Frustrations of being a British Born Indian Bengali

 

Born and brought up in the UK, I feel privileged to experience life in such a diverse country where different religions, cultures and beliefs are respected. That said, the Indian culture that I have experienced here is inevitably different compared to if I’d been brought up in India.

Visiting India every year, I have come across some misconceptions that people seem to have of the British Born which I will share below.

1. That non-resident Asians (may think they) are somehow ‘better’ than the resident Asians.

My mashi (maternal aunt) once told me a story of an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) woman at the gym that felt she was ‘entitled’ to be on a piece of gym equipment for longer than the suggested time….just because she lived abroad…..!!

And before you ask, no she wasn’t famous and EVEN if she was, it would still not be acceptable.

Yes, this is a true story.

Yes, it baffles me too.

Yes, it makes me ashamed and I apologise on behalf of all NRIs to any Resident Indians that may have experienced this outrageous behaviour.

No, we are NOT better.

We are ALL equal.

NRIs ARE OF course going to differ.

2nd, 3rd and subsequent generations born and brought up away from the country of heritage, WILL obviously be different from their corresponding cousins brought up in the homeland.

That is a given, due to differences in culture and society, yet there is NOT and should NOT ever be a distinction between who is ‘better’.

2.       Just because we’re non-resident, we are apparently incapable of venturing out alone or being independent.

There is a wonderful scene in the award-winning film, The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair, adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, of Gogol trying to go for a run in the chaotic streets of Kolkata. His Indian family become so worried that Sahib babu (Sahib – means ‘foreigner’ Babu – affectionate name for a boy/son/friend) cannot handle these unfamiliar surroundings, that they send out their servant to follow him.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the concern of my elders; any country holds risk and potential dangers if one is not alert and aware of their surroundings. However, to wrap us up in cotton wool in some false hope that these troubles will disappear, is in my opinion worse. Shielding us from the harshness of life is understandable when one is young, yet as we grow older, it is imperative that we, as tomorrow’s adults, learn how to best deal with hardships, how to be independent and responsible simultaneously and how to be the peace in times of chaos rather than continue a cycle of not avoiding the real issues entirely.

Have faith that we are culturally aware and responsible enough to make educated choices in today’s world and that even if you don’t, we still have faith in humanity, despite the many times you remind us that ‘din kal kharap’ (times are bad, in this day and age’).

3.       The misconception that we are all uncultured and uninterested in our heritage. 

There have been too many times to count where distant relatives and family friends have assumed I could not speak Bengali and have asked my mother questions about me, whilst I have been sitting there in front of them like an inanimate object! Others have started talking English to me and seem taken aback when I in fact reply in Bengali.

By no means am I completely fluent (I am still working on being able to write the script) yet I do take pride in knowing the language, taking an interest in the culture; whether it be visiting India every year or being sucked into watching the Indian soaps that my mother watches religiously!

Even the little things:

Turning up to school on a Monday morning with a right hand full of ‘yellow’ finger nails because Sunday was spent eating curry heavily laden with turmeric with my fingers, being admonished frequently for not oiling my hair enough or having all our appliances still in their protective plastic covers!

These little things make up my bigger picture, and denying them would remove a huge part of my British Indian Bengali identity. I appreciate that other people may disagree but for me personally, I am proud to say these make up who I am.

Disclaimer:

All views are my own. One may find they can relate to certain or all aspects of this post which is what I intended by sharing it. It does not however represent the views of ALL British Born Indian Bengalis, or British Born Asians for that matter. I am merely 1, and there are many of us around so attempting to characterise all musings would be difficult.

I’m open to adding more to this list so please feel free to comment below, subscribe on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and get in touch!

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