Which word are you playing?
Once as a child, I mocked a waiter in a restaurant in Chennai for mispronouncing the word ‘jug’. I think I figured that he’d be afraid of me because I was with my parents who were clearly richer and better educated. My mom told me that night that this was what bullying was, and that it was wrong to do it. How would I feel if someone did that to me, she asked. In graduate school in the USA, I once mispronounced a word in class while trying to answer a question, at which the professor announced ‘We have to teach you English’, before going on to agree with my answer.
When I first found out about homosexuality, I thought it was a choice. I was a 16 year old in Chennai, and I’d barely caught up with enough world-knowledge to know that Nazis were terrible, slavery had existed, and colonialism destroyed a large part of my country’s wealth. I was trying to get into law school then and spent a lot of time thinking about my vocabulary, the Constitution of India and this new thing called ‘Business Process Outsourcing’. Ross Geller said his wife was a lesbian, and I thought it was sad that she decided to not be with him and be a lesbian. It eventually worked out for him, because he liked this other girl Rachel girl anyway.
It didn’t bother me that people made the choice; I was excited for the time of my sexual liberation and the upcoming time in my life when I would be able to explore this choice. Eventually, I was disappointed in myself for my clearly foolish assumptions. It is always hard to realize that you are late to realize. I got over it pretty quickly because everything about homosexuality was hushed in India. The movie Fire had come out a few years ago, everyone knew it was about women who loved each other and so it was immediately banned. I finally watched it in college, and discovered that it was not really about sex. It is ten years later, and we still don’t talk a lot about Fire or homosexuality in India. Or sexuality. The jury’s still out on love marriages.
When I was a freshman in college, we had a bunch of study abroad kids from China and Japan to learn English in our university. Put a pin in your bewilderment at the logic in this arrangement and hear me out. When these kids came to visit (i.e. stay infinitely), the school decided it was best to throw us out of our dorms so they could move in. As an 18 year old displaced from her room in the middle of finals by these loud, foreign teenagers, I decided to hate all Asian people, because it was their fault they came to my country and moved me out, because this was India, and we treated guests better than our own people, and they probably paid more money. I subsequently spent a large part of time liking only the few Asian women who made an effort to speak with me or my friends.(The men were too taboo. Befriending a smoking Asian boy would have been my last shenanigan for my dorm to tolerate)
When I moved to the States to be a graduate student, I calmly let my brand new American friends know that I did not like Asian people. “Aren’t you Asian?” responded one. She is currently my closest friend from the US of A. After this, it only took me a couple months to realize where I stood in this game. In a way, it was cool because it was where everyone stood. I shared my first house in the US with an old Southern lady. I moved out when she accused me of “possibly knowing terrorists because I’m foreign”. It was a finals week again.
I could walk you in circles around my tedious anecdotes, but we’d reach the same points repeatedly: To that night my Mom looked me in the eye and told me that I was being a bully, and that I needed to cut it the shit out. To the arguments I have with guy friends (whom I love quite dearly) who are glad the ‘ball is rolling’ in the women’s movement in India, even if it is a ‘tad regressive’ (“Would you rather sit around waiting for it to be ideal?” they ask). To every time a fellow Indian tells me that they think Indian Americans are snobbish for not coming clean about where they’re “from” (Connecticut, they’re from Connecticut. Or Tennessee. Never mind which State.). To every time we ask ourselves if we are being treated differently because we are a certain sex, religion, race or socio-economic status, and every time we have to stop ourselves from treating people differently.
My first step was to change the way I thought of and treated people. My first step was to resign from this game of bigot Scrabble. It came with it’s rites of passage, but I eventually got there.
However, I continue playing regular Scrabble. It is the best, especially for afternoons after big lunches and during sixth dates to determine the future of the relationship.
Until next time,