After encountering parades, a presentation and articles based on St.Patrick's day this year, whether it was at school or in the media, I was provided a brief but fascinating insight into the world of two various cultures in particular. It prompted me to begin thinking about my own. I considered how today was 'Holi' , an Indian festival celebrating the arrival of spring and end of darkeness and how I could've shared my knowledge it with the world around me. How exciting would it be to have others understand a part of me through such a microscopic yet remarkable part of my culture? Then I paused.
How could I be there educating others on Indian culture and Hinduism when I was such a flawed representative for it?
When I was younger my mother , sister and I would often go to the temple which I used to enjoy quite a lot. All the colours, the serenity and the people - it was a place of reassurance and escape from troubles and worries. However, one thing I resented deeply about our visits was the use of public transport and that only grew as I aged. Not because I hated being amongst 'commoners' or anything stupid like that but because I constantly feared racist comments and funny looks, shaming us as "freshies" for wearing our traditional attire and sniggering at us with unfriendly stares. Eventually I stopped going to the temple. My mother always used to ask me why I would never wear the casual Asian attire my relatives would loving send from abroad only for them to remain untouched till I outgrew them. Soon, she stopped asking. Yet in later years when Garba season came around, social media was littered with images of people wearing traditional Asian garb. It was no longer a catalyst to racial abuse - in fact it was deemed as being cool , up to date with trends and in some cases a fashion statement. Naturally, I wanted to be part of this sudden influx of Asian appreciation ; I wanted to join in and share pictures of my own celebrating in traditional garb everywhere! On Instagram, on Snapchat - but I didn't. Why? Because realistically I knew I only felt comfortable to share myself in traditional wear as it was finally deemed acceptable by those of other cultures. I can't lie that it hurt though, the inkling of doubt that all the pride and joy that stemmed from my culture was temporary, only to fade out as its popularity takes its dying breaths.
Further to this, as a Bengali Indian in London, finding many others like myself was a rarity and often meant I felt isolated culturally sometimes. This was another thing I struggled with greatly as the lack of others like me meant it was incredibly difficult to successfully educate others on my festivities and cuisine. How could I when people seldom chose to believe me and thought of debating with me on something as basic as my origins? There are 29 states in India hence the country is vast. An Indian doesn't have to fit the general trend or stereotype to be considered one. Stereotypes also played part is dismembering my cultural backbone as I grew older too. Gradually, I began disliking doing my hair in plaits due to the constant assumptions that I was a typical Asian nerd and I kept the fact I had learnt Classical Asian dancing hidden from others too from fear of being mocked. I avoided speaking to my mother in Bengali in public as much as I could in order to avoid stares and assumptions of how educated we were in this country.
Then another unsettling thought struck my mind.
Why was I happy to purchase a curry ready meal and consume it in public without fear yet would be hesitant and fearful to bring in a curry my mother loving made at home? Purely due to criticism and ridicule. "What the hell is that?" ,"Ew who's food smells?", "The whole place stinks who brought rotten food?".
Fear of such snarky quips and ridiculing glances were enough to put me off. Deep down I didn't want my mum's hard work and love to be mocked. Besides, with the former option what's to offend about the same takeaway curry many of these people may have on a Friday night?
Needless to say, I am still currently a long way from completely being able to embrace my culture but I am gradually getting there as I grow as a person. Small thing as dismissing fear of stereotypes and proudly wearing plaits likening myself to Jasmine when I feel particularly anxious of public opinion, openly speaking with my mother in my second language and her mother tongue Bengali out and about without fear of the judgement of others and shamelessly correcting others on where Kolkata is located in India rather than meekly let them finish their debate and dismissing their notions as misunderstanding rather than rudeness. In modern day and age it can be especially hard to keep up with your culture, especially with the pressure that society places on us and it is okay for that to be the case!
Not being completely immersed in your culture doesn't make you a bad person like I had initially feared. Though it is difficult now, you will soon be able to embrace the beauty of your culture, not just admire it like everyone else. Our culture is a remarkable thing and it is a large part of what both makes us different yet unites us. If you can identify some of the issues I highlighted in this article amongst yourselves too, I want you to know it will be okay. You don't have to make drastic changes to your life in order to go back down to your roots nor do you have to completely submerge yourself back into your culture. At the end of the day we do what makes us happy ultimately and I am sure no matter how far I feel like I am drifting from my roots, my Om necklace (a traditional Hindu symbol of religious significance) situated just above my heart will bring me back home.
Cover Image By Guna/Unsplash.com