“Mom, I want to be like Britney Spears, not Aishwarya Rai.” I firmly told my mother who insisted I wear a lehenga to look elegant at her friend’s daughter’s wedding. But I didn’t have any of that. Who wanted to look like a ‘behenji’ wearing one of those heavily embroidered lehengas with shimmery, tacky stuff on it? Not me.
At least, not me back in 2010. In 2010, my 14-year-old self hated being called Indian, wearing Indian clothing, and just generally anything remotely ‘desi.’ It was the bane of her existence. Not mine, not anymore. My 14-year-old self could not be blamed for this. She’d grown up in a world exposed to western culture and globalization, and she just ended up taking an excessive liking to it. To the point that her room was filled with posters of pop stars, movie stars, and everyone – ‘American.’
These were the people she aspired to be like. Not Sania Mirza, Aishwarya Rai, or any random Indian celebrity. She felt like she related to Miley Cyrus on a much higher level than she could ever relate to Rani Mukherjee. She’d watch the same Hollywood rom-com 15 times, but she dared to watch a dreadful Bollywood movie even once. And you know what? She was proud of it. She was proud of shedding her culture and embracing a foreign one. Her parents tried to inculcate the traditional values they held so dearly onto their resistant and stubborn daughter, but they didn’t push it too far. They honestly didn’t object to it much mainly because they were just that, my parents. “As long as she’s happy, we don’t mind.” was their ideology with this. And it was fair even though I know I made them suffer with me in my angsty years. They love our culture, and it had to hurt them to watch their only daughter treat the same culture they adored like it was her inferior.
My teenage self seemed quite happy and pleased with her life choices. But in reality, she was far from it. The moment she shed her culture and embraced ‘American’ culture, was the moment a personality gap began forming itself inside her. She did love her culture, her country, and everything in it, but she felt this need to dissociate from it. Because she was afraid that she wouldn’t fit in, she was just desperately seeking to find herself and being impatient in the process. She didn’t realize that it was supposed to come to her. Naturally, she couldn’t force a personality onto herself — no matter how hard she tried.
My 14-17-year-old self oddly drifted between self-hatred, self-loathing, and severe angst for identifying so closely and so intensely with something yet not feeling like she truly belonged to it, and like she didn’t know herself, at all. It was a discomforting and unpleasant feeling that nobody wants. It made me feel unsure of who I was. She struggled, my teenage self did, she struggled a lot with her identity — not knowing where it belonged. She wanted to be in her present surrounding, appreciating what her reality was, but she lived in a false illusion of a world that wasn’t hers to begin with. There was bound to be a gap between who she was and who she wished to be.
The realization came a little late, but eventually, it did – that this wasn’t me.
When I was 18, reality struck a chord with me, and I realized that my likes and dislikes were just a part of my life, they weren’t my entire life. I can love something without letting it consume me. And so I shed it. I dropped my obsession with ‘American’ culture, and I explored a little deeper. I realized I loved Bollywood, in all its cheesiness, cliches, and romantic glory. I realized I loved wearing suits and sarees. I loved wearing a bindi and having bold kajal on my eyes. I realized I loved listening to English and Hindi music, and I didn’t have to choose between one. I realized I could aspire to visit any country in the world, or even live there, be it New York or Paris, yet love my good ol’ Delhi, which was my home.
But the realization came, and with it came the self-love. All the hatred I had for myself seemed to melt away the moment I got in touch with my true self. I was confident, and I knew who I was, finally. It was a euphoric feeling for me. I learned to balance myself — my likes, dislikes, and my interests. 21-year-old me enjoys watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, as well as Bride Wars. She enjoys wearing suits and jhumkis, but she also loves her jeans and crop tops. 21-year-old me is full of happiness and is secure about herself because she knows exactly who she is. And she’s proud of who she’s become despite all that her teenage self had to go through for her to become the person she is today.