When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a woman. But I don’t think the rest of the world sees that and it has always caused me to grow self-conscious and frustrated. I can’t tell you how many times my mother and the other women in my life have told me that I should be thankful people think me younger than my age, but it isn’t a compliment at my age. It isn’t a compliment when a nineteen-year-old is confused for a fourteen-year-old, on any level. Why? Because there’s a difference between being confused as a twenty-five-year old for a thirty-year-old, and as a fourteen-year-old and nineteen. When you question a thirty-year-old of her age, you are questioning her beauty and youthfulness, not her intelligence and maturity. When you confuse a nineteen-year-old for fourteen, you are most definitely looking at their looks, but mainly you are judging their level intelligence and maturity based off the age you assume them to be.
I want to say I look like any other girl but I know for a fact that, that is a big fat lie. I am barely 5 foot one, with limited curves (my hips are wide, but my breasts and butt are average), a skin tone I like to call as 60% dark chocolate, and a mass of curly hair that is the best symbolic representation of my personality. For the sake of the age approximation of a woman, people normally zero in on height and curves. Now being short already brings my age down (interesting concept that shortness equals youth), but short with minimal curves? Yeah, you can see why people assume I’m fourteen. Most people might think that curves aren’t a factor but when you are short, they do. Many girls that are short have a full figure, a figure that comes with obvious age and development. Therefore, when people look at me they see a girl that is short and probably still developing. The reality is that I have been the same body type and height since I was around thirteen years old. My body isn’t changing any time soon…unless I do something drastic which is very unlikely. So where does height come in? Well, if anybody read the book “Divergent” by Veronica Roth they will remember the main character Tris Prior and her insecurities about her body. Tris, at sixteen, is in much the same predicament as me. She isn’t curvy, she isn’t tall, but she is still close to be an adult. There is a particular scene that I always reflect on, where Tris is with her mentor/love interest Four, and she wished that she was taller, as she believes it will make her look her age, or older which might be attractive to Four. She describes how that if she was tall at least she would appear “willowy”, and not “childish”. Height, and curves define a woman’s body, a body which everyone judges and comes to conclusions about her age, an age which defines her level of intelligence or maturity.
Now why do we honestly believe that age is a precursor to intelligence and maturity? Because the common misconception is that the older you are, the more experiences you have, the likelier you are to have yourself together, and understand the world around you. This is NOT true. I know and hear of plenty of people who assume they know themselves, know the world around them, and understand where they want to go, and then a year later break down and realize that they haven’t been honest with themselves. Maturity is something that doesn’t come with age. It comes with experience, and open-mindedness. In order for us to experience new things, new situations, and new ideas we must be open to criticism, open to trying new things, and open to new experiences. If you go into a new experience thinking you know everything you get the opposite result, you walk away learning nothing. You go in with an open mind, and you actually are able to learn something from said experience. It stands to reason that the older you are the more time you have to develop those learning experiences and cultivate knowledge, however, correlation does not equal causation. Just because one person is older doesn’t mean that they obtained as many experiences in their time on earth as the younger person sitting next to them. The older person might have just spent majority of their life playing video games, living with their parents, and doing the same things they did growing up. The younger person could have cultivated work experience, traveled, participated in different activities and movements, and met numerous people in either the same amount or less time. Age does not equal maturity. It’s the openness, curiosity and desire to experience the world around you that brings it about.
Furthermore, how you look does not equal your age, which does not equal your intelligence or maturity level. There is no way that this is the equation of how we should be seen in the world:
Looks (height, weight, curves, wrinkles, etc.) = Age = Experience = Intelligence = Maturity
Life doesn’t work that way, I’m sorry. Stop making judgments on who someone is based on how he or she looks.
I went to Sri Lanka for the first time in seventeen years this past summer, and almost everyone I met believed me to be fourteen…until I opened my mouth. When I told one man that I was eighteen after having spoken on a political issue he told me that he had never heard an eighteen-year-old speak like I did and was very impressed, but he had thought I was fourteen before I had given my age. You can see that there is no correlation whatsoever between my level of intelligence and maturity in comparison to my age or how old people perceive me to be from my looks.
When I look in the mirror I see a woman not with a height of five-foot-one, average curves, and high cheek bones. No, I see a woman with confidence, pride, and a desire to be happy. I see a woman willing to work hard, and prepare for a future. I see a woman who is done with the critical looks others throw at her as she walks in the grocery store, sits in a class, or attends a party. I see a woman that has had enough with the stereotypical thoughts that run through a person’s head when they first see a woman. This is the woman in me. Can you see her? Can you understand her? Maybe you can. But if you can’t, that means that you aren’t looking deep enough. How old I look and what my age actually is doesn’t define who I am. I define who I am, because that is the woman in me.
Oh Victoria’s Secret, the largest lingerie store, whose name almost always pops up in every movie, or book that mentions bras or panties. It’s the store that has grown so large that is known by just about everyone. I would say that everything they have there is gorgeous, is of high quality, and has a classy look, but that doesn’t mean I agree with their entire brand. As a nineteen-year-old woman, walking into Victoria’s Secret is one of the most intimidating things ever. The books and movies make it look sexy, exploratory, and fun, but honestly that is the furthest thing from the truth. Bra shopping as it is can be stressful and irritating, but walking into Victoria’s Secret is a whole other level of stress.
When I go bra shopping I make sure I know what my bra size is, and for every other store my size stays the same. This is not necessarily the case when I walk into Victoria’s Secret. Their sizes are completely different from stores like Kohl’s, TJ Maxx, Marshals, JC Penney, or Macy’s. Where I am a 34 B in those stores, I somehow become a 34 C in Victoria’s Secret. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but then the bra that I try on there is actually a size smaller than the one I wear. That’s when I begin to question whether I am actually a 34 B, maybe I imagined it. Maybe I’m a 34 D. But wait, my breasts are smaller than my girlfriend who is a 34 D. But the 34 C and the 34 B bras don’t fit me. What on earth is my size? I end up having to follow the sales clerk around all over the store and none of the bras seem to fit quite right. Many would say that I should take the bra that fits as best as possible and just go, but here’s the thing, if I am going to buy a high quality bra that is more than $30 then I want it to fit properly. Also, bras are not a t-shirt that will shrink or stretch. They are items that you want to fit right the first time, that way you aren’t in public trying to adjust yourself because either your breasts are hanging out or you can’t breathe.
For those of you who caught the $30 price and think I am joking, then I must tell you that I am not. High quality is not cheap, which makes sense, but in that price I want to pay for only the quality not the brand name. In reality, $15 of that $30 is probably for the brand name, while the other $15 is for the quality. Though all of my friends and I can agree that Victoria’s Secret sells very good quality bras, we can all also agree that the prices are just way too high sometimes. But this is true for all retail sellers that sell bras and panties. I will never understand why such necessities are so pricy. Society not only insists we wear bras and panties, but then has the nerve to hike the price up that many women cannot afford them! It’s a basic necessity that women need, therefore I don’t think they should be priced so high in ANY store. Victoria’s Secret sets the standard, and I believe if they come down in their prices so will their competitors and other stores.
Aside from the sizing and pricing, there is the fact that the store itself is very intimidating. You’re surrounded by half-naked, gorgeously sexy.
women who are modeling amazing lingerie. It’s very overwhelming, and I feel like a little girl asking the sales clerk for help when I’m looking for a plain t-shirt bra. How unsexy is that? Victoria’s Secret markets sexy, it’s what sells, but they don’t seem to understand that many women just want to buy a bra that lasts more than two years. The quality of the merchandise is perfect, so it would make sense that every few years I’d stop by to pick up a couple bras and panties that will last me a few years. However, for whatever reason every time I walk into the store I feel as though I have to buy something sexy with lace, silk, or satin or else I appear like a baby. In addition to that, when I try on the lingerie I feel like a total dork compared to the gorgeous model who is on the back of the changing room door.
It’s even more uncomfortable when the store doesn’t exactly cater to your size. Many women don’t have model figures, because we all come in different beautiful shapes and sizes. You wouldn’t know whether Victoria’s Secret sells lingerie for plus sized women, or women slightly over the weight limit of a model. Why? Because all of their models appear to be the same exact size. That may not be true in reality, but photo shop is a photo editor’s favorite tool. If Victoria’s Secret truly wants to be the biggest, well respected, and liked lingerie store they need to start marketing to all women. I love watching Lane Bryant commercials that celebrates body diversity compared to the Victoria’s Secret ads that I see. Lane Bryant doesn’t just use women of all sizes and shapes, they also use models and actresses of different skin colors. Sure Victoria’s Secret has models for African Origin or possess a slightly darker shade of skin, but you don’t see models that are dark skinned. Furthermore, the hair of all the models are long and flow, or short and flow, but not one of them have curly hair. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but this what today we define as beautiful. If we exclude women of dark color, of curly hair, of various sizes then we are indirectly saying they are not beautiful, when that is not true at all.
In today’s day and age teenage girls, and young women need to be empowered when watching ads for panties and bras, because those are items that define them. They need to be able to identify with the models on TV. The need to see their body shape in them, see their skin tone in them, see their hair in them, see their confidence in them. Body Diversity is what sells, not the same shape, same or similar skin tone, or same or similar hair type. As the largest seller of lingerie, this company is the prime of example of using the body to sell products. And as the largest seller, they are the ones who define what is deemed “beautiful”, so they have a responsibility to all women to show that everyone is beautiful no matter their shape, size, or color. I believe that in order for Victoria’s Secret to truly succeed or be respected they must take on this responsibility, and help change our capitalist society’s view that there is only certain people that can be deemed “beautiful”. They also have the responsibility of showing that all women should be able to afford bras, panties, and possibly even sexy lingerie.
I will not be watching the 2016 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, but I do know that I admire the fact that they are the only store that has made such a big name for themselves just by catering to women. I just hope that they will make amends and set the stage for a much needed change in the definition of “beauty” and “affordability”.
It’s kind of funny, if not slightly irritating watching or listening people form and ask the same question over and over again, when I say I want to be a writer. Hell, I don’t even have to say that, I simply have to state that my major is journalism, and everyone goes into a frenzy. You won’t believe how many times I end up having to make people understand why I do what I do, and why my goal is what it is. It’s stupid. You don’t see people questioning a person who wants to do medicine, or someone who wants to do engineering. No you always see the people who want to do liberal arts suddenly put in front of a judge, a jury, and an executioner.
It’s hard as it is to succeed in a liberal arts field, I don’t need another set of people judging me, not based off of my talent and capabilities, but on my desire to be a writer. People in today’s society don’t quite understand the need for liberal arts. When they hear the term, liberal arts they think: writer, actor, singer, poet, etc. All of which are highly competitive careers. And because they are so highly competitive, people only know the odds of making it big, and criticize those who want to try their talent.
Of course, there is competition within the STEM fields, but you don’t exactly hear about it, why? Because there are an abundance of engineers, doctors, IT associates, and on and on. Some would say that’s because the job is easy. No, that’s not the case at all. The thing is that all the people who are incapable of performing these jobs are weeded out through college. So many students drop chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics, biology, and many other courses that are needed to succeed in STEM fields. Why? Because those courses are pretty freaking hard! But you don’t exactly need a degree to be a writer, a singer, an actor, or many other liberal art professions, mainly because these careers aren’t based off of an academic understanding, but off of a talent that people have cultivated outside of the classroom. It’s like sports. You don’t learn how to play football and succeed at it by sitting only in the locker room and strategizing plays. No, you go out and try new strategies for new plays, that will help win games. STEM is taught solely in an academic and classroom understanding. Sports and arts…not so much.
This makes people think that, “Well can’t anybody do it then?”. My response is, “Well, obviously not, considering the high ranking of competition people have in succeeding in Hollywood, reaching top charts in book sales, and headlining the song billboards and radios.” It’s like they can’t even acknowledge that it takes real talent, skill, and quite a bit of patience and motivation to get someone where they want to be in the artist world. But then the next argument is that, “But what about the people that make it big because of their connections, and money?”. My response: “Yeah, well corruption is going to exist everywhere in the world because of we are humans, and we are prideful, greedy, hedonistic, creatures. There’s corruption in the arts for sure, but also in politics, business, and yes there is definitely corruption in the STEM field.” Bet not everybody knows or acknowledges this idea. Yes my dears, there is definite corruption in the STEM fields. Scientists who want to sell their findings to the highest bidder to make a name for themselves, people who steal each other’s research in order to claim their own glory, people who simply decide that sabotaging an associate is worth more for their job title. Here’s an example: when researching the shape of DNA, Rosalind Franklin was the first to actually discover that DNA was shaped in the form of a Double Helix. However, she was also working, not necessarily with, but around two other male scientists, Francis Crick, and James Watson. These two noble, young, male scientists didn’t discover the formation of DNA until they looked at, and stole a couple files that Franklin had been researching through the man’s lab she was working in, Maurice Wilkins. Maurice had allowed Rosalind to work in his lab, and when she wasn’t up for sharing her findings he allowed Crick and Watson a look at her information, without her permission. Guess who took credit for the “discovery”? Yes, the two young, male, scientists. Who got the Nobel Prize for it? You guessed it, Watson and Crick. So, the next time someone wants to point out the corruption in the artist world, take a look and the corruption that surrounds every field. You can’t get away from it.
So why is there this stigma against artists? Why do I constantly have to deal with the crooked looks, and constant questions about whether my parents (specifically my father) are okay with me becoming a journalist or a creative writer. My theory is that many people have grown up a certain way to believe that STEM and academics are the only way this world progresses, and the only way to make money, but I can tell you differently. You need creativity in order to progress, without it there’s no way technology could have advanced, infrastructure could be constructed, policies could be made, and critiques of society could be heard. When people come up to me and ask whether I’m sure I want to become a writer It ell them I’ve wanted it for years, which I have. I know where I want to go in life, and I know what paths are open to me in order to get there. The problem is that when people’s ideas are challenged and questioned they suddenly feel the need to impose their own beliefs upon others, in order to make themselves feel as if what they know is still true. You can believe that STEM and academics are the only way to make money, but that doesn’t mean I have to believe it, so don’t try and convince me otherwise. People need art for progression, but at the same time, people in artistic fields shouldn’t completely shut themselves off from the sciences, because we need to understand technology and sciences in order to make decisions in today’s society. You can’t live without one or the other, but what you choose to make your career out of shouldn’t be constantly questioned. Both sides are important for our world, it’s not a competition on which one is better, because they are both valuable.
In summation, the arguments against arts and for STEM fields are ludicrous, just as any argument for art and against STEM would be. Both are competitive fields, just in different areas. Both have corruption, and lastly, both lead people to happiness. So let’s set aside this stigma for either field, and in this case the arts because that’s what I’ve experienced most, and just accept the fact that people don’t need unsolicited advice. If I wanted your advice I would have asked for it, so please excuse me while I return to my road to self-growth, hope, and success.
There’s something to be said about a couple walking into a restaurant, and the waiter immediately greeting, and standing by the man and asking for his order. It sounds ridiculous to be picking apart such a seemingly inconsequential scenario, but honestly think about the last time you walked into a restaurant with someone of the opposite sex. If you were the male, did the waiter approach you first, and ask you for the order, for that matter did the waiter looked to you for a confirmation once the female ordered. How about at the end of the meal? Did the waiter give you the bill, did the leave it in the middle, or did they give it to your female companion?
Here in the US we don’t like to say that we are a patriarchal society, no we like to identify with everything other than gender. We say, we are a free society, a melting pot, a place of opportunity. And we may very well may not be a patriarch, but if you compare America to a matriarchal society…well we certainly aren’t that either. Maybe we’re in between, and it sounds pretty good, but I don’t think we are seeing that we lean more towards the patriarchal side than the matriarchal.
In all the places I’ve been to I have never been treated or as respected as when I was in Sri Lanka. Growing up in the USA, and traveling to various countries with my family I never questioned why a waiter did not acknowledge my mother the way they acknowledged my father, mainly because they assumed he was the one with the money, I suppose. But there are many families where the woman holds the money, for that matter there are families where there is only a woman to lead the family, however they aren’t respected as such.
Many would say I’m being nit picky but I guess I had my first taste of social respect from someone and I loved it. Sri Lanka is a total matriarchal society. It doesn’t matter who makes the money, the man, the woman, or the child. The woman is acknowledged just as much as the man. When we would walk into a restaurant my mother was greeted first, she was the one they asked for the order, and she was the one they brought the check to. Think about it for a second, process it.
My mother and I found it incredible, that for once her opinion, her standing mattered when next to my father. We actually found it funny that the waiter didn’t even listen to my father for his order unless it came from my mother. Now we probably shouldn’t have laughed, but it was treatment that the two of us had grown accustomed to anywhere we had gone before. It was only in this beautiful island where the roles had been switched, where we were no longer inferior, however miniscule it seemed, but superior. And the term that was used to address us? “Madam”. Everything that was asked began with “Madam.”
“Madam, what would you like?”
“Isn’t this nice Madam?”
“Madam, is this okay?”
“How is everything Madam?”
Now this restaurant scenario only hints at the way society truly regards male and females. The United States still hasn’t a woman president. Sure there are female governors, senators, and representatives, but President? Sri Lanka was the first country to have a female President. Yeah, if anybody was wondering where the ball got rolling for women politicians, it wasn’t Indra Gandhi, female Prime Minister of India. No, Sirivamo Bandaranaike was elected President of Sri Lanka in 1960…It’s been over 55 years since she was elected and our country has still struggled and failed to elect a female president.
I’m not going into this year’s election because that’s beast on its own, but I’ll ask you all this, what if more women ran for Presidency? Would our votes differ? These past few years we had Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina running on opposite ends, but what if there were more? Think on it.
Now returning back to my father’s homeland, one thing I found really impressive is that this is one of the very few countries where I saw women not being harassed by strangers, family members, and friends about not getting married. There are many female members of my family that have not gotten married and are perfectly happy and I find that admirable because almost everywhere else in the world women are pitied, argued with, and condemned for not getting married. Why? Because it is assumed and taught that men will provide financial, physical, and emotional security…but women can provide that for themselves as well. It’s her decision whether she wants to seek those goals with someone else or not. As a young woman I do want to grow up and get married but I’ve been reminded on more than one occasion that I can be intense and a little intimidating but honestly…I want to be able to provide myself with that financial, physical, and emotional security with or without a man. It would be nice to have a meaningful and strong connection with someone but I don’t want my future to be pitied or condemned if I were not to get married.
Hell, a woman who is raising her own kids on her own is pitied or condemned by strangers on the streets in our own country. Some see her as in need of help in supporting her family, but she could be just as capable of a man as providing for her family. Would there be more stability with someone else helping her out, maybe, maybe not.
If we as America don’t want to label our country as a Patriarch or a Matriarch then we need to find a balance between the two. We can’t lean part way towards one end and say that’s not what we are. We need to start accepting that men and women both can have money, intellects, and equal standing in class and society. We may be a melting pot of cultures, a place of opportunities, and a place of freedom but if we are to be judged as a Patriarch, Matriarch, or neutral…? We would most definitely be classified as a social Patriarch.
You don’t always see a problem until you’ve seen something opposite to it. I didn’t completely grasp how deeply ingrained this inequality of male and female standing in America until I saw the opposite end of the spectrum in Sri Lanka. If anything Sri Lanka is modeled quite nicely off of the beautiful Elephants who inhabit the island. Only Females are in a herd of elephants, and the grandmother is the one who leads them. Of course there are baby boy elephants but after a certain age they go off on their own. No other animal really does this with their groups. Sri Lanka is the elephants of human societies.
Before you begin this, here is a key to family titles:
Mama- My mother’s brother- my uncle
Mami- Wife of my mother’s brother- my aunt
Mausi- My mother’s sister- my aunt
Mausaji- husband of my mother’s sister- my uncle
Nana- grandfather on my mother’s side
Nani- grandmother on my mother’s side
Aachi- grandmother on my father’s side
It’s hard to believe that when we die we only leave one thing truly behind, our home. Yesterday, June 28th I visited the house my Great-Great-Grandfather built in around 1914. It still stands in the middle of the village Aralia North, in Jaffna City, Sri Lanka. His name is written on a plaque on the side of the house, even though the house itself is slowly deteriorating. My Great-Great-Grandfather’s name was Dr. C.S Ratnam, Ratnam meaning precious stone. His daughter would later marry Dr. Navaratnam, his last name means Nine Precious stones, and move to the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. The couple would have eight kids, six of who are still alive to this day, one of whom is my own Grandmother Dr. Mangay Yoganathan, the legendary woman who can make a friend in ten seconds, and see through someone in five. Her memory is as sharp as diamond, and her will is stronger than the oldest tree, whose roots are buried deep in the earth. The cloth she is cut from is like a deep heavily embroidered silk sari, with twists and turns, and rich color flooding the fabric that could last centuries. The reason why I compare her family’s line to a sari is because it still stands proudly today, just as her grandfather’s house (Dr. Ratnam’s house) still stands, the house she grew up in still stands as well in Colombo. I had the good fortune of being able to visit it. Currently, my Father’s cousin, Auntie Malathi lives there with her family. Her Mother, my grandmother’s sister, Auntie Sili still lives there as well.
These two ancestral homes still stand with my families name written on them, one metaphorically, and one literally. It’s almost ironic, that the year I am able to see these two homes I am about to lose another.
My Grandmother, the woman I know as Aachi, is the mother of my father and she has always kept a distinct record of her family tree. This trip to Sri Lanka was her way of showing my brother and I where our ancestors came from. It’s always been a little confusing figuring out my father’s family tree, mainly because I had only ever been to Sri Lanka once and most of Aachi’s family has dispersed across the world. Her Brother Uncle Viswan lives in London, while her sister Auntie Saraswati lives in Italy. Her other brother, Uncle Suma lives in Colombo, but he has ties in Australia as well. Auntie Baba lives in Colombo as well, in a different house form Auntie Sili. All of her siblings had children, including the two deceased ones, and all of these children are my father’s cousins, and all of these cousins have gone on to live their lives in various places, some marrying and having their own kids, and some of who are having their own grand kids. It all very intricate and confusing, especially since as we travel across the world my brother and I meet people that are related to us in some shape, fashion, or form due. It’s not very cut and direct when you look at it piece by piece, but when you look at the grand picture you see the masterpiece of it all, as you would with a silk Kangivaram sari.
But as I have said before, I have only just started to look at the whole picture of my father’s ancestry, it has always been my mother’s side that I have been able to see pretty clearly, at least the immediate extended family. My mother was born in a city called Gwalior, in the state of Madhaya Pradesh in India. Gwalior has always been a growing city, and is just a few kilometers from Agra, and about five to ten hours outside of Delhi, the capital of India. The house she grew up in is entitled Bal Mandir, translated into Children’s Temple. This house was a school, at least the house plus a few of the surrounding buildings. The principal of that school was my Grandmother, or as I know her, Nani. Nani and my Nana (my grandfather) moved to Gwalior, and bought Bal Mandir, a three story building in the heart of the city. The address has always been a joke around the family, because the people who grew up in that house, my mother and her three siblings, all have wills of steel, and attitudes to rival the wittiest man.
Nimbal ki Ghot Number Ek. It’s the phrase that I have heard thrown around every time someone makes a dirty joke, or a hilarious moment of a supposedly serious situation. An example of this would be during my Eldest cousin’s wedding. Raji Bhaiya was finally tying the literal knot while my mother was making jokes about every moment of the ceremony, how the priests were taking so damn long just by lecturing about the sanctity of marriage, and the four stages of life. No one in their right mind makes a joke out of a wedding ceremony, not unless you are from Nimbal ki Ghot Number Ek.
Bal Mandir was where my mother grew up with my Mausi (Aunt), and my two Mamas (Uncles). My Nana and Nani raised them to be independent, smart, and loving people, and as they grew older the house remained as a constant. My Mausi married and moved to Indore with my Mausaji (my uncle who is the husband of my Mother’s sister). My two Mama’s also married. Papu Mama (The eldest of the four) married Vinita Mami (my aunt who is the wife of my mother’s brother) and moved to a house called Vhinenaggar. The only two to remain was my mother, and the third oldest, my Bhinu Mama. Bhinu Mama married Sheli Mami, and remained in Bal Mandir.
Now all the while all her siblings were getting married my mother was having the time of her life. She went to college and made friends with her professors, Renu Mausi, and Jhor Uncle, as well as a girl in her class named Sujata Mausi. She obtained her Bachelors, and Masters degree, and was working for her PhD while also learning Kathak and joining an elite Dance Drama group called Kala Samoa. In addition, she joined a poetry group, and helped her parents with their own jobs. Nani was not only a principal but also a scout leader, while Nana was a writer, and Lawyer. They would take her all over for their meetings, and their pilgrimages to temples across India. But as she jumped around like a monkey, Ma would also help out wherever she could. She named each and every one of my cousins, except for the eldest. Each of my cousins who she named has the name starting with A. From oldest to youngest our names are: Pradeep, Anthara, Ananya, Akshara, Akshaya, Abhaya, Anila, Akshat, and Anant. It was in that house where she named all of my cousins, and it was there where the third generation started. We, like our parents would also have nick names: Raji, Bitto, Anu, Roli, Moli, Nanhi, Anni, Guddu, and Aadi. My mother and her siblings in order were named: Deepak, Deepti, Alok, and Tripti. Their nicknames were: Papu, Guddi, Bhinu, and Toonie.
It wasn’t until my mother hit thirty when it would be her turn to also make her own life. The story of my parents meeting is one I call a true love story. My father at this point was about forty-four years old, and a leading professor at Georgia Tech’s Biomedical Engineering Department. He was in Gwalior for a meeting, and presenting one of his research papers. As is custom for many of these meetings, there is often times a cultural presentation done by the college or people hosting the meeting. It just so happened that my mother’s College, KRJ, was hosting the meeting, and she was performing with her dance drama group. My mother was the Main character of the drama entitled Brigneni, a story about a princess huntress. My father was in the audience that night, and he would later see my mother presenting her last paper completing her PhD. My father himself had given a long lecture, which my mother claims is what impressed her most. The two would exchange phone numbers and letters, and every evening on Thursdays, the entire House knew it was when my mother and father would talk. My mother would sit in the outer most room in the house, where the corded phone was located, and since the house was openly designed everybody could hear her. It was those nights that would lead up to my father’s grand gesture on Valentine’s Day. He sent a large bouquet of Fresh Red roses from Delhi to the house, and it was only then when my Nani forced my mother to realize that my father wanted more than just a friendship.
The two would marry in 1996, a year before having me in 1997. My father was asked to live in Bal Mandir for a week or so by my Nani and Nana, before they gave their blessings. He wasn’t allowed to eat meat, or drink alcohol for those days, and he gladly endured it, even though being a Sri Lankan, it must have been difficult. The wedding was held in Gwalior, and a few of my father’s family and friends came including my Aachi, my Auntie Renuka (my father’s sister), Auntie Irhomi (Aachi’s friend), to name a few. It was a traditional Indian wedding, with a Sri Lankan groom, and by the end of it all my Mother moved to Atlanta to live with my Father, and my Aachi.
I grew up visiting India almost every year, living in Bal Mandir for weeks as my Nana would drop off my cousins Akshaya, Akshara, and Abhaya off at school on scooter, as my cousin Akshat and I tagged along. He would then take us to get milk, and fresh vegetables from the market. When we returned Nani would feed us all and we would go to sleep. Some days we would all put Mendhi on our hands, others we’d wake in the middle of the night and listen to the adults talk. Some days we would chase around the cat Billu (male cat). Years later on we would learn that Billu was actually a Billi (Female cat) and we would chase her kittens around as well. It was a happy home, and one I will always cherish, but sadly those memories will always be few, because when I was around four years old, Bhinu Mama past away. To this day I don’t know how he died, some people have suggested foul play, other say he just collapsed on the side of the road. All I know was that he was gone, and four of my cousins didn’t have a father any more. I remember waking up to someone calling in the middle of the night, and watching my mother break down into a fit of tears as my father tried to endlessly console her. She would leave within that week to Gwalior, leaving my father and I in the house. She went back to support the home.
As the years passed, I wouldn’t return to India for few years and by that point my brother had been born. No one in India had met him yet, and my Nani had been begging my mother to come and visit. It was that year that we had finally made a house in Goa, and had asked the family to come and join us. My Nani and Nana were so excited, as Papu Mama, and Vinita Mami brought my cousins Abhaya and Akshat to Goa with them. We would later learn that my Nani had contracted pneumonia and had been hospitalized for a few days then. Suddenly the great reunion had turned into a nightmare. We all hurried back to Gwalior to try and support her, my father speaking with the doctors trying to assess the situation. It was in those weeks I was unable to reconnect with my cousins, and family. It was also the summer I lost my Nani. She died in AIMS hospital in Delhi, with only half a lung. The doctors in the Gwalior hospital had been pumping her with drugs in the ICU, but we never got a clear reading on what was happening to her. I can only remember two of the names of the three doctors, Doctor Single, and Doctor Thakur. My Nana tried to take them to court but it was all moot. The Indian healthcare system is so screwed up that malpractice is so common, that one is unable to see when there is a severe case from all the others. I name these two doctors because I hope that God will one day serve them the punishment they deserve. Pneumonia is fatal, yes, but there is no excuse for sending an old woman with half a lung on a five to ten hour journey to a better hospital, without telling our family. It especially wasn’t alright when they did not let us move her earlier on, when they claimed they could help her but only ended up killing her.
I wouldn’t return to India for another Four years and within that time, my fatherless cousins would also lose their mother, Sheli Mami, to anemia. They were orphans, and my Papu Mama and Vinita Mami would move back into Bal Mandir and adopt them as their own kids. Their only daughter, Anthara would become their older sister, and eventually the house would once more be a home.
Years later and I am eighteen, my brother is nine, Raji Bhaiya is twenty-nine, and was married in February, Bitto Didi is about twenty six and is pregnant with her first child, Anu Didi is twenty four and working in Delhi, Roli and her twin Moli are twenty and are finishing up their last year in university, Nanhi is nineteen just starting her college career, and Guddu is eighteen almost ready to start his own adventure. We finally thought things were coming together, with Bhaiya married, Bitto Didi pregnant, Anu Didi with her job, Roli and Moli about to graduate, Nanhi starting her second year in college, and me and Gudhu entering college. We were and still are in stressful periods of our lives, and despite the distance, we still have an idea who is doing what and where.
No one expected it, that the downfall of our ancestral home would come so quick. I, at least, had believed that one of the four cousins living there would inherit the house, and would raise their kids there, and I would continue to visit and show my own kids where their Great Grandparents started their marriage, and where their grandparents grew up, and where their aunts and uncles, and parents had slept, and played, and loved one another. Currently those future hopes and dreams are gone, and I don’t think they will ever play out, because the one person that was keeping that House as a Home is gone. On June 23rd, 2016 my mother’s eldest brother, my uncle, the adoptive father of my four cousins: Akshara, Akshaya, Abhaya, and Akshat, and father to my cousin Anthara past away from a 3 day heart attack. Like all the other deaths in our family his also could have been avoidable.
Without my Mamaji, my cousins have lost yet another person who they saw as their father. Without him, my Nanaji has no one to truly look after him in Bal Mandir. Without him, there is no one to make us feel like we are at home when we visit Gwalior.
I didn’t know my Mamaji as well as I would have liked. I know of the stories of my mother and her siblings and how they would all hangout after school with their friends in Bal Mandir, they would eat snacks, do homework, clean the house, and watch TV until their entire vision turned yellow. But I also knew him as an intellectual. This past summer of 2015 I sat in a car with him, my mother, my brother, and my cousins Akshara and Abhaya. He had come to pick us up at the airport in Delhi, and drove us to Gwalior. During that journey he took us to see the Taj Mahal in Agra, showed us an apartment he stayed in Delhi, bought us fruits to eat, and also had long discussions with me and my mother about India’s history. He played the Tabla when he was younger, and still knew many of the taals and bhols as he grew older. He had done so many different jobs in his life, working in different factories, and opening his own factories. He could cook awesome Terhi, though it was a tad spicey, and he could joke around with his siblings like every other member of Bal Mandir. He was the only man I could ever really call Mamaji, or uncle, as my father has no brothers, and Bhinu mama died when I was so young. He worked his hardest to give my four cousins everything they needed in life, while also teaching them a lesson that my own mother has taught me. It’s something that I believe the entire Varma family has passed down through their generations. We Varmas never change who we are, we grow into better versions of our former selves.
I dedicate these five pages of my knowledge on my family history and ancestral homes to my Late Papu Mamaji, Deepak Varma, the man who kept our ancestral house a Home. I don’t know what will become of Bal Mandir, but without him and all the other members that we have lost in these past years the house no longer feels like a Home. It’s walls may still whisper the memories of happy times of shared laughter between siblings and friends, Thursday night phone calls, crazy cats, shelling of peas between cousins, dancing on the roof in the rain, tasty cooking in the kitchen, and shooting dogs with BB guns in the morning. But those walls also whisper of the arguments, and stresses of surviving in an expanding India, as well as the deaths of our loved ones.
Some day I hope to take my kids back to that home, maybe it will still be ours, but most likely not, but I hope to tell them the stories of that house, and what it’s walls could tell us if they spoke. I also hope to stay connected with my family there, but again that is still uncertain. My uncle was truly the one keep us all together and for that I will always remember and love him.
May you find eternal peace Papu Mama
Love your Niece,
Anni (Anila Priyadarshini Yoganathan)
There are plenty of skeptics out there (mainly those who don’t pick up books, because it simply isn’t worth their time) who seem to believe that Characters cannot be seen as real people. But what makes a character in the first place? Is it simply the physical appearance of a human? Yeah, no that’s not it, because if that was the case then we’d be admitting that Donald Trump is in fact human.
Seriously though, the basis of a character is the same basis as a person, their identity. Identity is a recurring theme that young adults are confronted with when they start developing their own values, ideas, and actions. The thing about identity is that people seem to consistently be caught up in this idea that you can never completely know who you are, which is understandable because you haven’t experienced everything in the world. Our actions, our thoughts, our emotions all define us when they are brought forth in different situations that life presents us with, but we can never experience EVERYTHING life has to offer. It’s just not possible, realistic, or something we’d all want to do. If we all wanted to figure out what every detail of who we really was we’d have to put ourselves in every type of situation imaginable, think about that for a second. So why don’t we base who we are today off of the experiences we have had up until this moment in life? Why can’t we accept and understand the person we see in the mirror that has only had the limited amount of experiences? Experiences can change our views, our ideas, our actions, meaning they can change us. So who we are today, isn’t necessarily who we are going to be tomorrow. It’s scary, and hard to process, but I think it’s something valuable to learn and understand.
Now I’ve spent all this time discussing identity, the base of a character and not enough time explaining why this is makes a Character real, but in order to do that I feel it necessary to understand the main character, Infemelu, of the book “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Infemelu is a Nigerian woman who at the age of nineteen immigrates to America for her education, and a new life. She’s in her prime, a young adult who has only ever known her home of Nigeria, and the people that surrounded her. Adichie’s use of Infemelu not only relates to young adult readers but also allows her to develop themes of identity throughout the novel, through Infemelu’s journey.
As Infemelu moves through her life in America it becomes clear that she isn’t quite sure how to balance the values, and ideas that she had believed in back home, versus the ones presented to her in America. At first she questions everything, why did her friend Ginika simply lose weight because America saw being “skinny” as beautiful, when in Nigeria Ginika was seen as the definition of beautiful? However, she also questioned her Aunty Uju, who couldn’t seem to adapt to her new surroundings either, she constantly said “this country…” and would end with something that differed America from Nigeria in a negative aspect. Infemelu’s critique of these two women in her life allows the audience to see the struggle she would similarly face when it came to forming her new values, while holding on to her old ones.
The scenarios that really stick out in the book, and confront Infemelu to grow as a person are her relationships. Through each of her relationships, from Obinze, to Curt, to her neighbor she cheated on curt with, to Blaine, and back to Obinze. It sounds ridiculous how these men actually forced her to realize that who she was shouldn’t be dependent upon them, but it’s true.
Her first relationship with Obinze ended because she had allowed a man to touch her, in a desperate and last resort for earning money. However, the reader can see that there’s more to it then just the horrible situation she was put in. Obinze and Infemelu were inseparable prior to Infemelu’s immigration to America. All she had ever really known about herself from Secondary school and on was being his girlfriend, living with him, loving him, and their thoughts and ideas. Though she may have had her own life, and she came from a different background, a lot of who she was became dependent upon him, and when she finally realized this, she distanced herself to try and figure out just what was happening. She couldn’t quite grasp why she couldn’t confide in her long term boyfriend, was it simply shame or maybe it was because she realized that back home the action she had just committed wasn’t one she would have made, she wouldn’t have needed to? She realized that who she was in Nigeria wasn’t the same girl she was now, and maybe she didn’t quite understand either versions of herself.
The second relationship was a little better, in terms of situation. Infemelu was floating on a cloud living with Curt, and I honestly believe that Adichie created Curt to show just how easy it is to be with someone without being your full self just for the sake of the relationship. For Infemelu the relationship only held one side of her, the one she presented to Americans. Her experiences had shaped who she was in America, but that didn’t automatically mean that the Nigerian side of her died away, but it appeared that way in her relationship with Curt. The reader was only able to see their trips around the world, Curt’s desire for adventure, and his lack of actual interest or knowledge of Infemelu’s culture or background. To be fair though, she didn’t exactly try to introduce him to it. With Curt only one side was brought out of her, and though Curt met her Aunty Uju and was great with Dike, that doesn’t count for understanding Infemelu and her experiences. It doesn’t count for understanding whom she was and what she stood for. Neither of them made the effort, because it was convenient. It was an easy relationship that was up in the air from the start; it was to be seen as long term.
Now, one might argue that Infemelu cheating on Curt was insignificant, but actually it showed quite a bit about her character. It showed that when it came to her happiness, sometimes she could be narrowed minded and only think of herself in a situation. It also kind of foreshadows how she doesn’t see being the other woman in Obinze’s life as a problem, until he is unable to commit to her. She never thought about Curt when she cheated on him, and she didn’t think of Obinze’s wife and daughter and how her actions would affect them. This is a flaw that Adichie uses to make Infemelu human, because if we all were perfect then we’d all be alike.
Finally we come to Blaine, my absolute least favorite man Infemelu dated, why? Because he is literally everything I’d detest in a man. You know those people that enter your life, and you look up to because they seem so…in control, know where they are going, and understand the ways of the world? Okay so that’s Blaine…but add to that the arrogance and belief that all people should think like he does, and suddenly you’ve got a control freak that’s slowly changing the way you talk, write, live and eventually view the world. Yes, there are many people out there like this, some who don’t even realize that that’s what they act like, but it’s a problem. When Infemelu gets into a relationship with Blaine she not only looks up to him because of his knowledge and views, but his acceptance of her culture. With Blaine she can be both American, and Nigerian. She doesn’t have to explain to him the prejudices she has faced in this country regarding the color of her skin, nor does she ignore her culture for him.
That’s all well and good, until she started eating like he does, it’s not a bad idea being healthy, but she loves chocolate bars…I’m just saying that if I dated a guy and he got me into a health kick, there is no way in the world that he is getting me to give up chocolate, no matter how great he is. It’s just not happening. Food was just the beginning, soon it was how she wrote her blogs, he ended up correcting, editing, and changing her voice to seem more of what he deemed “intellectual”, “academic” or “subtle”. Infemelu’s blog was her way of having a place to vocalize her views, observations, and ideas of America, things that she wouldn’t normally be able to say to those around her, and for Blaine to change up how she voiced those opinions truly reflects how much he thought that people should be like him. There’s no problem in harmless editing, but the moment Infemelu realizes that Blaine tried to change how her voice is heard is the moment she began to withdraw. He was changing her, and he thought that what he was passionate about, she should also be passionate about. This is one of the main reasons why he was so upset she didn’t attend his protest, and this is also the main reason she didn’t attend it. He assumed she would understand and believe in the cause like him, and she didn’t. Relationships are between two people, not the same person. Adichie’s use of this relationship brings forth this idea that your identity shouldn’t be compromised for someone else, simply because their views don’t match your own. When she presents Infemelu with this conflict she gradually forces Infemelu and the audience to see that the relationship was unhealthy for both sides.
Where does Obinze finally play into this big picture then? He comes in at the very ending, after the affair the two shared and everything, Infemelu realizes that she needs to reconcile and let the past be the past, while also taking charge of her future. After getting closure with all her two ex-boyfriends, and Obinze comes to see herI think this was Adichie’s way of showing that Infemelu was done with men dictating her life, and who she was. Throughout Infemelu and Obinze’s affair infemelu was dependent upon Obinze and when he could see her, when he could make time for her, when he could sneak away from his life for her. She had no control, she had little respect, she wasn’t able to be with the man she loved because of their situation and it wasn’t one she should have put herself in. Obinze began this process of identification, and ended it. Adichie uses him to push Infemelu to understand that she needs to only learn who she is, and learn to respect the person she has become.
What breathes life into a character? Their complex identity makes them alive, because humans have complex identities that get tangled, and wrapped up in our experiences. Adichie is critical of Infemelu’s growth and understanding of herself throughout her relationship with the men she meets through her journey of discovering herself. Infemelu realizes that in order to take charage of her life, and not have those around her influence her actions and beliefs she herself needs to understand what she believes in, and what she wants from herself. She understands that her identity is the culmination of her experiences and how she used them in her daily life. By coming to this realization she is able to make her own decisions, be her own person, and truly understand who she is and why she should respect herself.
Trigger warning: suicide
I’ve always broached the subject of suicide through glossier, sugar coated angles to try and ease in the harsh reality of what people face when going through a suicidal episode, but this time….I can’t do that.
The picture is from a book called Americanah (to all my IB friends who are reading this for class sorry for the spoiler), and the main character is reflecting upon her cousin’s failed suicide attempt and whether he had thought of her whole doing it or afterwards.
Many people say suicide is selfish, to take ones life and not think of how another feels is seen as selfish. But what about the people who say that someone should live for them? Just by simply asking if her cousin thought of her while trying to end his life I see as selfish, because in that exact moment everything else ceases to exist but that constant conflict of choosing life or death. Suicide isn’t about who is selfish but that’s what people think of, they think the person committing the act is selfish, not that they themselves are asking a person who is ill to survive is selfish.
I’m not promoting suicide in anyway but I think this idea that when someone is facing an episode should think of their loved ones is hard, it often makes them feel worse why? Because often time people going through a suicide episode believe that those in their life were better of without them, that they are truly alone in this world because they cannot feel the love and support of others.
It’s not about selfishness, it’s about breaking through to someone to save a life, showing them that they are not alone, that they are loved, that they can make it through a rough time. If anybody else thinks it is about selfishness then you yourself are selfish for not trying to comprehend the thoughts and emotions one faces when going through that moment, and truly unless you have been through it you can NEVER completely comprehend it, but trying means something.
When Ms. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke of single stories I can’t help but think of the many stereotypes created about my people, some even created by one another. It’s a fundamental problem of humans to categorize each other, to try and understand someone, or even ourselves better.
Growing up, I always identified myself as 1/3 America, 1/3 Indian, 1/3 Sri Lankan. Obviously even back then I thought of identifying with a country’s culture meant more than the blood that ran through my veins. I wanted to share my heritage with my parents’ heritage, and the one I was experiencing within in the United States. It’s funny really, that a five year old can figure where she came from, and where she is without the labels and categories placed upon her by other people. A kids mind is so simple, never trying to over analyze, understand, or decipher subjects, which can often detract from the main purpose. A kid can look at something and draw their own conclusion from what is presented to them, not from their past experiences, prior knowledge, or anything else. It just is. And that’s why I can never really thing of myself as just America, just Indian, or just Sri Lankan. I am all three, and they each make me who I am in their own ways.
But there was always a term that even to this day confuses my 1/3 Indian side constantly. It is the term “Desi”. It loosely translates from Hindi to countryman or someone from the “Des”, or motherland (being India). The application of this word is always questionable, but what I have realized is that it mainly refers to people outside of India, people who come off the boat to a new country. When Ms. Adichie refers to the creation of a single story depicting a group of people a specific way I think that Americans took the chance to create a single story based off of Desis, people who came from India and had to figure out a way to assimilate to Western culture and values.
However, over time this label has been thrown around with different connotations, sometimes it refers to Indians that immigrate, other times it refers to first generation kids, often times it refers to the people that haven’t figured out how to assimilate to American culture, while still holding true to their own values and identity.
The latter definition is the one that I most understand since I hear the label thrown around so much towards people who refuse to adapt to their new lifestyle in America, they believe it means sacrificing their culture and religion when it doesn’t/. They don’t accept the American lifestyle at all, and will often say “These Americans….” And proceed to say a judgmental comment, despite them being in America for over fifteen years. This type of person also promotes competition between their kids in the American school system, wanting them to get into an Ivy League University, be Valedictorian, become President of all the clubs at school, and only focus on academics. Of course none of this is really bad, wanting your child to succeed is not a bad thing at all, but it’s the idea and requirement that all Indians kids have to do this that frustrates me.
For whatever reason, there is no in between when it comes to Desis and I think that is because today when people immigrate from India, they tend to join groups of other Indian immigrants that have already established. The stereotype that all Indians are nerds, or doctors, or lawyers, causes these immigrants to live up to such a high level. Of course, there could be worst stereotypes, but now you have a group of people that think the same way, wanting all their kids to be the best. Even more, they love to see how other children are doing compared to their own, they thrive off of the competitive atmosphere, especially when one child gets into one college, or has a higher SAT score than another. All parents have bragging rights, but what’s the deal with bragging about your child, and then asking another parent about their childs’ scores in order to elevate their own child. This can also be stated for the kids, who will compare GPAs, awards, and other acclimations that will possibly make them look better than someone else. They worry about everybody else, to make themselves look better.
I don’t really identify myself with this definition of Desi, but all the aunties, and uncles, and their children who I meet expect me to (I’m not related to any of these people). They ask “What do you want to be?”, “Where do you want to go to school?”, “What are your plans for life?”. I think I first got this question when I was in the eighth grade by someone. Like really? I haven’t even experience High School yet, and you want me to pick a career? Obviously the answers that were expected were: Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, or Accountant.
When talking about a single story, this is the single story Desis have: You can never succeed without following the pathway our country men faced in America, there is no other way to survive, or live. They see one part of the story where the only true form of living comfortably and successfully is to push their kids to never let go of the values they have instilled but also to succeed at everything they do. Failure isn’t an option.
I think that most people in class will discuss America’s view of a single story, but for me and my life I have only ever been placed into a box of stereotypes and expectations by my own people. It’s hurtful, limiting, and frustrating. You may ask me, “Why separate yourself from your own people? Why call them Desis when you clearly are also their fellow country man? Why distinguish yourself when you can unify?”
My answer is simple: I am not the same. If the connotation of Desi accepted: one who can desire to be something other than cliché jobs, one who isn’t overly ambitious or competitive, one who doesn’t sit in a room and compare herself to everyone else in terms of intelligence, then yes I would be a Desi. But I’m not, I can’t be.
I walked around, and still walk around, for the past four years crafting a way to state my desire to become an author. At first, people would try and talk me out of it, saying I wouldn’t make much money, I wouldn’t be happy, that it wasn’t realistic. My responding thoughts are: This is America, people immigrate here for more opportunities, it’s ridiculous to think that we shouldn’t take advantage of those opportunities if they are now made available. In order to avoid such scrutiny my family and I would come up with various ways to state my ambitions. This is possibly the best way: “I want to become an author, and I will major in creative writing in my undergrad, but I will do something such as Law as my graduate degree. I will be able to pursue something I love, while making money.”
It’s smart way to avoid the frightened look most people have on their face when I tell them about writing. It’s a smart plan, but honestly I’m not sure if I want to do law, I want to explore my options in college for a graduate degree, but I can’t say this to my fellow country men. For them I must have a ready answer that they believe will lead to my success.
I know I mentioned a Coconut in the title. This blog is getting long as it is, but coconuts aren’t as complex as Desis, not quite at least. Coconuts are people that are brown on the outside, and white on the inside. They have blatant disregard for their culture, and assimilate to the American, or western culture completely, forgetting where they or their parents came from, and how they contributes to their identity. An example of this would be a Indian Hindu who comes to America and eats meat (beef specifically) because everyone else does it and they want to be accepted. But they grew up learning that cows are sacred, and to kill one anywhere and eat it is an insult to God. Why? Because once a child can no longer last upon his or her mother’s milk, the cow is the one that provides the sustenance for the baby to survive.
However, this is not the only example of how far Indians can assimilate, some don’t hang out with other Indians, don’t make an effort to hold onto any piece of their roots, be it religion, festivals, food, etc. Most of the people that I have met that have had this problem are kids that cannot connect with their Desi parents who want them to do their absolute best. These kids grew up in America and just want to fit in, and they feel as though in order to do that they must completely reject the values and ideas their parents have enforced into them, and go the opposite way.
These Indians see only one story, that in order to fit in they have to reject their background and be like every other “American”, eating meat, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, stuff they never would have done back at home. Granted its understandable, if you live in a repressed house then all you want to do is break out, but that doesn’t mean lose every value you have ever been instilled with. The urge to assimilate is powerful, but don’t lose yourself along the way by doing so. Remember what you truly hold dear to you in morals and beliefs, and just live. Experience new things, make friends, but don’t sacrifice yourself for someone else’s views and ideas, that’s the fundamental problem.
This blog isn’t stating that all Indians who come to America and have kids here think one of these two ways. Heck, my family and I are the living proof that this is not the case. There are plenty of Indians that live here and are more open minded to exploring the United States’ opportunities, but never in my life have I heard these people identify with the term “Desi”. They will call the people that I have defined above, Desis, but not themselves. Why? Because they know that they are different from Desis. To these people, and myself we call ourselves Indians. In addition to this, we never completely assimilate to the American culture, or what is believed to be the American culture. We hold true to their values, and remember who they were in their own country. We adapt, but we don’t change ourselves for others.
We’re grouped as one to the rest of the world, but within us we have realized that we don’t think the same, we don’t share different versions of a story. Desis believe that the road to success is through competition, full academic concentration and specific jobs. Coconuts believe that in order to survive in this country you have to sacrifice all that you believe in to become one with the western culture. And then you have Indians, the people who are in-between, who want to be successful, happy, and adaptive. There are probably many more groups and divisions within my people, but these are the three that I have encountered and have had a direct impact with me. It sounds cruel to categorize people, but it honestly is how Indians view one another. We’re all different, sure, but there are specific ideologies that separate us. We’re driven apart by our single stories.
I think there’s a lot to be said about not being able to find the motivation of certain actions committed by characters in novels. Not only does it provoke a sense of ambiguity within characterization, but it also causes the reader to pay more attention to what that character signifies, and what their actions signify.
I’m going to ATTEMPT to try and break down the characterization of Bigger Thomas, from the novel Native Son by Richard Wright.
Think of the drink aisle in the grocery store, except it’s divided into three parts. The middle part is scattered with 2 L Diet Coke Bottles. They are few, and are often hidden. The other bottles in that middle section are 2 L water bottles. The other two sections that surround this middle section are bottles 2 L Minute Made Pink Lemonade.
Can you see it?
Alright, now think of all of these as people in the setting of the novel, Chicago in the 1930s. The water bottles represent black people, who are restricted to living in the confines of the middle section, or black belt, of Chicago. These people wish they could have a chance, even crave it, but they accept the situation they are in. Water is pure, and moves despite adversaries in its path. The water in these bottles reflect the feelings that these people have. They wish things could change but they also want to keep moving on in life, they just want to survive the conditions they were thrown into.
Now the Minute Made Pink Lemonade Bottles represent the White people of Chicago. They are quite the opposite of water. This lemonade is filled with sugar, and artificial preservatives that really aren’t good for you at all. These people are quite ignorant not only of black people, but what their actions do to black people. They’re scared, and filled with guilt for the fact that they have segregated these people, and might actually possibly wrong about what they have done. However, they don’t do enough to change the problems in American society, that works against Black people. The pink sugary drink represents this fear, guilt, and ignorance that the white people experience.
Lastly, we come to the Diet Coke. There aren’t many. In fact, in the case of the novel, there is only one, and he is Bigger Thomas. Why a Diet Coke bottle, you may wonder? Well, because that’s the only picture I could find of a soda bottle exploding, which conveys my metaphor.
We all know soda is bad for you, mainly because it is sugary, and carbonated, and serves no purpose other than it tastes good. In this case, the drink inside the bottle represents Bigger’s thoughts and emotions. Bigger isn’t very expressive, when he is not angry or scared. In fact, he’s quiet and just wants to go through life and earn money. This is similar to the Water bottle he is surrounded by, but similar to the Lemonade bottles, Bigger faces ignorance not only of the world around him, but also of understanding White People. He hates them for how they oppress him, for how he doesn’t have a chance to go and achieve distant dreams, such as becoming a pilot. This bitterness is the carbonation in the soda. It’s fizzy, this is kinda similar to the tingling one receives when they drink minute made lemonade. The light fizziness in the lemonade is the anger and guilt that the white people in the novel face, but the fizz that Bigger experiences is on a larger scale. He’s scared, upset and disappointed.
Now you can say that all the other Black people must feel this way as well, and yeah sure, but you forget, water is pure. They may feel upset, and they may feel anger, but they do not stop to contemplate what life could be like had they not been born into the life they were given, at least in the novel they do not. Bigger does and his refusal to see White people as anything other than an enemy is the closing of the cap on his bottle. The cap signifies Bigger not being able to understanding anything other than what he believes. He isn’t expressive, so the sugary drink, his thoughts and emotions, stay within the bottle, him.
Anyone know what happens to a bottle of soda when you shake it, and then you uncap it….? Well for those of you who don’t… IT EXPLODES! What might cause the shaking in this large metaphor? Well, the shaking of the bottle is the oppression that the black people face, the fact that they are stuck in one part of the city, can only obtain a certain level of education, and on and one and on. There was a limit to just about everything that they could do, and that shook them to the core. However, while all the other black people are water bottles, and don’t explode when they are opened, Bigger is a carbonated drink, who is pressured by his own thoughts and emotions, and cannot let go of his anger for the people who oppress him and his people.
So he snaps. The thing about Bigger is that he is not representative of all black people, especially in this novel. Mentally and emotionally he just can’t seem to express himself, and like Mr. Max says in the novel, White people are ignorant, and feel guilt and scared for what they have done to Blacks, so they channel it through anger. Bigger is similar to this, he channels all his fear and oppression he faces from white people, through anger. I think that this was what the ending of the novel met, when Max tries to convince Bigger that he committed murder because he was oppressed, because he was shaken, but if you remember Bigger was closed off, he was different, he couldn’t let go how he felt. So when he tells Max that he killed for something, and he meant to do it, he likely did.
All these components of Bigger come together in the novel. It’s complex, and very difficult to understand, but I hope this metaphor broke it down somewhat.