How Indian Am I?

We live in a small market town where we stand out as the few ethnic inhabitants. Our eldest daughter attends a Church of England village school where diversity just doesn’t exist to the same extent as surrounding towns. Our daughter speaks delightful Gujarati in a distinctly English accent. You get the picture. We’ve assimilated!

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel that despite all the wonderful exposure to the eclectic mix of cultures we live among, I need to retain something of my own roots: surely this is just human nature? We have always done prayers before bedtime and both girls love singing bhajans (well, what few I happen to know!) and Indian nursery rhymes (I’ve had to learn). We still attend key cultural events in our local area and try to incorporate stuff from our culture into our home, in the hope that some of our culture is absorbed.

Despite being a fairly well-adjusted and confident woman, it surprised me recently when I was accused of being confused about my identity. I found myself getting a tad defensive about it and tried to put my case forward for the fact that not only do I understand something about British culture and history, but have made my own efforts to understand more about Indian history too.

I thought I had been pretty balanced and was raising our kids to appreciate their Indian heritage too.

On reflection I think it’s so easy for Indians (the ones living in India and those living elsewhere) to wear their patriotism on their sleeve; a badge of honour. But being Indian is more than a shirt or a team that you support. It’s not about which national anthem you know, or whether you’re willing to stand up when it is played or sung. I don’t believe you need to be labelled as either “this” or “that” either: my grandfather moved here as a young man in 1954 so I am as British as most British people can be. But I am also Indian. I can identify myself as both. That’s not confusion. That’s a privilege. I get the best of being both. If that still sounds defensive, it’s perhaps supposed to be; I choose the balance of each ingredient in my cooking and in the same way, I choose which values and heritage I absorb for myself and for my family. Afterall, if we cling to just being indian, we miss the point of the beauty of this melting pot of cultures we live in.

I think where you choose to identify yourself with runs deeper than anthems, badges, knowledge or what songs you know. It’s what you identify yourself to be; it’s a feeling. If I feel Indian, it’s because I am. If I come across as being very British; it’s because I am.

Don't mistake my English accent for a sign that I have forgotten who I am or where I come from! Equally, don’t mistake the colour of my skin as a sign that I belong to some notion of outdated stereotype either!

I don’t believe future generations will define themselves by their heritage, race or nationality. Perhaps we should start by simply identifying ourselves as citizens of the world!

(I can't wait to see what you have to say about this!)


  • Chandni says...

    Well written. As a British Indian myself I am much more interested in the subtle cultural traits of being British and being Indian, than the ones for outward show – traits that unite instead of divide. I agree with the privilege of our position to be able to choose how we live and what resonates well with our innate personalities :-)

    On Aug 20, 2017

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