When I was 10 years old, I distinctly remember wishing I had been born blonde and blue-eyed somewhere in the USA. I used to think of changing my name when I turned 18 to something more “digestible” and “easy to pronounce” for Americans so it would be easier for me when I moved there (not if but when). Having grown up watching the West portrayed in Bollywood and Hollywood created this inherent feeling of inferiority; there was something romantic about the suburban houses with sprawling gardens and a picket fence, about high school students skipping classes and driving to places and partying with their friends, about dating boys and bringing them home to the parents.
It seemed like a dream, a dream that was unachievable to me because of the societal culture I was born into. The characters I created in the stories I wrote were all girls I wished I was: girls who were free from the restrictions of what I thought to be a regressive culture. There is so much wrong and severely outdated in our traditions, of course, but rather than a drive to change what needed to be changed, all I was left with was a hatred for who I was born as.
And I know this experience to be somewhat universal among our generation. We grew up so much in the shadow of this booming Westernisation that we never really took a step back and questioned why we had to disregard our own culture.
It took a lot to untangle the deep-rooted self-hatred, but I owe a lot of it to the insane amount of change the last half a decade has brought. From Priyanka Chopra becoming a Hollywood star to movies like Baahubali and RRR reaching global fame, a slow but sure appreciation for our identity began to bloom. I felt seen and heard by desi lead characters like Devi from Never Have I Ever and Kate from Bridgerton. Nothing was more relatable than Devi’s traditional Indian family clashing with her free-spiritedness and the beautiful Haldi scene in Bridgterton.
I realised how important it was for the beauty of our dichotomy, diversity and tradition to be portrayed in a positive light in the media so that I could learn to see it just as beautifully. It isn’t trendy to look down on what makes us Indian anymore. Oiling your hair, using natural skincare and doing yoga are norms of health and selfcare now, and social media takes all the credit for it. Sure, it’s slightly ironic that it took the recognition of the West to begin appreciating what has been ours for centuries, but pride is pride nonetheless.
This isn’t an act of nostalgia or complete regression to the past, however. It’s a reclamation that keeps the essence of the past and combines it with the new. We wear kurtas with sneakers, jhumkas with dresses, long skirts with t-shirts and nose rings with everything. There’s the same romance I craved as a child in eating pani puri on the street and taking autos through crowded roads and celebrating Holi in school. It’s an amazing phenomenon to see a generation always accused of being too “liberal”, “uncultured” and “drifting away from tradition” to bring pride back into what we stand for while still condemning everything that’s wrong with it. It’s a reconnection to our roots and culture that’s evolving with the world, a journey of self-acceptance and discovery, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.