When I was fifteen, I was a ‘planner’. I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up—a lawyer. I knew the sort of person I wanted to be with—tall, brown, handsome and leftist. I knew that I wanted to have children—2, the first by the age of 30. I knew I wanted a library full of books.
These weren’t just my own plans; I knew that many of these things would also make my parents happy. I worried that if I didn’t manage to create a life like the one I had planned, that I would have failed not only me, but my entire family.
This body of people was far larger than just my nuclear unit. Growing up, I would always explain to non-desi friends that for me, my mum, dad and brother were only a small part of a much larger group of people I considered close family. There was always an army of aunts and uncles, grandparents, grand aunts and grand uncles, cousins, second cousins and just-like-family friends who made up this amalgam of individuals who love and support you. The ones who crowd around your birthday cake and hoist you up to blow the candles. These were the people who made up my world, and I didn’t want to disappoint an army.
As I got older, the world interfered with those plans. I was changing, growing into a new person and this made me concerned about many of the relationships I had always cherished.! I couldnt tell them that I got drunk occasionally! I couldn’t tell them that I was out till 5am! I definitely couldn’t tell them that I had kissed a boy!
Telling my parents took enough guts, but it was way too frightening to tell a mama and maasi all the personal things that made up the new me. It’s like there is this big puzzle, and you are one piece. What happens if that piece changes shape? Will it cease to fit into the puzzle?
All around me, I saw people from desi backgrounds negotiate the ties that bind in different ways. Razia, a friend from college, believed that there was a part we would always have to play; “There’s a ‘me’ that has grown and changed over the years, and a ‘me’ that I have maintained for my family.
It isn’t even a conscious decision—I automatically start behaving a certain way. My family wouldn’t recognize me if I didn’t.” I guess we all do that to a certain extent. But what about the choices we make? Do we keep our families in the dark about these if they don’t fit into their version of us?
Simi, another college friend, believes that the concept of staying close to such a large, extended family is slowly disintegrating. She believes many desi people, particularly in the diaspora, have moved on, “People aren’t cocooned in these big groups any more. For me, my nuclear family and close friends are the people I keep in touch with.
My wider family wouldn’t be able to comprehend me, culturally, so you start to slowly lose touch.” Was this what was happening to me? Would the cavalry of cousins I grew up with no longer be a part of my child’s life? Would the choices I made, in terms of how I wanted to live my life, distance me from my Big Fat Indian family?
As I changed, I found that the plans I had laid out were not going to materialize. Watching lawyers on TV was way more interesting that sitting for the bar, I had my heart broken by a couple of handsome leftists, I’m 29 and no baby is in sight. I am not the woman I thought I would be, in absolutely the best way possible. But I was still concerned about how I fit into that puzzle, being such a changed piece.
Then, on my birthday this year, after we had crowded around my cake, my family decided that they would each take turns giving me their presents. They had each gotten me a book ‘for the library I had always wanted’. I remembered that familiar feeling, as a child, of being hoisted up, and happy. I realized that my family wasn’t a puzzle that I had to figure out and fit. They were just my family, and that there was a part of me that was still the same and always would be, especially when I was around them.
Kari ‘Bad’ Shah is a single Indian woman in her late 20’s who has lived in many cities around the world. She hopes her experiences and thoughts will help bridge the generational gap between South Asian parents and children worldwide. ‘No Sex in the City’ is inspired by the popular TV show ‘Sex and the City’ which captured the attention of diverse viewers across the globe.