India Part 2: What Are You?

(I apologize for a delayed post — writer’s block has been hitting me as hard as the humidity it seems.)

I’d be lying if I said I was having a blast.

Here in Navsari, there’s not much to do. My sister and I spend our days alternating between sleeping, reading, and watching Tom and Jerry (the only show we can only understand — everything else is in non-subtitled Hindi). The highlights of my last two days include:

  1. Finding a Sherlock episode on my computer.
  2. Finding THREE Glee episodes on my computer.
  3. Eating Cheetos for the first time in three+ years.
  4. Getting sick as a result of #4

Exciting stuff, isn’t it?

I thought that this trip would be different. I thought I’d have some sort of revelation and suddenly start to love India and finally gain that connection that so many of my friends with immigrant parents seem to have. But I guess I should lowered my expectations a little bit.

People always ask the dreaded question: “What are you?” My response to this question is, at first, usually sarcastic. “Human?” “A person?” Of course, they are referring to my ethnicity, but nowadays, responding “Indian” feels more automatic than authentic.

Yes, I am of Indian heritage. Yes, my parents were brought up there (but fun fact: my mom was born in Africa!). Yes, I have family there.

But no, I don’t “feel Indian”.

I guess, in some sense, I feel more connected to the idea of India. Bollywood movies, gorgeous Indian outfits, Indian weddings, certain Indian festivals like Diwali and Holi. These things, I like (sometimes even love), and I’m proud that they’re parts of my heritage.

But like I mentioned in my previous entry, coming to India is like meeting an old acquaintance, only to realize that far too much time has passed to fill in the gaps of knowledge between the two people. Since I last came to India, both the country and I have changed, but I have no desire to catch myself up.

If I’m being quite honest, I don’t enjoy actually coming to India. It’s hot. It’s humid. I don’t like the way little kids pound on our car windows, begging us for money. I don’t like the way people start treating me when they realize I’m American, and I especially don’t like the way people start treating me when they realize I can’t speak Hindi. I don’t like the stares you get if you’re a girl, no matter what you’re wearing. I don’t have any sense of roots to the actual country at all.

And sometimes, I feel guilty about it, as if it’s my responsibility as an Indian American to love the motherland or whatever. I see my parents struggle with it: the disappointment that I don’t speak the language or choose not to go to the temple or my lack of understanding of certain holidays, and it’s moments like those that make me wish I felt more Indian. I have some friends who actually look forward to trips here, who see India as a land of reunions with cousins, endless shopping sprees, sightseeing, and I really do wish I felt that way. But I don’t.

Perhaps the reason lies in my parents’ upbringing — the fact that most of their young adult life and beyond was shaped by the States, so mine followed suit. Or perhaps the fault lies in myself — my lack of desire to learn anything about my heritage at all. Either way, it is a conflict that seems to arise more often than not nowadays and will continue to do so, especially as I begin college and my adult life.

While it may be a conflict, it is one that I am not alone in dealing with. And while it may be stuck with me for the rest of my life, it is one that makes me who I am, just like my Indian roots themselves. It’s just another part of myself I need to sort out and find somewhere, somehow. But for now, it’s time for a Glee marathon.

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