I am the NRI that some of you will loathe for no apparent reason. I am the NRI who will get called a “vetti scene” for no apparent reason. I am the NRI that people will judge within seconds of getting to know me. And I am not one bit ashamed of who I am, or the fact that I am an NRI because that’s what life has dealt for me, and I’m not gonna weep about it, for no apparent reason.
So I was visiting my relatives in India last summer, and even before I could say anything I realised that there was a stereotype going on, and boy did it get on my nerves. We stayed at my aunt’s house overnight, and the next morning I woke up, made my bed and dadida… My aunt was surprised beyond expression that I had made my bed without waiting for anyone else to do it. She goes, “Wow, you kids are so goooood. I mean, given that you live abroad and all, you woke up and made your own bed!” A seeming compliment, surrounded by ludicrous assumptions. Just because I live in a different country, does not mean I don’t ever make my bed. I bit my lip, and let it pass. She was an ignorant 55 year old, and a sharp come back would only worsen the scenario.
But then came lunch time. And as ever, I dreaded it. I dreaded being forced to more than I would want to, and dreaded even more the aftermath of all that over-eating. But lunch went well, and she let me choose whatever I wanted, and let me be. To throw the game back into balance, she would then go on to criticise my clothes, my hair, and worst of all, tell me that I looked “too dark” to be living abroad, and ask me to use the white powdery stuff that is commonly used to make yourself fairer. I bit my lip, and let it pass. I wouldn’t fight the ignorant, because that was a criminal waste of time. Shallow much, o holy Aunt of mine?
I would then make my way to my Grandma’s house, who would unceremoniously comment on (care to take a guess?) my clothes, my hair and tell me I need to put on some weight. I don’t, that’s just the standard old generation thing to do. She would go the extra mile to tell me that I had to have my hair in pigtails (which being 17, I am far too old for) as my cousin did. I refuse to let her do my hair, not only because I hated the pigtails look, but also because I wouldn’t let myself be bullied by this old, frail woman. I refused to let anyone touch my hair, as they approached with the unholy coconut oil. Oh the icky grease of the coconut oil. Don’t tell me about the health benefits, I doubt there are any. Coconut oil is icky for all I care and not because I am an NRI but because I am a free individual I will not let myself to subjected to it. Yes, I will criticise this ludicrous oil-applying practice because I know I am a free individual. That’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m an NRI. And as for my clothes, I dressed respectably. Just because I refused to drape myself in ludicrously uncomfortable saree or half-saree (which I have to admit is pretty and the ideal attire for a special occasion) every single day, does not make me a snobbish NRI.
More stereotypical comments came my way and I bit my lip once again. My other aunt tells me, “Girls, you will be very happy in this household. There’s all the good shampoo and the nice handwash….” Pause. Why the assumption that the shampoo and the handwash would make me happy?! Surely happiness is a state of being, not a state of ownership?I was actually depressed at the superficiality surrounding me. I was depressed that relatives who had watched me grow up and had seen me everyday until 3 years ago, were only too willing to assume that I had somehow become superficial and shallow in the time I spent abroad. And what aggravated me even more was the fact that they put themselves higher up the morality scale because of these assumptions. I wanted to point out the various flaws in their glorified “tradition” and “values” and their inherent inability to look beyond the exterior. But I bit my lip, I let it pass. My depression and refusal to explain it, was interpreted as “Oh, she comes from abroad. Indian living conditions don’t suit her.” I was lost for words. (If you know me, you’d know how rare that is).
Next time, perhaps I won’t bite my lip. Next time, I won’t let it pass. I will defend my view knowing that I am justified by what I, as an individual believe in, and I didn’t need to dress a certain way, or do my hair up in plaits or apply a stupid fairness cream/powder to be accepted. Hell, I didn’t need to accepted in such a world, where fairness and pigtails gain you brownie points. I just won’t, because it goes against everything I believe I stand for.
All there is to say is that there are those who will get to know me for who I am and not judge me by my NRI tag. And then there are those who will attribute everything I do to my NRI status. That’s just all there is to it.