Homeward Browned

Third-culture brown woman searches for a place called "home" (Currently in India)



A Musician’s Daughter

In Search of Crescendos

All of 6, I strode sleepy eyed into my living room. The sound of a room filled with musicians tuning their instruments had woken me up. The living room was packed with a stringed ensemble setting up for their practice session. Bows occasionally clashed, and stands were shared as clips held sheets upon sheets of music in place.

My dad is a musician and the sight was far from unfamiliar. Tonight the likes of Mozart, Handel and Bach would be brought to life in my very own home. As I stood at the far end of the dining room – after having made my way through a maze of instrument cases, music stands and towering uncles- only one thought ran through my mind: “There goes my TV time!”.

But that was a long time ago. Unknowingly, all the pieces they played stayed with me. I often find myself humming along to…

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My Grandmother’s Man-Sized Butterfly Net

When a desi woman turns 23 or graduates from college, whichever milestone of higher value comes first, a very peculiar thing happens. Very peculiar indeed. She might lose a limb or two, or a large hole may appear in her chest, growing incrementally larger with every day she ages. She may even start fading away, like in a photograph of Marty McFly’s siblings or begin to resemble a nice slice of Swiss cheese (aesthetically, not odorifically). Whatever the nature of her fragmentation, when her dear old granny looks at her granddaughter all she sees is an incomplete, hole-y piece of cheese. This beautiful, witty, hilarious young woman with a Bachelors with Honours who provides pro bono legal aid services to disadvantaged families on the weekends and does newspaper crosswords in ball-point pen when she isn’t backpacking across Eastern Europe is now simply a single salt shaker from a matching set of two. What is salt without pepper, I ask you, dear reader? The answer, quite truthfully: nothing. Can you imagine salting your fried egg without peppering it? Ugh, gross.

The simplest solution to this age-old conundrum is, of course, one of those comically large phalluses, err, pepper grinders you see in Italian restaurants that claim to be pastiche but are really quite sincere in their rustic rusticness. Now that you’ve got my drift I’ll do away with my salt ‘n’ pepper metaphor, which admittedly was working rather well up until I got hungry and cooked a six-egg frittata.

The day after granddaughter’s graduation, Dadi/Nani burrows into the deep, dark recesses of her mothballed closet to find that handy little thing she buried back there when her friend’s great-niece got hitched. After 4 days and 5 nights in the burrow, Dadi/Nani emerges triumphant, clutching in her tiny, wrinkly little fist a man-sized butterfly net. It’s time to go man-huntin’! Now don’t be silly, dearest darlingest reader, grannies don’t simply use butterfly nets to catch men. Sometimes they use lassoes. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Catch her a man, obvs.

The thing is, I don’t really have a problem with some good old matchmaking fun. For those of us who enjoy the company of a companion, it is quite a welcome kindness. The problem is the granny-approved belief that eligible bachelors are the rarest, most precious substance on Earth that can probably solve the energy crisis. Young girls are encouraged to patao or entrap one of these flawless creatures, fighting off other young women to do so. The snot-nosed, golden-haired little princes sit on velvet-tufted divans (think an Indian Kim Jong-Un) while their mothers call around town instructing the poor peasantry (parents of girls) on what they want in a daughter-in-law. I think it’s time for the peasant class to overthrow their overlords once and for all and ask, nay, demand: “Well, what the fuck does your slack-jawed, soft-bellied, certified pervert son bring to the table, I say?”

My heart races at the thought of the panic that would ensue once the women of Asia realise their worth. We could feed off of the anxiety we cause when we tell prying Aunties that we don’t really care for men nor marriage, and we’re having quite a good time, to be honest. A weird little husband would kind of ruin what we got going on. Your sons don’t really do it for us, Aunties. We get that you’re trying to get your product off your shelves, but it isn’t really what we’re buying, and it’s kind of cheap quality.

A woman who doesn’t need a man or the approval of society scares the shit out of people – and it’s time for Halloween in India. In the original telling of Cinderella, the stepsisters actually cut off parts of their feet and try to stuff the bloody mess into the glass slipper to convince Prince Charming (more like Prince Boring) to choose them. I hope we’re done cutting off bits of ourselves to win men who aren’t really worth the trouble, and we should embrace our big, hairy (this is an honest piece) Indian feet. The moral of my story, my salt shakers, is that Indian women don’t really need men to complete them. We’re great just as we are. And if we do get married, it’s on our terms – and we don’t want substandard maal.

I’ll show you my punctuation marks if you show me yours

My Eyes Are Stuck

When I was a little girl I hated going to school. I hated the early start, the uniform, the ill-mannered, awkward monsters I shared the school bus with, and the classes that were “totally a waste of time!”. Mostly the early start – my friends and family can attest to the fact that I am categorically not a morning person.

My parents’ favourite anecdote (which they unfailingly pull out at dinner parties, birthdays, religious festivals, etc.) has always been the time when, after being nudged awake by them for school, 5 year old me decided to fake it ’til I made it. I squeezed my eyes shut and fake bawled “My eyes are stuck!”. My cunning plan must have been pathetically see-through (as is anything conceived by a tiny 5-year old brain) because I fell for the old there’s-a-giant-spider-on-your-pillow trick for the zillionth time. Note to parents: This trick works surprisingly well. After hysterically swatting my pillow and legit crying because I swear I could feel spider eggs in my ear canal, I was in the bathroom in 8 seconds while my sister cruelly laughed. Self-pity was kind of my thing growing up.

But each and every one of those mornings, although I had my trusty (and very cool) clock radio alarm, my father would get me out of bed, iron my clothes, make my breakfast, and – my favourite part of the day – he would wait for the 5:45am school bus with me. We would talk about school (mine), work (his), the news, the weather, grasp for anything that would jolt our sleepy heads awake for the day. He gave me advice that I never took, but he’d make sure he’d tell me anyway, over the rolling eyes and know-it-all sighs.

Fast forward 20 years and I’ve officially been a university graduate for 4 months with 1,001 job applications sent and 1 interview (I bravely turned down the job I knew I’d hate) under my belt. While struggling to wake up to my modest 9 AM alarm after three years of mid-morning risings and actually achieve something today I realised that I am one of those mythical beasts we’ve all feared turning into – an adult. I’ll never wait for the school bus with my dad again, to be taken to school and be told what to learn and when I’ll be challenged and know I have another year all mapped out for me by well-meaning adults. My education bubble has officially burst and there is no giant icky eight-legged motivation on my pillow forcing me to jumpstart my life.

There is so much I have no control over right now (the imminent start to a long-distance relationship when I moved to Bangalore, India), and so much more that I have absolute control over (my career). What the future will bring is a testament to how well I take control of what I create and work for, as much as it is a testament to how well I can relinquish control over my relationship to the forces of distance and uncertainty.

While friends and family will be even more present (I’ll be moving in with my dad whose advice I still don’t take), these are my eyes and only I can unstick them.

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