this isn't for you
April 28, 2018
I saw you again today.
I remember how you curled your lip in distaste at the others when we walked past them.
They look like us, but are not the same. They are too Indian, too traditional, too easily identifiable as foreign for you to ever be around them. Their beliefs don’t line up with yours, with ours. “Oh, I can’t stand to be around them", you mock, “them and their archaic notions of the world.” I laugh, and agree, because you’re right, aren’t you? The hypocrites. The Others. Who are they, even.
(Not us, I tell myself, not us)
They smell like a memory of something familiar but not quite, home but not quite, never enough to be anything besides bittersweet and almost-sacred, a match struck that incinerates my blood and reduces me to ash. There is a vicious yearning and loss in the cracks of me. The ones with a place to go back to.
(“People like us don’t get the luxury of home being a place when we only exist in displaced spaces”, you say in my ear, or maybe I do. “We don’t need it. We don’t need it. We are better than that.”)
I turn away. I am not a part of this.
The Ayurvedic collections of myrrh and sandalwood and patchouli agarbatti smoke that clings to their clothes are beyond me. The haldi and garam masala and curry powder that lingers for days on their skin and clothes, following them like a fragrant cloud of half-buried memories are not a part of me, not when I have never had the luxury of not being aware or reminded of the scents that are wrapped around me. The mehndi staining their fingertips and spiralling up their arms are not mine to wear or draw or represent, just some pretty decorations and passing fancy.
(I am not a part of this, I reassure myself, if this is even a reassurement, and do not think about how this is not mine to have at all)
I do not think about how it looks different on their skin. How they wear their home lives like it isn’t a private affair, a comforting reminder instead of a shameful one. How it fits them.
(咖喱人, 咖喱人, I hear them chant in my head, high and mocking and laughing, and it is like being a child all over again, 黑炭, 黑炭, 咖喱人!)
(This is not who I am)
“It’s the way they dress”, you justify it to me, wrinkling your nose, “the way they tie their hair and wear their makeup, the way they flock together and talk, loudly, unashamedly, in Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi. Have some decency!”
“This is fucking Canada”, you say, as if you do not speak in Mandarin and Hindi to me.
As if you are not guilty too. As if you are not here for the same reasons.
As if we are somehow exempt from this.
Pretty parrot, whose words are those?
(It’s the way they are Marked. It’s the way they carry their homes with them, within them, the way they hate us, and we hate them, and hate ourselves too for good measure. It’s the way they are not like us and we are not like them. It’s the way that no one besides us would see this.)
(It’s the way that we aren’t the same either.)
You want to measure up and I know it, of course you do, but I am tired of chasing after ghosts of could have beens. Of hopeless efforts. Do you think that they care either way? Care about you? Go ahead, blow yourself up on the pride you feel at being different, at being good, at not Being. Declare it to them, go on, I am not angry or radical, I am modern, I am westernized.
Don’t you see? They want you to cater to them, want you to muzzle yourself, turn against one of your own for being angry, for feeling wronged, for taking pride in our, yes our, heritage and actively seeking it out, for not buying into this society they constructed to trap us within. You’re already in their webs.
We are unwelcome there, unwelcome here, unwelcome in any space that calls for us to be anything at all instead of everything at once. We cannot exist in grey spaces and cannot exist out of them. Anyone that looks like us and doesn’t talk like them, act like them, believe like them, is disorder. The pride you feel is a mockery. That pride at being “white on the inside, coloured on the outside”, as if that matters, as if that is something to define yourself as.
(Because to be defined is a thing to itself)
They don’t care that you are westernized. They will look at you and see one of us, see your skin and hair and body parts pulled together as something Other. You are defined before you even open your mouth. When you do open your mouth they will see you are leashed, that you have cut away parts of yourself trying to be whole, and then maybe, if you are good and quiet and blind, you will have value.
I do not have the luxury of keeping my mouth shut, of remaining passive, we do not have the luxury of ignorance. We have to open our eyes, open our mouths, reach for one another without dragging each other down, or we will be swallowed whole. This is the system bearing its weight down on us and integrating itself into our bones, wrapping us in insidious coils until we break ourselves trying to find a way out, a way up. Our words are unspoken, unheard, misunderstood, our skin a warning, our bodies coded in violence and anger that is intrinsic to our being, we are never afforded the luxury of neutrality.
It’s not your fault, not really. This is what we have been taught. This is what we have been conditioned into thinking, into believing. Into scorning our elders for being traditional, into trying so hard to measure up to western ideals, western constructions, western institutions and languages and flavours and scents and styles, being anything, anything, except that obscene, shameful, Other.
It’s not your fault, not our fault, but I cannot forgive it.
(I don’t think I can forgive myself for my part in this. I don’t think I can ever make amends)
I am as guilty as you are but I am tired. My bones sink under the weight of holding me up. We are not the same. I am not like you and you are not like them. We are just people, and we are separate, and our experiences will never be the same, but this? This binds us to each other. We cannot afford to remain in a bubble.
The specialness of us, our good intentions, how we are the ones aware, how we are the ones who are good. What marks us as different? We as the “educated”, we as the lost, we as the blindly following finally seeing the light. But then, where do we get this education from anyway?
(What even is the point of it when you can’t talk to the ones that matter anyway)
(Awareness is a sin, don’t you dare be aware, you will only fall apart)
When I look back, sometimes I think about the words people speak, the significance of a question in the unravelling of me.
“What would you be without us,” she says, rushedly, and it bursts out of her like she cannot keep it in anymore, spilling from her open mouth and choking me in the same breath. It spills from her like she has repressed it with every fiber of her being, as if it is something righteous, something valiant, and she doesn't deserve the burden of keeping to herself.
In her head, maybe it is all these things.
Maybe, just maybe, she isn’t even being defensive! Maybe she isn’t being intentionally ignorant and (dare I say it?) racist. Maybe it is a genuine question and I shouldn’t be so hard on her, maybe I am just reading too much into it, the poor white girl having her words misunderstood. Does it really matter?
(There is a voice inside me that whispers, “Maybe I am not reading too much into it, maybe she is ignorant and racist and that’s all there is to it.” It echoes in my head, “Does it really matter?” I turn away.)
(That is never all there is to it)
In the end, however, the crux of it is that she doesn’t have to keep it in. She doesn’t have to keep it in, and this bitter turmoil twists inside me at the thought. She doesn’t have to bite her tongue, hold her breath, clench her fist and not say what she really means because her words will always, always, be used as a weapon against her. She doesn’t have to fear that, no, she has the luxury of being listened to, at not being taken at face value and actually asked for elaboration instead of condemned from the moment those uncensored, unfiltered, words leave her open mouth, poisoning the air and rendering me mute, splintering my insides with the force of her festering self-righteousness.
(How many times have I been condemned for showing ignorance? For opening my mouth and expressing anger, injustice, at not repressing the parts of me that scream out at the unfairness of it, in valiance, in righteousness, in the undeniable wanting to speak for something that matters to me, parts of me crying out and withering with each time I stitch my mouth shut)
The injustice eats away at me, stripping my flesh from my bone and corroding me inside out with acrid wanting.
I am crippled by it.
(I still cannot open my mouth.)
My words, my emotions, my expressions, my skin and voice and body, are a knife used to carve me open, the leverage needed to hang me on a noose of my own making. I will always be a representative of my body, of my Otherness. My words are a double edged sword that draws blood no matter what I say or do not say. Our blood is always the one spilt.
(A question doesn’t always have to mean what you say. Your intention isn’t always what matters the most. It is not always the sole point that is understood beyond the candy coating of words. The importance of what you say, the significance, the power of it, is also in the way people take it. The way they understand you, dissect you, take your words and skin and body and reconstruct you, it, as an insult and lash out in defensiveness and hate because words are loaded and it has never just been about the things you say)
(I do not know how to not be crippled by this)
Sometimes, when quiet thoughts aren’t quiet anymore and whisper cloyingly in my ear, I ask myself questions I don’t want to know the answer to. Have I ever loved myself? Have I ever been proud of what I am doing, blowing up my importance and creations to inflate my own ego and fashion myself something untouchable, something powerful, something more. Have I ever actually loved the person I made myself into? I get my power from measuring up, but who am I measuring up to? Has this been a futile endeavor from the start?
(In my dreams, I see my mother lash out at me again. In my dreams, she declares her pride in her Indian heritage and accuses me with the same breath. “Why not? I am Indian. They will see it, I am proud of my heritage.” I cannot say those words like she can. They are ash on my tongue, another untruth spilling from my lips. My pride is an empty one.)
Is this wrongness rooted in my skin? In the marrow of my bones, in the sinews that bind me together, muscle and flesh caving in, rooted in the hollowness of me? Or is it my tongue and vocal cords that betray me, my hands, my mannerisms, the shape of my nose and eyes and the blood in my veins, the way I laugh, the way I cry, the way I chase after things that were never meant to succeed, the way I fall apart because it is never, ever, enough and I will never be anything besides wrong.
(I do not think I know how to be anything else)
I do not know how my mother wants to go back to a place that I have spent so long being both confounded and repulsed by, to settle in and retire in Mumbai and take comfort and pride in that as her home. I do not know how my father finds comfort in the soil and smoke and patriotism of an orange, green, and white flag, hoisted with pride and an affirmed sense of belonging. I do not know why I do not feel attachment to any place. I do not know why everytime I am sick I call for home despite already being home, in all my homes with all the people I have tried to make my homes, never knowing what, exactly, I am yearning for.
(I am my family's disappointment and their pride all at once. Even if I throw myself at their feet and beg for forgiveness it will not be enough, it will never be enough)
(I do not understand, I do not understand, I do not Understand)
Sometimes I think all I am is an imitation. I don’t know if it’s even possible to understand what I have lost, what we have lost as people, here, in this place, our histories as they are. I am so shaped by this grief and loss and anger, this all-consuming hollowness. I will never know what has been taken from me. What I have given up in selfishness, in egotism, in self-righteous pride and ignorance that I tried to justify, that we both did. Do.
I think I finally understand why self-sacrifice as a term twists me up so much.
Why, that in him implying that the solution was to believe that self-sacrifice is all we can do, as if our suffering was our method of taking back power and control, I shattered.
My whole life has been about self-sacrifice.
Our existence is defined by it, it is fundamental to our being, our living, our way of interacting with the world. We sacrifice our words, our energy, our time and hearts and lives to make them understand a fragment of our being. We barter bits and pieces of ourselves, some we were never ready to part with. How can I understand this, how can I accept that when you say this, it is as if you are telling us to die so we can make a point of ourselves?
Is our life worth so little that it is only in death and suffering we are valued? How can we put our faith in the humanity of the colonizer, when we have seen for ourselves that we would only be proven wrong time and time again?
I want to do as you say. I want to believe in you. Your words fill me with acrid yearning, to be good, to be just, to be valiant in my anguish, but I am stripped down and broken apart. I cannot soften my barbs. I do not know how, and I do not know if I even want to.
(There is a part of me that thinks your teachings are beyond me.)
Perhaps it is my own fault, my inability to understand. Perhaps I am blindsided by my resentment, by my anger and shame and guilt. How can I go from finally embracing feeling anger at all, to being indirectly told that it is obscene? That I am not doing what is right and good for my people, for myself, how can I correlate the words you say when to me they ring with echoes of words drilled into me?
(This anger festers inside me, boils my blood and runs me ragged, there is a revolution under my skin that is more than sacrifice. How can I go against the beating of my heart?)
Perhaps I do not understand you. Perhaps it is not the truth of you. Perhaps I really cannot do anything about how I feel because to admit you are right, to believe in you and your word, is to believe that everything I am, everything I have done, is still wrong.
(“Do you not understand?” I want to yell, “Do you not understand me at all?” I want to cry, “Do you not understand us at all? Is there a grand picture I am missing? Am I simply blind to it?” I want to sink to my knees and ask, very quietly, from the red heart of me and the hybrid bones and dust and ruin and endless wanting of everything I am fashioned out of, Is this all that we are meant to be?)
I turned my back on my family. I still am; viewing myself as inherently singular and different from my family, even when recognizing what I am doing to myself, how I am Othering myself. Even when I realize what I have done both to myself and to get to where I am now, I am still complacent.
Sometimes I think that is the truth of it. It is, in a way. I turned my back on my culture to gain favor. I am the by-product of loss and guilt. I do not have the luxury of fitting, not here, nor there, nor with you. How do I come to terms with that, how can any of us come to terms with that?
(There is a terrible part of me that rages, who granted you the authority to ask this of me, who gave you the permission and authority to decide that I am allowed to talk about this now, allowed to feel it and take up space and express myself for you when I cannot do it for myself? There is another, bigger, part of me that is grateful, because I would never have been able to say these words out loud, never would have dredged it up and allowed myself to feel it at all, hoarding it all away in the cavity of my chest and letting it fester within me. Sometimes, I do not know which part is louder.)
I am angry.
My body trembles with the force of keeping me restrained, of not letting myself bubble over, of years of squashed down resentment, of an open, festering wound gouged into me and spreading putrid poison through my veins. There is helpless fury in the marrow of my bones, a terrible anger clawing at my throat, a ravaged voice in my head that demands lash out, lash out, they have backed us away into a corner for so long, lash out, what else can we do?
I am angry.
To admit it is to give them leverage against me, to play into the role they have kept waiting for me. To admit it is to willingly offer myself up to be torn into, broken apart and dismantled for everything I have ever said, ever done, ever felt, as if I have never been anything besides all-consumingly Angry. I know. I know. I know.
But to not admit it at all is to deny everything I could be. To not admit it at all is to let myself fester, write my own self destruction into being, to cage myself in time and time again and I deserve better than that.
I am better than that.
(We all are, I promise, I promise, we all are)
Our feelings are not shameful, are not obscene or characteristic of Us, us, us, we are always an us or none at all, we are not inherently anything. If we try, we do it for ourselves. Not for them.
Not for them.
(They are not the centers of our worlds. Do not give them that power.)
Our lives are not neutral. We are not allowed to simply exist.
We cannot afford to keep going as if nothing has changed; close our mouths and smile prettily, keep moving on and forwards and to and from but never up, as if we are blind, as if we are ignorant, as if we will always deny everything that we deserve. No, nothing has changed here, nothing at all, nothing to see in you, in me, in us, we are as we always have been.
That sense of goodness, of superiority, of being what you are but not what you want to be, or what you could be, or what you even deserve to be, does not bind you and me together. We have bound ourselves. Maybe I will never feel like I deserve to define myself, deserve to say words about me that others can assign so freely, maybe I will always exist in a grey space, a hybrid, maybe I will always be a little bit Other. But they will never have the right to say my name, say my identity, define who I am and what I am capable of as if they know me.
They do not know any of us.
(My body is a battleground for puzzle pieces and broken down rooks that not not fit in with one another, all trying hopefully and hopelessly to make themselves whole. Even if I know I cannot exist within binaries, I cannot exist outside of them all the same. When I try, if I try at all, I do not know if I even desire an outcome, or desire to simply be; to exist, without shame and guilt and filed down edges, a profound yearning and deep loss that is felt within the cracks and crevices of things beyond simply my body.)
(This is not all that I am. That is not us.)
We are not the same.