With as much conviction as my five-year-old self could muster, I shot my middle finger up in
retaliation, uttering the “F” word to the little girl in front of me.
When the blood returned to my body, she was at the feet of her father, the bhaisaab, and her male relatives, telling on me. The blood left my body again, while I waited for something explosive to happen. Eight grown men turned to look at me with contempt and then returned to their meal in the thaal (a large flat stainless steel dinner plate)
I don’t know many people who can say they had a transformative experience at this age, but I did.
While I don’t remember the start of the argument or fight I was having with my peer, I will never forget the feeling of being fully clothed in my head scarf and Indian garments, having her pour an ice cold “Coke” through my hair and down my body.
By the time I found my mother, and recounted what happened in tears, she hushed, “It’s ok.” I uncomfortably sat in 12 ounces of cola–matted, sticky, and soaked to my underwear, waiting to be taken home.
It was at this moment I knew something was not right and it would take several more years of harassment and abuse to understand that I belonged to a cultural system of oppression.
What I came to learn was that everything about me was wrong–the shade of my skin, my
parents’ occupation, the dialect I spoke and didn’t speak, and even my first name. I was
reminded constantly that the things I could not change about myself were the root and cause of my problems.
I belong to a small South Asian diaspora from Gujarat, India. My ancestors were Hindu converts to Shi’ite Islam but brought with them remnants of the caste system.
A few years after this incident, an actual caste system was implemented. My family was given a “red certificate”, the lowest possible status, while my peers’ families were given “green” or “yellow”.
It was said to be aspirational, a physical marker of our purity and closeness to God, but
it also gave members in this community and even those in my extended family free reign to view and treat me as my color, no matter how many accolades I earned outside of this setting.
“Unfair” was a word I used a lot as a child, and instead of accepting this fate, I unknowingly
used my strong moral compass to disengage and formulate a plan to leave a place where
people did not want to see me succeed.
This “unfairness” manifested itself in my adulthood when I was of age to marry. It was clear that what I valued in a partner was not important, but more so the compatibility of our families. While it was not my intention to secure a suitor as expected, I happened to meet someone more than acceptable to marry. When our intentions were made public, what should have felt like redemption for that little girl from the markaz, and a general celebration of finding a match within our unique community was colored by the social whisperings and actions that I was undeserving.
Throughout the engagement and up until the day of my nikkah (wedding), the feeling that I
was being punished, even persecuted, never left. The rumors, subtle comments, and full-blown attacks were once again, attempts to put me back in my place. Ironically, I was happy to be whisked away by a prince charming and leave the toxic community behind. The End.
I don’t wish to come off as victorious however, because the decision to dissent did cost me. And to be fair, I was warned by many. I made an unpopular choice that has estranged me from
family members, former friends, and more importantly, a heritage for myself and my children.
When you don’t belong anywhere, you float. I have spent the last few years thinking deeply
about what anchors me to this Earth. It has forced me to think about what’s important to me, and to redefine “community” for myself.
I wasted too many years trying to live life as two different people in the same body, and the toll it took was substantial.
I am finally in a place in life where I can free that five-year-old girl from her sentence. I would thank her for her courage that day and her compulsion to fight back; help her forgive the bully who awakened in her something so deep, she would never accept the status quo; let her know the road ahead would be long and have many moments of isolation, but if she persevered, she could eventually rest.
I continue to work through moments that feel hard, and while I don’t have it all figured out, I am taking some time to rest.
Copyright @Farrah Dalal and @Gulabi Stories
Farrah is a second-generation American Born Confused Desi (ABCD). She is a survivor of gender violence, an aspiring storyteller, a former educator, and a lifelong cycle breaker. Farrah is rediscovering her love of reading, writing, and learning while taking time off to raise her young children.
The Midwest, USA