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Indian-American

When I started my first day of pre-school, I didn’t know how to speak English. In my melodramatic memories of the day, I spent the whole day crying for my mom in Hindi surrounded by people who had no idea what I was saying. According to my mom, I actually just cried for a little bit and started to figure out how to communicate soon after. It was only a matter of a few weeks before I was fluent in English. Unfortunately, with my newly acquired English skills, I lost my ability to speak Hindi. 

When you grow up with two cultures on your hands, you have to figure out how to divide your time between consuming Western culture and your own culture. This is a difficult prospect, especially when you’re 7 years old and Pokemon is much more interesting than trying to create a cultural bond to a country that you’re unfamiliar with. It seems even less interesting when you haven’t been back to India for years, and your most vivid memory was becoming so dehydrated that you couldn’t walk.

For most of my childhood, my disinterest in my culture resulted in a tenuous attachment to Indian culture. I would watch the occasional Bollywood movie with my parents, trying to stifle my laughter at the absurdity and escapism that I couldn’t yet appreciate. I barely spoke the language, making it difficult to understand what was happening when the subtitles would randomly cut out halfway through the movie. We would listen to Bollywood songs in the car occasionally and I would read comic books about the Hindu gods. I still consumed Indian culture, but I never felt that Indian. 

Despite being around a tremendous amount of brown people my whole life, I never had a lot of brown friends. The South Asian friends that I had usually weren’t very plugged into their culture or were intimidatingly knowledgable about the homeland. It felt impossible to relate to either of these groups, so for a long time, I just didn’t. 

The only time that I would truly feel connected to my culture was with food. Home for me is the khichdi and mattar paneer that my mom makes. It’s the chai that she steeps every morning and every time anyone comes over. Despite the fact that I can barely communicate with my grandparents, I cherish the memories of going to my nani's house on Sundays and having hot aloo parathas with white butter. One of my fondest memories of my late nana was when he would open up new packages of Parle G for me to dip in chai. Even now, seeing my nani just means getting offered food as I try to tell her things are good in broken Hindi. 

A few months ago, I ended up finding a few people with similar relationships to their “brownness.” We planned a decidedly brown evening, by making pani puri, eating samosas and watching a Bollywood movie from our childhoods, Dhoom 2. We laughed at the terrible plot, marveled at the unworldly dance moves of Hrithik Roshan, and ate an absurd amount of fried food. All at once, it felt like things started to click. For once, it felt like my life’s narrative was starting to weave all of these components of my identity together.

I’ve been trying to learn more about the different aspects of different culture: mainly by listening to older Bollywood songs by the greats like Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. In the past few weeks at home, I’ve started to watch classic films that my parents grew up, most notably Karz and Chupke Chupke. Each of these songs and movies feels familiar and comforting. As I get ready to go off into the world for myself, I know that I’ll be able to feel at home just by playing these songs and connecting not only with my amazing memories with my parents but with the homeland, my vatan
Drops of the Week
where I *drop* recommendations of cool things this week
Article
“I *Just* Realized How Important Bollywood Movies Are to My Identity” by Ishani Nath- great article that makes a lot of points that I was thinking about when writing this. It has the added benefit of speaking about the problematic nature of many Bollywood films in terms of sexism. 
Film
Chupke Chupke- hilarious 1975 movie starring some of the greatest Indian actors of all time. A whole lotta fun.
Album
Weekly 12- haven’t been listening to a lot of new music, but my brother still updates this playlist weekly! check it out.
Thanks so much for reading! If you have any comments/concerns or fan/hate mail for me, you know how to reach me (links below). 

Love,
Nikhil
<3

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Nikhil · 325327 Georgia Tech Station · Atlanta, GA 30332 · USA

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