Author 'engineers' snail's pace to marriage
Nivi Engineer, author of The Indian Girl’s Definitive Guide to Staying Single, dropped by my house with her slim, sassy book. It is available through Amazon on Kindle for $2.99, and for twice that in print form. The cover is deep orange, and deceiving. One might think, from a distance, that it’s the Hindi language on it. No, that’s a skillful designer’s illusion. Just as skillfully, the author offers tips on staying single written in a wry style, and urges young women to cultivate personae of their own and resist premature marriage. They should not blindly conform to suit anyone else’s expectations of the perfect, nubile Indian-American, says Engineer.
A Cleveland Heights resident with degrees in creative writing and computer science, Engineer has three children and, yes, is married. She is not anti-marriage. But the book explains how to avoid getting hitched too soon, and is written as a breezy how-to.
The author pulls no punches: “Remember, you are on the market, whether you want to be or not.” The issues of identity revealed here are not unlike those of other first generation Americans, whether their forebears hailed from India or elsewhere. When do we embrace the past? When do we step back? (Full disclosure: I am the daughter of immigrants of a different ethnicity.) Straddling two worlds is common, and though this book's flavor is Indian culture specifically, others may certainly relate.
Engineer’s parents moved to the United States after they got married in India, and she and her sister were born here. As she describes, her parents were “pretty wily,” thinking of ways to keep their potentially assimilating daughters connected to Indian culture. From dance lessons to days set aside to make samosas-to-be-frozen en masse, the daughters did not escape tradition. The advice has a seesaw quality at times: “Don’t do this . . . ” but then maybe " . . . well, do some of that, if you want.” In other words, strive for personal balance.
The cover illustration features a westernized character with a knowing smile to the left and more traditionally dressed kin to the right. The pictured groom is a mystery man; he has no facial features. Engineer is an advocate for, perhaps, compromise. If you must dance, young women of Indian heritage, “stick with group dances,” avoiding solos that would invite close scrutiny. Don’t dress traditionally, which might thrill potential mothers-in-law. Don’t become an expert in traditional cuisine, but don’t be ignorant of it either. Engineer’s advice even extends to spiritual life and Web presence.
With 11 chapters in 88 pages, this book is a quick read. Don’t gobble it without pausing to reflect on your own cultural norms, and those traditions you retained or discarded. “Who am I?” and “Who am I becoming?” are always worthwhile questions, especially in the vast U.S. expanse of cultures.
A tip for future editions: A glossary could help readers grasp insiders’ language quickly.
A friend of mine recently became enamored of The Rules, written by dating coaches about what female dating behaviors are most enticing to men. My own advice, “just be yourself,” is not what she wanted to hear. "Be your best self on your own terms" might be the message of Engineer's humor-laced social commentary. Living with a foot in two worlds demands flexibility. And that is indeed what it takes to live a satisfying life, married or not.
Maria Shine Stewart
Maria Shine Stewart is a writing teacher and teaching writer with strong ties to the Heights' area, who attended school in the district through ninth grade. She owns Shine Writing Services, offering a wide variety of writing, editing, and tutoring services to experienced and new speakers of English.