When I was twelve I decided that being half Indian was embarrassing. On moving
from primary to secondary school, I would have the opportunity to reinvent
myself, and thank goodness for my fair skin and Caucasian features, otherwise I
would have been stuck with the ‘brown girl’ label.
I couldn’t imagine anything worse.
I remember writing in my diary one night that the “weird, awkward, loser
Nirvana will be gone, and instead, there’ll be cool, confident Anna” – I even
renamed myself, gave myself the loveliest, whitest name I could think of that
could passably be a nickname for my real name. ‘Nirvana’ embarrassed me.
Looking back, I can’t really pin down why I fought so hard against my Indian
side. When I was much younger, I adored being Indian, having grown up in the
arms of my mother’s Punjabi family. Taking after my white father in skin tone, I
eyed my brother’s golden-brown skin with jealousy, and made up for my own
milky skin tone by colouring pictures of me the darkest brown pen I could find. I
considered myself an Indian girl. Despite this, the small group of brown girls at
my primary school did not accept me as one of their own. Their rejection stung
eight-year- old Nirvana, perhaps to the point that she herself would come to
reject her brownness years later.
Maybe it was because the popular clique in secondary school was made up of all
the white girls in my class. My school was multicultural to the point where white
was the minority for a long time, yet somehow the white girls commanded a
strange sort of respect. Was it was because they were taller, had light, bright eyes
and lenient families? Either way, I was desperate to be one of them.
Until I was around sixteen, I pulled a curtain down over my Indian side. ‘Anna’
didn’t stick, but I started to appreciate the musical connotations of ‘Nirvana’ and
focused on those. I would ask people where they thought I came from, and my
stomach would flip with joy when they guessed Russia or Germany or Italy. I had
Indian friends, but I always distanced myself from them mentally, seeing myself
as different, other – not better, exactly, but whiter. And that was better.
It’s taken me a long time to accept my Indian side, but I think I’m there. I still
often wear dark clothes, but I try very hard not to enjoy how pale I end up
looking by contrast. My mother reminds me that I have the best of both worlds,
and asks me whether I’ve written about that – I haven’t, and I haven’t told her
how nearly impossible I would find that task. So far, my experience of being
mixed-race has been less like having one foot in each door and more like having
both doors closed on me. I wasn’t Indian enough in primary school, nor white
enough in secondary, and it’s only now that I’m finding a way to carve out a
category of my own.