They say you become the stories you’re told in childhood. But what if the stories I hear are different from what I see around?
What was forbidden in my home was acceptable at my best friend’s place.
And to my guilt, I sometimes wanted to BECOME like THEM, unless reminded that there’s a place I belong to. A place that I don’t remember. THAT place has a way of life which is sacred and the ONLY way to be.
I grew up feeling restless- there was something different between me and my friends. But also unusual and peculiar about the beliefs held by my family.
I felt like a tangent- touching two circles, encircling none.
One makes the sense of who they are through the culture they are brought up in.
Culture could be the norms, values, social beliefs, rituals and a way of life. This belief system connects people with each other and gives a way to a sense of belongingness.
And when one does not share this belief system, rituals, values- they end up feeling isolated & alienated.
I was often left feeling confused between rights and wrongs. Moral & Amoral. Healthy & Unhealthy.
And often to my shame- cool & uncool.
It all started when I was 7 years old, all eyes on me as soon as I would open my lunch box. My Indian food included chapatti, pickles and a strong smell of garlic ginger.
My first memory of embarrassment for being different.
I was learning Classical Indian Music & Dance amid the popular styles of rock, hip-hop, and jazz. I found them cool but alien.
My school taught about the history of America and my parents narrated me tales of India.
My Indian root started to become a burden and my belonging to America still felt alien
There was a constant fear I sensed among my parents- what if I start dating an American? It was the biggest sin I could commit.
I could not understand if it was me who could not fit in or the way people treated me.
I remember visiting India for a wedding when I was 16. It seemed like my parents found THEIR PEOPLE, they shared same accent, same taste of food, same stories, and similar humor.
What was astonishing, I was in the land where my childhood stories were embedded in. Where I SHOULD finally feel at HOME.
But my habits were titled “American”, my intolerance to spicy food was a butt of all jokes and the way I spoke my native language amused everyone.
It seemed like all the attempts of my parents to make me an Indian failed- from repeatedly speaking to me only in Hindi to getting me trained in Classical form of Indian Dance & Music. Everything to make me soak in Indian Culture.
As I went back home- home was now just a place that looked familiar, I knew my sense of self will definitely be not derived from my roots.
Honestly, I often compared my friends’ parents with mine. They were cool. Mine was not. They loved freedom, mine did not.
But, with those differences came a bundle of love and care. My friends’ were shocked when they came to know that my parents were paying for my college. They would often be surprised at how everything was taken care of, to provide the continuous comfort.
Well, their love was cool in their own way.
As I grew up, I had honest conversations with few other Indian American friends. There were high-five moments and “you too?” expressions.
That deep sense of being understood and sharing a similar story created a bond of a different kind.
Being neither here or there perhaps has made me objectively observe various actions and beliefs that otherwise becomes an unquestionable way of life.
To me, my identity became a choice of personal preferences.
I do not own or perceive a moral, healthy, wrong-attitude or belief from the lens of cultural practice.
I am an Indian-American. Perhaps an ever-evolving a culture of its own.