In Part 2, I list three more Reasons Why I am an Indian…but not Really, or Why I am a Part-Time Indian:
To read Part 1, click here.
4. I do not like wearing Indian clothes.
Now I do like wearing them on occasion, be it a simple salwar kameez or sari, or even the very rarely worn “kurti” over jeans, I am not entirely opposed to wearing Indian clothes. However, I like to save them to special occasions only and even so, not always. I knew how to wear a sari early in my teens. My mother always complimented me on how well I did and among other things, told my little sister (Bless her heart) to learn from my example.
I am not the Indian-clothes-bindi-wearing Indian woman you may see on the streets of San Jose or Chicago (more San Jose, don’t remember seeing many dressed as such in Chicago). I am not sure what it is about wearing Indian clothes to which I am opposed – but I think some of the reasons are – the inconvenience, the top-to-bottom cover in warm/hot weather, the dupatta for needless modesty (although this is optional now), the need to accessorize (if I wear Indian clothes, I need to wear the right kind of pretty jewelry and bindi too to complete the ensemble, the right shoes matter too), and not wanting to be perceived as a FOB, which is perhaps the biggest reason.
Perceptions aside, I just don’t like wearing Indian clothes, whether in the US or in India (even though when I do visit India, I try to hit a balance of my usual staple of pants, capris, skirts, and salwar kameezs).
When I see Indians in Indian clothes in the US (not talking about aunties, just people my generation), I feel nothing. People can wear whatever they want. I just don’t want to be dressed like that.
The Bindi – I don’t mind it but I refuse to wear it over Western clothing. That, to me, is really awkward. I know why some women do it and I respect their reason. It’s just not for me. Ever! I will wear a bindi, if I remember where one is, over Indian clothes. The kind of hybrid, bindi over jeans and kurti or yoga pants and t-shirt…is just weird to me.
5. I am not religious. In fact, I am an atheist.
Hinduism is the non-conscious ideology in India. I was raised a Hindu. Theoretically, I still am. I was taught that the greatness of the Hindu religion is that even if you choose to abandon it, you will still (and always) be a Hindu. Hmm.
I have zero patience for religious propagation, the exaggerated rituals, sexist traditions, mindless and illogical do’s and don’ts, “God men” who rape, contradictory belief systems within the same religious ethos, and perhaps one of the worst offenders – hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars (or rupees) donated to certain temples and Gods in the form of cash or gold (I don’t understand the fascination, even obsession, with celebrating the “richest” Gods in the country in terms of how much gold they have…SERIOUSLY!!) when millions in the home country are starving, are homeless, don’t have sanitary living conditions or toilets, where farmers are killing themselves over debts, and where a billionaire builds a billion dollar house as a personal residence, among other things.
I was never religious and this was always a point of contention between my mother and me. I would go along with her on some things but always gripped about doing them. For example, for our safety or to ward off our fears or to wish us the best in exams or for anything really, she would offer a small donation to a local temple should things work in our favor. When they did, she would make the promised donation. The times when she promised a God that she would bring me with her to offer prayers were the ones I hated the most. I didn’t want to go. If it’s your thing, you do it, don’t make me, I would tell her. In recent years, she had stopped making the promise of bringing me along.
My mother was extremely religious. Her prayers lasted at least 30-45 minutes. She would not eat lunch before she finished all her prayers which given the long list of errands and chores she needed accomplished prior to praying/lunch time was so long, she regularly ate lunch around 3:30 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. When the rest of us were getting ready for an evening snack, having eaten the lunch she had lovingly prepared and kept ready for us by 1:00 p.m., if not sooner, she would have just sat down for lunch.
After her death, I went from religious ambiguity/non-conformity to atheism. One of the first things I did after returning home from India after attending to my mother’s funeral rituals, was ask my husband to take down the little home temple I used to keep on the kitchen countertop. I haven’t looked back.
If being an Indian (Hindu-Indian) means being religious, visiting temples, hosting religious events, fasting, and such, I am not an Indian. I still respect other people’s religious views (within reason), always have, and will even attend religious events to which I may be invited but don’t make me pray. I will not do that. Not anymore. Still, I may take my kids to a temple or two to introduce them to temples and the many Gods and Goddesses as a cultural experience and NOT, as a religious exercise that they may grow to resent.
6. I eat beef. I love ribs.
The first time I ate beef, unknowingly, was when bits of it were premixed into a ramen cup I ate while on a school trip to Okinawa. This was back when I lived in Japan. It was only after a classmate (who knew I didn’t eat beef) brought this to my attention that I realized that my “dharm was now bhrasht”. I didn’t eat beef again until after I moved to the US and sometime in 2003 or 2004 had a out-of-nowhere craving for a cheeseburger. Watching an advertisement for the same on TV while being very hungry, may have had something to do with it.
The third time (and since), I started eating beef after meeting my husband and during our dating days. We decided to cook meatloaf for dinner one day and I was so disgusted by the mixing of all that ground beef that I asked Aaron to take over and he finished the rest of the process. That was just that one day.
Since then, and many meatloaves, meatballs, burgers, stews, steaks, and 1 beef tongue episode (I was offered this as a delicacy while temporarily living in Mexico and I couldn’t refuse) later, I am a full-blown meat eater (although I will never eat beef tongue again). I get the protein argument although I also believe you can get protein through other non-meat methods. Mostly, I eat and cook beef because it is really easy and quick to cook. That it also tastes extremely delicious, just adds to reasons I like eating it.
Chronologically, I ate pork before I ate beef. Also in Japan. My host families, just as I, were starting to feel quite limited in what they could cook for me given that I could neither eat beef nor pork. Wanting to respect my dietary restrictions, they tried all kinds of things but as a mother and chief cook at home now, I get the inconvenience of having had to cook separately for this non-meat eating visiting Indian.
So, my teenage logic said, if Muslims can eat beef and not pork, technically, as a Hindu, I should be able to eat pork, if not beef. Done. Teenage logic won. My host families were much happier at having one more option to feed me and the whole family after I told them my decision to eating pork.
I didn’t eat pork again until 2010 when I went to a Ribs Festival with my then boyfriend, now husband. I LOVED it! What a novel way to cook! Since then, and many rib festivals later, I do enjoy my pork but only as pulled pork, pepperoni, and ribs and we very, very rarely cook it or eat it, even otherwise.
The concluding part, Part 3 of 3, of my life as a part-time Indian will be posted in a few days.