Sopan Deb’s poignant memoir ‘Missed Translations’ and Freshman Natasha Subhash is an ITA All-American

Sopan Deb. Photo: Amy Lombard/Harper Collins

NEW YORK – ‘Missed Translations – Meeting the Immigrant Parents Who Raised Me’ (HarperCollins, 272 pages; $26.99), a smart, witty, bittersweet and poignant memoir by Sopan Deb, a writer for The New York Times, as well as a New York City-based stand up comedian, was published last week.

Before joining the Times, Deb was one of a handful of reporters who covered Donald Trump’s presidential campaign from start to finish as a campaign embed for CBS News. He covered hundreds of rallies in more than 40 states for a year and a half and was named a “breakout media star” of the election by Politico.

At the Times, Deb has interviewed high profile subjects such as Denzel Washington, Stephen Colbert, the cast of Arrested Development, Kyrie Irving and Bill Murray. His work has previously appeared on NBC, Al Jazeera America and The Boston Globe, ranging from examining the trek of endangered manatees to following a class of blind filmmakers in Boston led by the former executive producer of Friends.

He won an Edward R. Murrow award for a documentary he produced for the Boston Globe called ‘Larger Than Life,’ which told the story about the NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell’s complicated relationship with the city of Boston.

Deb started writing the memoir two years ago, approaching his 30th birthday. He found comfort in his day job as a writer for the Times and a practicing comedian. But his stage material highlighting his South Asian culture only served to mask the insecurities borne from his family history.

His parents, both Indian, separately immigrated to North America in the 1960s and 1970s. They were brought together in a volatile and ultimately doomed arranged marriage and raised a family in suburban New Jersey before his father returned to India alone.

Deb describes his father, Shyamal, as an engineer and nerd who once tried to memorize the periodic table, and mother, Bishakha, a social creature who loved gabbing on the phone and taking in pop culture. There was an irreparable schism that existed between them.

He writes in his memoir: “The thing that united them was a genuine pride in being Bengali. It was important to them, but, ironically, it was what I resented most. It was being Bengali that forced these two mismatched souls together, and I looked to escape them at every second. We all tried, in our own way, to make it work, but we were oil, vinegar, and gasoline.”

Deb says that “over time, I learned how to turn my personal trauma into light quips and punchlines.”

Deb had never learned who his parents were as individuals – their ages, how many siblings they had, what they were like as children, what their favorite movies were. Theirs was an ostensibly nuclear family without any of the familial bonds.

Coming of age in a mostly white suburban town, Deb’s alienation led him to seek separation from his family and his culture, longing for the tight-knit home environment of his white friends. His desire wasn’t rooted in racism or oppression; it was born of envy and desire – for white moms who made after-school snacks and asked his friends about the girls they liked and the teachers they didn’t. Deb yearned for the same.

This is how he describes his alienation: “For one thing, I grew up Hindu. My family didn’t exactly have Christmas traditions, which explains why I confused Christmas and Easter. The only traditions of any kind we had were family squabbles and seething resentment that split our family into warring factions. What I knew about healthy families at Christmas was what I saw in pop culture. Think “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” or Miracle on 34th Street or Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause. Yes, even the last one.”

Deb’s urge to find out more about his parents, what they were like before they got married, propelled him on a dramatic journey to India to see his father – the first step in a life altering journey to bridge the emotional distance separating him from those whose DNA he shared.

‘Missed Translations’ raises questions essential to us all: Is it ever too late to pick up the pieces and offer forgiveness? How do we build bridges where there was nothing before – and what happens to us, to our past and our future, if we don’t?

In an interview to NPR, Deb says of his father leaving for India: “So, you know, my father and I, we had a you know, we barely had a relationship growing up. We barely spoke. He didn’t know anything about me. I don’t know anything about him. And then after my parents’ divorce … my freshman year of college. My father comes to see me and he says goodbye. And it’s the last time I saw him for 11 years. You know, a couple weeks later, it might’ve been a month after that last visit, I got an e-mail from him or I got a call from him, he says, I left the country. I’m in India now.”

Deb also opened up on how he perceives he wronged his parents: “Well, for one thing, I think that getting to know each other is a two-way street. Communication is a two way-street. And especially as I got older, yes, my parents didn’t understand me and the United States and the world I belong to, and yes, I couldn’t talk to them about significant others or therapy or depression and that kind of stuff. Yes, that’s true. But I also didn’t try to talk to them about what they were going through. And I wasn’t empathetic to them and where they came from. I think that’s my fault. I should have done more…”


Natasha Subhash. Photo: Subhash family

Natasha Subhash, a freshman on the University of Virginia women’s tennis team, has been named an All-America selection by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), on April 28, 2020. Subhash is one of 20 women’s singles players to earn the honor this year, and the only Indian American on the list of either singles or doubles.

Subhash is the fourth player in program history for Virginia to earn All-America honors in singles, joining four-time singles All-America Julia Elbaba, three-time singles All-America and two-time NCAA singles champion Danielle Collins, and Lindsey Hardenberg in the recognition, according to a report by Virginia Sports.

This season, Subhash posted a 26-6 record on the way to a season-high ranking of No. 10 nationally. She posted wins over 15 nationally-ranked players with 20 matches against nationally-ranked foes in her 32 matches as she played at the top of the lineup for the Cavaliers this season.

Included in her wins over nationally-ranked foes were victories over then No. 5 Alexa Graham of North Carolina, then No. 7 Sara Daavettila of North Carolina and then No. 16 Alana Smith of NC State. Her win over Smith clinched the dual-match victory for the Cavaliers at third-ranked NC State. It was the first win over a top-five team for Virginia since the 2016 season and only the fifth over a top-five team in program history, the report said.

Subhash also claimed the ITA Atlantic Region Championship in singles. She advanced to the semifinals of the Oracle/ITA Masters tournament and the second round of the main draw at the ITA All-American Championships.

Prior to her joining the Cavaliers, Subhash had a terrific run in the juniors’ circuit, and reached a career-high WTA singles ranking of No. 389. She won two ITF World Tennis Tour Pro $15K singles titles in 2019, winning her first title in Williamsburg in May and following with another title in Orlando in June.

She was also the runner-up in singles at the Bethany Beach (Del.) and Evansville (Ill.) ITF World Tennis Tour Pro $15K tournaments, and had an outstanding 26-8 singles record in ITF World Tennis Tour matches in 2019.

Subhash also has two ITF World Tennis Tour doubles titles and a career-high WTA doubles ranking of No. 566. She has competed in all four Junior Grand Slams, with her best finish being a run to semifinals in Girls Doubles at the 2017 Australian Open. She has appeared in main draws of five Junior US Opens, playing in the Girl’s Singles Championships in 2015-19 and in the Girl’s Doubles Championships in 2015-16 and 2018.

Subhash was the 2016 Doubles Champion at Abierto Juvenil Mexicano in Mexico City, advancing to the semifinals in 2017; and was the doubles champion at the 2015 Pan American Girls Tennis Championship. She was the singles runner-up in 2017 and the doubles runner-up in 2016 at the same event. She has the distinction of being the 2018 semifinalist in doubles at Roehampton, the warm-up event to Junior Wimbledon, and won the singles title at the 2017 Canadian U18 World Ranking junior meet. She has advanced to the finals of 13 junior circuit events in doubles, winning seven titles.

Her parents, Subhash and Sulekha Subhash, emigrated to the United States in 1997, from Delhi. Sulekha is a teacher, while Subhash is an IT professional in the Washington, DC area.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)




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