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Read Resham’s beautifully penned personal story below. Thanks for sharing Resham. This is truly lovely.
Being Indian meant the world to me. If my world in Cambridge was sense, sensibility and long green walks in grey drizzle, then my life in Kolkata was technicolour. It went beyond the usual glib ‘Oh India is full of colour!’ It was much more than that. My annual trips to India filled me up, nourished me. But on the other hand, I was overwhelmed by this feeling that India didn’t love me nearly as much as I loved it. And by that, I mean Indians. A few of them. When you are small and impressionable, one negative remark goes a long way to dent your confidence.
It was because I didn’t conform to the idea that these people had about what an NRI looked like. I was short and dumpy, not particularly fair-skinned. I wasn’t long, lean or fashionable. Every year, as the Cambridge sun grew stronger in the sky and people squealed ecstatically about Indian summers, I would rush inside, worried that the same sun would tan me and make my aunts fret about how I was even darker than the year before or how it was kind of hilarious that people who travelled to the west tanned faster and more efficiently than those who had stayed behind. These were off-hand comments but they stayed with me. In India I would stock up on supplies of Fair and Lovely.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t really match up to people’s expectations in Cambridge either. I was, as above, too short, too dumpy, too plump to fit the idea that they had in their heads about what an Indian person should look like. I wasn’t long, lean and exotic. My limbs were not lotus-shaped and nor did my eyes resemble almonds. A few people here and there would comment on the food that I ate. I remember one time when my mother had been invited to talk to the children in my class about Diwali and they children balked at the prasad she’d made. My heart broke a little with every plop and rustle as each sandesh landed in the bin. During the summer fair, I would run and check to see if my mother’s samosas were selling out. Accompanied by their parents in a small but diverse university town, the children were far more open minded.
In both respects, growing up, I found myself feeling stranded from time to time. Too British for India. Too Indian for the British...This aspect of being the outsider looking in has probably given me the confidence that I have now. I am strident. I have learnt to look at both cultures objectively. I love them both. My heart belongs to both. I think, to a degree, it’s a learning that all third-culture kids have to undergo on their own. I am glad to have found voices that back up my own experiences in an online community. But I do think the journey is personal, there’s no template or blueprint that will help to get us through. Remembering me, as I was, I created a newsletter to help increase the representation of Indian children’s voices in Switzerland. For the last six months, I’ve been curating work from children of Indian origin across Switzerland and publishing the newsletter at the end of every month. We cover multiple topics that relate to both cultures. It’s a tiny attempt at providing a sense of community.
I no longer buy Fair and Lovely. Smeared in sunscreen, my children play in the sun. I actively resist people trying to talk to them about their colour. We talk about how wonderful their skin is and how we should take care of it and feed it good things. In Switzerland now, I see my son invested in the same anxiety that I once had about international food fairs! He circles back from time to time that my gajar ka halwa is being appreciated by the community he thinks of as his. We celebrate our individual, private culture by going ‘all-in’ during Indian festivities while also being very gung-ho about things like Pancake Day! Simultaneously, we try to participate actively in Switzerland’s own cultural life and practices. We try to do it all! However the most effective method by far has been through books. They provide a sense of catharsis that both I and my children long for and my greatest joy has been curating a representative bookshelf for them.
You can follow Resham on Instagram (@themigratorymum). She currently lives in Switzerland with her family.
This blog is the copyright of indigrow. Indigrow makes delightful books, games & songs that help little ones all over the world rediscover the magical world of India. Visit us at www.indigrowkids.com