I grew up like a normal Indian kid being raised in United States suburbia, with parents who had immigrated to the United States many years back to give me and my sister a “better life”, like many of their contemporaries. In elementary school, I was just like the other kids, except for the occasional questions on if I pray to an elephant and wear a red dot on my head.
In middle school, I looked for a place to belong. I went through phases – for a couple years, I was one of the grungy white girls with wide leg jeans; then I became one of the black girls with a big, puffy FUBU jacket. Amidst all the cliques and categories, there wasn’t one that seemed quite custom-made for me, so I did my best to fit myself in.
My high school was largely African-American dominated, and I finally found an identity and group I could relate to –a hip-hop and R&B aficionado myself, I made myself an honorary member of the Black Students’ Association.
As crazy as it sounds, it was a Bollywood movie I watched that transformed my life completely. That movie was Dil Se, directed by Mani Ratnam with music by AR Rahmen. As poignant as was the tragic romantic storyline set in conflict-ridden India, was the romantic Hindi-Arabic poetry and lyrics of the songs and exquisite melodies laced with emotion, inevitability, and spirituality. I looked up the lyrics and found that the words were more beautiful than I had fathomed, and I was immediately hooked to this Bollywood culture, in all of its drama, unreality, and song and dance, and I was hooked to the language.
From there it was a love affair as I started learning Bollywood songs one after another, building my repertoire, and performing locally at shows. the pinnacle was when I decided to leave for India to pursue my Indian music career. After all, at that point there was little to no real scene for Bollywood music here – India was the only place to be. So, what I ended up doing was radically different from anyone else I knew and yet it felt very right. The more I lived in india, the more right it felt. I loved everything about India – the warmth, the immediate friendship- friendship that seemed to come as the default, rather than as something that had to be “won over”, like in the US. Within a few months, I was speaking the language, Hindi, which I had never heard except in Bollywood movies or songs, and conversing with the rickshaw drivers and local businessmen with ease and jest. My sister started telling me that I had an “Indian accent” when I talked to her on the phone and would laugh at me.
Eventually my parents wanted me back in a normal, stable life in the United States. And so I’ve shuttled back and forth for the last 5 years between the two countries, the two worlds. In India, I am still that crazy NRI girl; in the US, I am the mysterious girl who fled to India, even though I am born and raised in the states. How do the two “me”s reconcile eachother? Where do they find a place they fully belong? There probably is not such a place for me, or for anyone. And at the point you realize that, you accept who you are and what makes you different, and you leverage it to make you shine.