema...Helen