Culture and Other Bittersweet Things

As a female raised on American soil but in the depths of Indian traditions, there are countless thoughts that haunt me daily about the life I’m expected to lead and the life I might have led alike. My parents aren’t your stereotypical Indian parents that force their kids to pursue a medical career, fill up the hours of their day with textbooks, and be oblivious to sex, drugs, and how the world works in general. In some ways, my parents might have Western values themselves, and I believe that’s the hardest part for me to deal with. Their beliefs seem somewhat compromised, and I am eternally guilty for not being able to meet them in the middle.

But… how can I? How can I sit through a school lesson on Southeast Asia’s “missing girl” dilemma and not wonder if I would still exist if my parents lived a bit more in a village, had a bit less money, and knew before I was born that I didn’t come equipped with the almighty penis? Girl, meet coat-hanger; coat-hanger, girl. How can I ride the bus and not think about the hands that would be groping me if I was using the Indian public transport system? How can I keep myself from rocking back and forth in the corner of my bedroom, a sobbing mess, knowing that my rapist still lives a hallway away from our apartment in India, that he still doesn’t know he’s a rapist, that his new bride is on her third trimester? I may not have to worry about being given to my husband’s family only after my parents handed over some shiny kitchen appliances and a car or two. I may not have to worry about my family picking out some 37 year old doctor/lawyer/engineer for me as soon as I’m out of high school who fucks me with the lights off and then is kind enough to let me rest a few hours before throwing me in the kitchen (to which the laundry room may be attached, for added convenience!) to cook and clean and dream about that “god-awful purpose thing women nowadays dream about”. I may not have to worry about these things but it’s so easy to worry about my sisters who do, stuck in the least developed parts of India.

Bridal procession (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Bridal procession (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Of course, while I worry about them, I’ve also got more to worry about here at home. When the topic comes up, I am used to being told I can’t even look at the opposite sex unless he’s of my parents’ religion, Indian, and financially stable. To an atheistic girl who’s only ever fallen for guys that were dark and mysterious on the inside but blatantly Caucasian on the outside, this sounds a little bit like “religious, chauvinistic, and a rich asshole”. What’s more, I can’t talk to strangers but after I marry one, I’m expected to fuck him. Let’s rewind some years before marriage, though. I’ve finally convinced my parents to let me wear short-shorts and bare my shoulders on a 90 degree day, after years of boiling in the sun after my childhood’s supposed end (Indian girl-children have no problem with showing skin, it’s only after you’re too old to pull it off without looking like a slut that your parents swoop in with conservative clothing and save the day). Although, I still can’t wear shorts in the house when anyone of the holy Indian race is over, while my little brother saunters around the house like shorts are the only article of clothing he owns. He goes to the park down the street? My parents don’t want to bother him while he’s having fun with friends… in the extremely dark hours of 8 and 9PM. If I go for a walk on a sunny afternoon, lo and behold my phone is blowing up with “Where the fuck are you?” less than an hour later, even though I made sure to tell every single member of the family where I was going before I left the house.

Also, before leaving the house, I have to make sure I repeat back to my parents all the things I am not going to do. “No, I will not giggle while speaking to a boy. I will not unbutton the top of my shirt if I get hot. I will present myself in a ladylike matter. I will not act like a whore. I will not do my makeup like a whore. I will not do my makeup at all unless I have some horrible fucking rash on my face. Oh… Sorry. I will not swear.” The cynically funny thing is, they don’t care about half of this stuff. When I timidly asked them why I couldn’t do some of the more innocent things on the list of “Thou Shalt Not’s”, they fearfully said “Well, we don’t want some Indian person to see you and ponder our bad parenting skills!” I had to turn away so they wouldn’t see me roll my eyes. Right, my life depends on the judgmental opinions of some third-party group of people who neither my parents nor I know. Wonderful. Even in the comfortable recesses of my home, the day isn’t really over until I’ve heard my father tell my crying brother to stop acting like a girl. “What, so only girls are sensitive? That’s rude to him and me.” In reply I got a shrug of the shoulders. The day isn’t really over until my mother has pestered me a few times to start learning how to cook. “I’m not into cooking. Would you make my brother do the same if he was my age?” In reply, I got a synonymous answer of “Cooking is for girls.”

I wish I could meet my parents in the middle, I truly do. However, their “middle” is quite scary. I am frequently told at school, by my friends, by my mentors, to be the powerful woman I should and want to be. I am frequently told when I come home that that is not who I am. I have to constantly validate my moral stance from my friends to prevent breaking down into “Am I doing the right thing?” and “I am so not doing the right thing”, but my stance is one that I can’t shed. Because, when it’s all said and done, I am the embodiment of nearly everything it means to be a Western girl. I am fierce. I am ambitious. I put myself first. I am not afraid to come to terms with my newfound sexuality or the loss of a loved one. I will not be afraid to dream about being a great politician and a great wife at the same time. I live richly in my femininity, but I do not let it define who I am. I am compassionate. I am no-nonsense.

And I am a bitch, with many causes 😉

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