“Could you be any more white?” are, funnily enough, the polemical words of choice that emerge from my mom’s mouth. Other times, she’ll compare me to other model Indian daughters witnessed at some point in time, in history. In true Indian fashion, it’s a bittersweet reminder of who I should be, laced with the casual misogyny known all too well by others like me baffled by the assumption. I am myself, aren’t I? As she struggles to understand me and knowing how futile it is for her to want to put me on a pedestal for the world to see me as someone I am not, it becomes a somewhat half-hearted attempt to chip me away like a sculpture, the parts in me that don’t want to be another image of her. Being so quintessentially the ‘Indian Mother,’ she’d love to be this window into my soul, harbouring a desire for me to be freer than her generation could have ever possibly allowed a woman brought up in India and yet being born further West as a first-generation Indian woman is no barrier to this desire for freedom being conditional and restrictive still.
Cue the inevitable ‘discussion’ about already being “too western,” so much of our relationship is so typically complicated and strained by the culture lost upon me that she often becomes nostalgic about. So much of her wants me to be the archetypal Indian daughter, where ‘displacement’ seems like the only fitting description for me in this case. Confusing and exhilarating as this atypical social experience is, when these wanton words pour out so carefully, a part of me comes to realise that behind all this passive-aggressiveness, is her bearing the weight of the fear she feels as the roots of the only culture she has known her
entire life, slip through my fingers. For her, it’s a shame that I don’t feel the same belonging that she does.
Few people, I guess, can really navigate the roaring ocean of taming both cultures at the same time. And as one tries to take in the futility of it all, I realise that I shouldn’t have to choose between the two, being British and being Indian. It’s a sentiment that is all too difficult to articulate – especially to your mother who is doing all her bidding on getting through to you through
casual (lovable?) bouts of “why are you like this?”
So although none of this is intended to be completely pillorying, maybe one day, I’ll be able to sit on a bridge between the two. Being the daughter of two Indian immigrants, they are so powerful in that respect – how they can cast that shadow of self-doubt on yourself on account of not ‘being Indian enough’ and yet leave you knowing how much you should be grateful for. It becomes a game of resenting your privilege as you transgress the ‘natural’ and ‘Indian’ order of things trying to make your place in the world. But how does one forsake it all, when part of you is a part of them? Is it enough to tell yourself that you are enough? I guess that is the weight that optimism purportedly carries.