Forty-Something Years in Ninaland



Who am I? It’s the question we all ask ourselves from time to time. Someone asked me the other day how much of myself I identify as Indian? I can’t quantify it, but I know a big part of me is Indian. A big part of me is American as well. But I’m not sure where I fit in, I’m still searching for a cultural identity, I guess.

I have always lived in America, in different cities, in different parts, but I never felt that I belonged here. I felt a little like maybe I was home in New York, but then 911 happened and the experience was a bit tainted. But at least there, there were strange people all around me, I wasn’t the strange one.

I live in the suburbs for financial reasons, however the suburbs are not really for me. I don’t know if the fast pace of New York life is for me anymore either. I don’t know if America is for me. As a Trump supporter would say, maybe I should go back to where I came from.

Even though I was born in the US, I was in India for a year and a half as a baby. There is something about those formative years before you are the age of five that form your personality. I remember something about India. Something about a lot of people in one house, one family. There was always talking. Always someone there.

America is quiet.

I also relate to the spirituality of India. I meditate and I want to do yoga. And the music, let’s not forget the music. Not just the popular Bollywood songs, but the old ghazals where they put poetry to music. There is something about India that is in me. Yet there is something equally free about America that I love. I can be anyone here, I can be anything.

If you were to meet me, you would say she is quite a normal what we colloquially call an ABCD, American Born Confused Desi.

I raise my hand to that one, that’s me alright. I am confused. I used to have a lot of ABCD friends, now more of my friends are Caucasian, as they like to be called. Does that mean I have gravitated to more white people? And if so why?

I know a lot of my ABCD friends are reading this but I’m going to be honest: I don’t feel like white people judge me because of the fact that I am not a lawyer or a doctor and my success cannot be measured with dollar bills. I’m not married, I have no children. I have a mental illness.

In America it’s OK that I’m a 41-year-old single woman with no children. In India and even in Indian culture in America, it is not OK. I’m not OK with that. I can be who I want to be here, and not worry that I am not enough.

But America can be lonely.

I don’t think that Indian people want to judge me for all the factors I mentioned above, I just think they do. I think honestly, that they can’t help it. We were raised to judge one another in our Indian culture. There is a competition in Indian culture, who has the biggest house, who had the most elaborate wedding, and who has the most successful kids. I have none of that…

My white friends live in small houses, with degrees in Liberal Arts and Social Science. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Indian friends to death, especially those I have grown up with. The ones that knew me when I was a confused asshole, the ones who are successful engineers and doctors. I love them. But honestly, I don’t spend most of my time with them anymore.

In fact, in some ways I have detached from a lot of people, perhaps because I am still searching for my tribe. I’ve always been off the beaten path…and have gone for some of it alone. I don’t want to go it alone anymore though, I want a community, a community of misfits.

Am I Indian or American? That’s the final question. The final answer is I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m either. Maybe I’m really European at heart, I do love that British accent. I didn’t even talk about the Sikh part of my identity, but that’s whole other conversation. Maybe I’m Indian-American, not to be confused with American Indian. But what does that really mean?

I mean having two cultural identities, or three or four…it’s a little like being transgendered. Maybe there is no one single gender identity. Maybe there is no one single cultural identity. It’s kind of a sliding scale. Everything is on a scale…but why are we even measuring? Why does it matter?

In truth and reality, I’m a person.

End of story.


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