I’ve always thought since I was young that my bindi sort of “marked” me, that perhaps it is the reason why strangers remember my face, why guys don’t approach me at frat parties, or why even desis think, upon first glance, that I’m ultra conservative. People have always watched from a distance, wary of what my third eye represented.
So I figured these few months in India at least, I’d blend right into the brown.
Instead, my accent, gait, tone have given me away. The fact that I wear a salwar kameez when I go out on the street is not enough. If I’m not wearing a dupatta I can command the attention of every male street vendor, auto driver, college student and IT executive within seconds.
Until this year I thought I could speak Tamil pretty well. Close relatives would tell me how my sister always could speak better, but for the most part they could understand me and were even impressed that for growing up in the States, I could speak conversationally. But my ego has taken a blow now that I have been laughed at repeatedly because of my accent…. because I don’t know the local terms. Some of the news reporters will sometimes choose other interns over me to talk to local people because I “talk differently.” They actually mock my American accent: the muted constants and stretched vowels.
I’m puzzled at how, somehow, I have managed to be the oddball, yet again. It’s funny: as Americans, we think the world looks up to us, strives to be like us, so much so that I am ashamed at how pompously I approached this experience at first. As a Tamil-speaking, vegetarian, Bharatanatyam dancer who volunteered herself to spend a few month in India, I figured I’d get a few extra points, a pat on the back, a reaction of pleasant surprise at how very Indian and Hindu I was. But instead, it’s been a humbling experience actually seeing how condescending (or even disgusted) some of them can get by our cockiness, our complaints, and at the most basic level, our differences.
Well I still think it’s immature. People of different cultures will obviously have a different accent. As long as communication is still possible, why should it matter?
I finally reached the height of my tolerance to their intolerance when one of the reporters started dumbing things down for me and questioning my intelligence just because I am a desi. I finally responded, “I, too, am human. I was born with a brain.” I think she finally took the hint.
I for one am glad that my third eye can at least see past our differences.