“Shopping for Sabzi” is a debut collection of short stories by Nitin Deckha who was born in England, raised in Canada and educated in the United States. His transnational experiences are reflected in the dozen stories in this collection. Many of his South Asian characters are transnational subjects who are negotiating multiple cultural and social identities. His non-South Asian characters are cosmopolitan and urban. The title of the collection (“sabzi” refers to vegetables in Hindi) comes from the author’s mother-in-law who compared her daughter’s search for a mate as “shopping for sabzi.” But women in South Asia take their sabzi shopping seriously—each vegetable has to be examined, poked, and prodded and the price haggled with the seller. The stories in this collection focus on a variety of characters who are in search of mates—some are negotiating cross cultural relationships, others are pondering what might have been, and still others are bumbling along.
In “Spick and Span” a nearly 30 year old Gujarati social worker helps her aunt organize a marriage convention in New Jersey while exploring her own different expectations from married life. In “Cheese Guru Kiss”, a happily married father of a teenage son suddenly comes face to face with an old girl friend who is now a celebrity chef and briefly flirts with his past, and in “Ketchup” a father with a toddler remembers his first serious relationship with an older woman while traveling back home to reunite with his wife. These stories are charming and slightly romantic as the protagonist eventually comes “home” happily to his/her choices. Some other stories are surprisingly edgy. In “Piece of Cake” a young photographer journeys to his past to explore his first girl friend’s bouts of eating disorder while his current girlfriend wishes to aestheticize and commodify the sick woman’s relationship with food. In “Will Model for Food”, an English journalist explores the politics of urban redevelopment and homelessness and in “1 900 Hey Baby”, the writer examines the world of phone dating services. A couple of stories examine South Asian women who reinvent themselves in widowhood startling their families and friends by their surprising choices.
Deckha’s stories are impressive for their range of topics and for the variety of characters. Some of the stories are fairly conventional while a few reveal an edginess that is promising. He steers clear of South Asian stereotypes especially given that his topic is mate-hunting—a topic that is so prevalent in South Asian fiction that it is clichéd. As is common with debut collections, there is some unevenness in quality and a tentativeness to voice, but if Deckha produces more stories like “1 900 Hey Baby” and “Ketchup”, his will be a writing career worth following.