Life lessons

Cultural identity — fused or confused

Adolescence is the developmental stage when we try to fathom our own identity according to Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. I have been thinking about my identity lately — more so, my cultural identity. According to Wikipedia (because I couldn’t find it anywhere else!), cultural identity is the (feeling of) identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as he or she is influenced by her belonging to a group or culture.

I was born and brought up in India (although I did spend about 5-7 years of my life in Oman). I’ve always had Indian friends. I always hung out with Indians, even when in Oman. I even went to an Indian School in Oman. Back to Bombay aged 9, India was all I had known. And yet, as I began developing cognitively, I felt like something was different. I didn’t ‘feel’ Indian. Yes I look like I’m from India with the dark skin and everything, and yes I have had the Indian accent and of course, my love for Indian food could never cease…but my views did not fit with the ‘culture’.

What made me think about this lately is because I noticed some pictures by friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Now, these are friends from India who are now either studying overseas or have settled there. They had pictures of celebrating Navratri (which is just one of the n-number of Hindu religious celebrations) and wearing saris or other Indian clothes, hanging out with other Indians, and playing dandiya (or is it garba?). Me — what did I do for Navratri — well, I didn’t even know it was on! I only found out later through the pictures and from my sister after it was all over. I don’t regret it (considering I was never even enthusiastic about the 10-day long festival when I was in India!) but it made me realise all the more about how un-Indian I am.

I remember as a teenager growing up and questioning some of the rites and rituals we had to follow. I never got a clear answer — usually, answers were along the lines of “This is how it’s always been done for generations”. And that makes it ok for us because…? Just some of the things that have over the years made me un-Indian to some Indians back home:
– I don’t speak my mother tongue Tamil.
– I speak limited Hindi — it’s more of ‘Hinglish’
– I did not follow in either of my parents’ footsteps in terms of a career
– I refused to let my parents tell me what to do in terms of a career (and if they had, I would not have listened — fortunately, they have been very supportive!)
– I became openly vocal about my opinions (which as a girl was not accepted by some narrow-minded relatives)
– I have never worn a sari and never plan to
– I have only worn salwar kameezes occasionally
– I never supported India in sports (especially cricket) which meant to some people I was being unpatriotic
– I have not liked festivals like Holi and Diwali (although I did appreciate the public holiday that came along with it)
– I believe my grandmother (dad’s mum) should be in an old-age home
– I have never put mehendi on my hands
– I have never agreed with societal pressures on arranged marriages, girls being subservient, the male being the epitome
– I hated having to learn bharatnatyam (lasted 1 year) and Carnatic singing (lasted too long for my liking)
– I did not like 95% of Bollywood movies

On the other hand, about 3-and-a-half years in Australia has made me feel ‘Aussie-fied’.
– I find that all my friends here are Aussies. I haven’t hung out with any Indians (‘coz I found hardly any wanted to do child psych)
– My opinions and ideas match with most of them
– I’ve even picked up the Aussie accent (which makes some people at work believe I was born and brought up here)
– I haven’t gone to any Indian gatherings or been part of an Indian society
– I have always supported Aussies in cricket since I was 11 and this has now translated to other sports.
– I went to an Aus v Ind cricket game last season and waved the Aussie flag
– I have even picked up sarcasm since being here
– I like taking the piss out of my mates
– I have picked up slang
– I have gotten into Aussie music: Thirsty Merc, Jet, Powderfinger, Crowded house, Cold Chisel to name a few
– I love the beach in summer and enjoy bushwalking

In short, I feel more at home here in Australia than I did in India. Don’t get me wrong…I love my family (i.e. immediate family comprising mum, dad and sis) and my friends from home… but even though I don’t have that same familial support here or perhaps as close friends as I did, I still love it here. I would so love to continue feeling at home here. I feel so bloody Aussie in my heart.

My cultural identity is probably a bit fused…but I guess, whose isn’t in this day and age? I have no regrets. I have picked up values from my parents which have served me well even here Down Under. And I believe I have picked up a lot from multicultural Australia (ok…multicultural Sydney…coz I haven’t been outside NSW).

At this time, when there are mixed views about migrants in Australia — how some people believe they don’t integrate with the larger community — I would like to think I was different in that I am already infused. So if I had to ever appeal — I would say all this and more.

Until next time,


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  • Orhan Kahn
    16 October 2008 at 7:58 am

    You and I share a very similar kinship to the people, places and culture. Whats funny about this is having an ex-girlfriend who is Indian and lives the best of both worlds. When we first started dating she would get so insulted by my initial distaste for all things Indian.

  • Psych Babbler
    23 October 2008 at 4:20 am

    Great minds think alike 🙂 I find that some people who don’t know me at first are wary about saying anything against India, but like I said, I’m as un-Indian as they come. But yeah, definitely met my share of Indians who are like your ex.