This personal essay is an ode to every person who is finding their little space in this packed local train of life. A short piece following the changes in the thought process of a young woman and her ongoing ambitious attempt to fit in and yet stand out, this is a work of ‘friction’. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely not coincidental.
Hailing from a modest background, yet wrapped up in the soft quilt of my privilege, I grew up without much friction. I obeyed my parents, never questioning their opinions, leave alone thinking that it could be problematic, that there could be a world beyond studying and family and God.
This shiny mirror started to crack when I was suddenly plopped into this melting pot called Delhi University, an exquisite smorgasbord of intersecting and conflicting identities and opinions.
Minority rights, queer rallies, Bahujan solidarity, political correctness- a flurry of phrases that suddenly became as much part of my day as my previously mentioned diligent cup of coffee.
Growing up, I attributed my good grades and extra-curricular to sheer hard work and natural intelligence, I never considered the role that the social-economic and political context of my upbringing played in shaping my so-called natural intelligence. I tried to imbibe these concepts to the best of my capability, which shattered many perceptions that I held dearly earlier.
And hence led to the tumultuous visitations to my hometown. My mother fearing that her believing daughter has been called to the dark side, a father fearing the birth of a populist.
“Why can’t you pray for half an hour every day? Oorla pannara ella protestukku onnaku ponama? Inda vendathu velai edduku?” (Why can’t you pray for half an hour every day? Why do you want to go for every protest in the town? Why do you need to participate in all these unnecessary things?)
Family lunches now featured an occasional abandoned plate with a half-eaten meal at the dining table and a little bit of the traditional door slamming. Which led to my mother declaring a ‘No political-talk policy’ during the lunch hour. The policy did manage to preserve decorum in our household, however, the elephant in the room still loomed.
A home that I once believed to be a secular democracy seemed to be imitating the changes occurring in a country that I knew of- there was intolerance for novelty and diversity as much as there was love for one another within a family.
The shift in my perception of morality was also a matter of intense debates- is my value system limited to people of my caste and class?
When I serve dinner to the men in the family before eating, is my internalized patriarchy manifesting? Do you respect your elders even when they are devoid of the least bit of sensitivity towards other communities? Do you tolerate your father’s casually sexist comment on women drivers?
“There is nothing sexist about that kanna. adhu appidi daan. Ladies paathu ottave maata. You remember the accident the other day?” (There is nothing sexist about that, little one, it is just what it is. Ladies don’t watch carefully and drive. Don’t you remember the accident the other day?)
There on, I often felt like a fish that only grew smaller in the ever-expanding waters at every milestone I achieved and people I met, which in turn led to a permanent state of discomfort, overwhelmed by novel sights, sounds, smells, and taste of experiences. However, this discomfort now manifests as a desire to navigate through these years by indulging in meaningful interactions that help me broaden my view and sensitize my understanding of cultures and identities even further.
As the cognitive dissonance I experience gets louder in my head, I hope to hold on tighter to things I’ve learned and unlearnt. Doors will be slammed; dinners will be left untouched. But I hope that you and I have the courage to pick our convictions over convenience. I hope that we learn to live and thrive in this very discomfort.
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