Isn’t it time older generations let go of the things that have been imbibed in the Indian culture, to see how the youth has adapted to being split between two cultures that are so different?
I know this is coming after such a long time, but life has been a slight tornado and I’m finally finding the time to get back into writing.
I am as Australian as I am Indian.
I am eighteen years old. I have brown skin (to keep it easy), black hair and dark brown eyes. And in these eighteen years, I’ve been buried under a mountain of expectations, judgements, critiques and frankly unnecessary commentary on how I should live my life.
This post serves to tell anyone who’s listening that I am not a flower. I am not a delicate little thing that needs guidance and constant watering from people who believe in imbibing ways of thinking because it’s the “right way”.
From youth, there has been this struggle for the two cultures that create me to work harmoniously. For the most part, it’s been pretty breezy. I’ve been able to stay true to my Australian nationality and my Indian heritage. And I’ve always loved knowing I can come back to one culture and just embrace it for a day or week or whatever whenever I want. But what has continuously stressed me out as a child, a teenager and now an adult, is this presence of “right and wrong” that seems to always be around.
It’s very common for people of the same or similar culture, or from the same country to form friendships. This is apparent with many of my parents’ friends. We’re part of these circles of Indian families, who will get together and have dinner parties, have whattsapp groups where they talk everyday, and are constantly clutching onto their roots and heritage even through they’re all Australian by nationality and citizenship.
If you’ve read/watched The Namesake, you’ll have a great visual of what my childhood was like. Every weekend, we would be at someone’s place having dinner. The mums would be around the kitchen, talking about the latest movies and sari trends (and obviously, boys and the culture of the youth). The dads would be getting serious in the living room with bottles of beer or glasses of wine or whiskey in hand. The share market was a classic favourite topic of discussion. And the cricket.
And the kids? Well if you were with a circle of friends that you liked and were your age, you would be playing games, watching movies and having a riot. If you were the youngest in a crowd of older children like I sometimes was depending on the circle of friends, you would be counting down the minutes until you could leave.
These dinner parties and events were always fun when I was with the group of kids I liked. It was great to see your friends who didn’t go to the same school or who weren’t maybe in the same grade as you on a weekly basis. And looking back on it, it was because as a child, I never thought about the amount of subtle controlling members of the Indian community used to impart on us.
Growing up in Sydney meant coming home from school, downing a glass of milo that was 2/3 milo and 1/3 milk, and then running back out to meet the gang at the local park. It was a ritual. We would play for hours after school, running around, riding our bikes and having a blast in general. And I think the moment I started resenting that childish innocence was when another Indian mother passed a comment at my mum, saying how dark I’d become.
“You shouldn’t let Simran in the sun so much. Once she becomes dark, it will never disappear”.
To tell a young girl with a lot of energy that she shouldn’t go outside was unheard of. I continued to play outside much to the chagrin of some members of the community who were wholly invested in my life, and my mum dutifully applied “besan and dhai” body packs to ensure I stayed fair.
Looking back on this, I’m so grateful my mum never stopped me. Because I do know girls who were asked to stay inside and they listened.
What a travesty.
So that was my childhood. Grandmas, aunties and overly concerned family friends indicating that I was too dark, and to remedy it, apply all these packs to my skin. Yes, my skin was fantastic, but that was also because I was breathing fresh air on a daily basis, running around and being a child.
I think the most resent comes from my experiences as a teenager. Firstly, there’s the physical appearance – the body hair.
I think one of the reasons I remove all removable forms of body hair is because it was engrained in my mind that it isn’t a normal or attractive thing to have. And frankly, I resent having that thought in the back of my mind. Yes, I would remove the hair for myself, but knowing that I’ve taken comments to heart about my eyebrows needing to be done really annoys me.
But that’s pretty minor.
As a teenager, there was always this small voice following Indian girls my age saying we were too brash. Too crude. Not ladylike enough. Not demure or submissive or quiet.
We were told to not befriend girls who were deemed wild and out of control. Girls who went to parties and knew many boys were red flags. There was always this circle of gossip, where all the girls were constantly talked about.
“why are you hanging out with that girl? Did you know who she was going around with last week huh?”
I once “got caught” hanging out with a guy friend and honestly, some acted like it was the end of the world. My parents had no issues because they knew the boy. They didn’t care. So I was left confused as to why the oppressive force of the indian community did.
It is so taboo for indian girls to date. To flirt and not be in a committed relationship. Friends with benefits is virtually unheard of because it’s so shunned. Casual sex is a sin in our community. And while I personally don’t want to/won’t engage in a casual lifestyle, there is nothing wrong with it. But there’s a generation of thinkers who haven’t left the seventeenth century and think it is a sin.
We were instructed not to play sport with boys because the length of our shorts weren’t acceptable. Our clothing had to be loose modest and demure. I remember getting these judging looks from a group of mothers when I turned up to a beach event in shorts and a tee. Because that isn’t what I’m meant to wear apparently.
“What will people say if they see you dressed like that huh?”
And obviously that started the whole, “Simran sit in the shade, you’ll get even darker than you already are” bullshit.
We were told not to engage in activities that weren’t ladylike. I was condemned for liking and playing sports like touch footy and rugby. My friends were condemned for listening to rap music.
And now, as an eighteen year old, I’m no stranger to mothers asking each other whether we’re in relationships and who’s next to get married. Because yes our goals in life are to get married, leave our careers and bear children for our husbands. Cook and clean and slave after kids and husbands and have no lives whatsoever.
But let me make something very clear. In this group of “wild youth” you see, you’ll find business students, engineers, medical students, law students, designers and architects. Artists, dancers, musicians, photographers. Girls who can cook damn well. Girls with a keen eye for fashion and makeup. Girls who love sport, cars and going out. Girls who are proud to be themselves regardless of what you might have to say.
You’ll find a confident group of young women who love themselves, love their heritage and love the freedom that comes with being Australian. We aren’t these delicate, touch-me-not things that need constant protection. We were raised to not take any shit from anyone. We were raised to be strong. To argue and defend ourselves. To be bold. To be absolute bosses in the boardroom. To dress to impress for ourselves.
I might have an indian heritage, that that doesn’t mean that the backwards bullshit that comes with oppressing my desire and right to express myself comes with me.
You might think that my love for shoes, photography and celebrities is a waste of time. That I should’ve been studying medicine instead of business and economics. That I’m too ambitious, loud and brash. That my shorts are too short.
Let me tell you that I really don’t care. I am a proud, loud brown girl who isn’t going to be held back by these cultural stereotypes. I don’t want your guidance and your beliefs infringing on my experiences growing up. I am free to wear what I like, what makes me comfortable and what I feel confident in. I will not hesitate to shut down people who start shit with me. I love my sport, I love my inexcusable taste in music and I love the fact that my parents are so open with me wanting to find a partner for myself. My friends are some of the most wonderful people and I would go to the ends of the universe for them.
I love my heritage. I will never let go of my heritage. I will always love and respect who I am, who my parents are, what my lineage is and how significant being an Indian is to so many people.
But, I’m not a flower. And I sure as hell don’t need your constant watering.