For much of my young life, as a British Asian woman, I have often wondered why Indians (and general South Asians) tend to stare at each other more than white people. I went through all the phases: “they probably want my passport” “I hope they aren’t undressing me with their eyes” to “oh god, please don’t judge me!” Since I reviewed The Immigrant Diaries, the relationship that I have with my identity and those from Mother India, has significantly changed. I don’t get irritated or annoyed by the smell of tarkha (“curry smell”) and I am now much more mindful of how I perceive others.
No matter how far the river flows, it never forgets its source
Whenever I walk into a classroom, run a writing workshop or am placed in an environment where there is a young Indian boy or girl, I immediately sense and see their faces brighten up. They sit up a little straighter and they stare. Before, as mentioned, that would have irritated me but now I understand why. I remember whenever a non white guest speaker would come into school or help out in class, that I would feel a sense of reassurance, confidence and happy. At the time, I was one of a handful of South Asian girls in a sea of white, middle class girls – in that environment you don’t feel “normal” or like you fit in.
Seeing older non-white men and women gave me hope and the confidence that I didn’t have to be a white middle class girl to feel “normal” and achieve successes. It taught me to embrace my difference and be proud of where I came from. There was someone who looked like me doing things to help me and that empowered me as a child. To this very day, it still does. Similarly, young Indian (and South Asian) teens/children perk up because they get a sense of validation and comfort that they are not alone. This feeling of validation is applicable to South Asians staring at each other on public transport. We all joke about ethnic minorities doing the infamous nod to each other even if they’re complete strangers. The nod is more than just a nod: it’s an acknowledgement of each other, a deep rooted sense of respect and understanding of each other. It binds us.
Being able to finally understand this makes me feel very emotional – I feel like I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how South Asian identity in the West develops and evolves. So much so that I wrote an e-book “Colour Me In” about it to share with my readership and those who wish to broaden their understanding of identity in the diaspora.