High Maintenance shows what it’s like to live the dual life of a secular girl in a traditional family

Jas Johl
Jas Johl
Nov 21, 2016 · 3 min read
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I’m an Indian American female that was raised in a strict Sikh family, and an episode of High Maintenance made me cry.

The episode starts out with a young girl, Easha, who wears a traditional hijab. My family is Indian, not Muslim, so we don’t wear the hijab. However, our father enforced strict adherence to cultural tradition, and was particularly severe when it came to body modesty — far to the right of the norm in Northern California where I grew up. Things like shorts and tank tops were forbidden.

Easha lives a sort of double life that I’m painfully familiar with. She adopts secular Western norms in one entire area of her life, and reverts back to traditional Muslim roles as best she can when she’s with her family. For example, she smokes cigarettes with her friends, hiding it from her family. While living with her aunt and uncle who are housing her while she attends undergraduate classes in the city, she sneaks off to the rooftop to smoke. Her aunt — uncannily reminiscent of my own — smells the smoke on her, and reminds the girl that if her mother finds out, the aunt will be blamed for her daughter’s corruption. Her last comment on the subject, about not “bringing that shit around her family or her children” is followed by an “ac ha” — — from Easha, but in my life, such comments about keeping young children away from my westernized influence led to a long estrangement from my own close aunt.

In High Maintenance, Easha is currently on a search for weed when she meets our happy wanderer, a weed delivery courier in NYC who travels through a series of vignettes that are often poignant, ridiculous, spot-on, and diverse in their depiction of a range of central characters.

Easha is rebuffed in her attempt to purchase, however, because the nameless weed delivery guy (who acts as a sort of thread between each episode) has previously encountered her in full Hijab. Now, she approaches him in her full westernized outfit, asking to buy. He does not want to get mixed up in whatever shit this is. Presenting cultural difference has a way of alienating you immediately from some — it’s not the way you “properly” assimilate.

Our weed guy suggests she try the neighbor — his actual customer that day — for a reference. We don’t see how it happens, but Easha is successful. The following sequence is tranquil in its beauty: she gets high, lets go, and is allowed to be herself in her own head, even if just for a little while.

That’s when I cried.

At the time, I was surprised by how much I felt in seeing an image that mirrored my own experiences so well. But in retrospect, I think it’s because I finally had the opportunity to recognize a piece of myself in storytelling — in a character on an HBO show nonetheless. It was a relief: A catharsis. That is the point of storytelling, isn’t it?

I thought: white men have been getting this sort of thing almost exclusively. Almost all the stories we tell are about them. To have every kind of mirror to look into — I can’t imagine the limitlessness that must instill at an early age. To have reflected back to you the idea that you truly can pursue anything — what a privilege.

The episode ends with Easha’s family discovering her and her stash of weed — hidden on the rooftop — after she had gone out all night. In my family, such a scenario would have ended with a violent confrontation. Fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t see what happens next. The show quickly moves on to the next vignette, taking the audience with it.

I hope that, especially as we venture into Donald Trump’s America, we can continue to hear voices like this emerge from major television outlets — we’re going to need all the representation we can get.

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