One Brown Girl’s Perspective on What it Means to be Carefree

I was six years old when Baba and Mamma moved from India to America. When they arrived here, my mother realized that she was less restricted—she had no extended family to answer to, more control over her time, and the independence to focus on her career and kid.  

At the age of eight, Baba took me back to India as a way to get Mam­ma back to the coun­try, and per­haps as a way to revert to the unequal pow­er dynam­ics they shared. He took me back to our moth­er­land, India, but I was moth­er­less for a whole year.

Through the sheer will and cos­mic ener­gy that my moth­er is made up of, she got both of us back to our two-by-one apart­ment in Amer­i­ca. Once I was back, I was admit­ted into a pre­dom­i­nant­ly white ele­men­tary school where I would study for mere­ly two years. Through­out my time there, my accent, the way my food smelled, the cot­ton skirts I wore (which you can now find sell­ing at Urban Out­fit­ters, by the way), and my frizzy hair, were all made fun of by my white and non-Black peers.

I remem­ber feel­ing as if I was walk­ing back­ward, not real­ly part of this but not real­ly liv­ing there. My white peers’ teas­ing and taunt­ing served to draw the white cir­cle around me, divid­ing me from the rest—the ones whose tongues did not betray their eth­nic­i­ty, the ones whose food did not smell ‘eth­nic’ (and did not smell at all, in fact), the ones who had mold­ed into the per­fect preser­v­a­tive-filled Lunch­ables brown bag that would nei­ther draw atten­tion to, nor deny, the right­ful pres­ence of its consumer.

Although many of my fel­low immi­grant-born and immi­grant-descend­ed peers had shrugged off the iden­ti­ty their par­ents had come to Amer­i­ca with, I could not do the same. Per­haps I was dis­en­chant­ed with the idea of giv­ing into a col­or­less melt­ing pot that bub­bled hap­pi­ly when we crushed one anoth­er while we all sought the same things and strug­gled to reach for lib­er­ty, a chance at hap­pi­ness, a dig­ni­fied life.

Per­haps it was because I went to India look­ing for a sense of myself, and hav­ing not found it, I came back still seek­ing. Per­haps, I was clutch­ing onto some­thing, in the deep haze and lim­it­ed vision of ado­les­cence, that I yearned to unfold.

Per­haps I wished for some­one to read my secrets, my desires, and silences and nour­ish me with the warm space of pro­tec­tion and sta­bil­i­ty that so many immi­grant chil­dren often starve for.

Though this bul­ly­ing con­tin­ued through­out my sixth-grade edu­ca­tion, I nev­er allowed it to affect me. I was too busy with my silences, with what I had seen and want­ed to under­stand. There were so many faces that float­ed up, with­in my grasp, but nev­er stayed long enough to tell their sto­ries. There were so many ques­tions I want­ed to ask but had no words to cre­ate. My face was for­ev­er turned in the oth­er direc­tion, see­ing some­thing else, so that even when I came home, even after the worst days, I would not tell Mam­ma about the way the kids laughed and jeered at me.

Look­ing back to that time, I think I had a deep aware­ness of the way my life was shift­ing from one world into anoth­er, and how it would con­tin­ue mold­ing itself to the jolt­ing back and forth of a third space. I knew that my peers were only dis­trac­tions for the work I had to do in myself, and this work was nei­ther option­al nor sug­ges­tive. I knew this self-invest­ment would ensure my sur­vival in this world. I remem­ber think­ing that the mean­ness in my peers urged them to reflect that tox­i­c­i­ty towards me.

[Read Related: What it Means to be a First Generation Desi——From the Lens of a Half-Indian, Half-Irish Woman]

For­give­ness came eas­i­ly then because I knew that I was strong enough to deal with the bul­ly­ing on my own, and I hon­est­ly felt bad for the bul­lies, for they had to live with their atti­tudes, not me. Per­haps that’s why I nev­er allowed that bul­ly­ing to stick to me. I came home, untouched, not even giv­ing the day’s events a sec­ond thought, know­ing that my ener­gy had more impor­tant work to do.

Yet, as I grew up and dug more and more into my silences, the con­scious­ness in me bloomed with anger, pain, and sor­row. Per­haps, as a child, I was for­giv­ing because I did not know what it meant to be teased for the smell of my food or the frizz of my hair. I did not under­stand that my white peers were slow­ly ful­fill­ing the expec­ta­tions that white suprema­cy had of them. When I looked at them, I felt pity, because they spent so much of their ener­gy try­ing to make me feel bad and nev­er received the reac­tion they worked so hard for.

Now, when I see sim­i­lar mind­ed folks, such as peo­ple who spew hate, I feel fear because I see the more man­i­fest­ed, ugli­er insti­tu­tions that reward and encour­age them to con­tin­ue think­ing, act­ing, and behav­ing as they do. Yet, that lit­tle girl still exists in me today and is still hold­ing onto her secrets and inked words, not know­ing where to reach for safety.

Nowa­days, I come home so tired that I can­not even speak. Some­times it feels like I know too much about the world and where I stand with­in it. Oth­er days, I feel emp­ty, igno­rant of so much more, of so many oth­ers and their fold­ed up pages, their unsaid truths. I wish to be as untouched and care­free, deeply invest­ed in my truths rather than resist­ing the lies of anoth­er, as I once was.

In this time and age, when South Asian folks are learn­ing more and more about what their skin col­or, gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, caste, and class means in rela­tion to this soci­ety, as well as how we ben­e­fit and suf­fer from ugly insti­tu­tions, it is increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to be carefree—or to even under­stand the mean­ing of ‘being carefree’—and actu­al­ly prac­tice it to sur­vive, thrive, and strength­en our, and oth­er, col­ored communities.

We are begin­ning to under­stand how rev­o­lu­tion­ary and pre­car­i­ous our exis­tence is, and how we were nev­er meant to sur­vive as we do. This is the time when the pres­sure against our lungs is mak­ing it hard to med­i­tate upon our imag­i­na­tions. Indeed, it is only through our imag­i­na­tions and through the expan­sion of our imag­i­na­tions that we can read the secrets and silences of our con­scious­ness. Indeed, it is only by invest­ing in our truths that we can take care of our blood and the blood of our loved ones.

Here is my [ever expand­ing] set of def­i­n­i­tions on what it means to be care­free, and I urge you—whomever you are, who has tak­en the minute to read this—to also come up with your set of Carefreeisms:

To be carefree…

….Means to not have to wor­ry about what caste, class, gen­der, reli­gion or race your lover is

Means to not think and rethink whether wear­ing a kur­ta will make oth­ers like you less

Means to be com­fort­able in a space you occupy

Means not hav­ing to won­der whether the bad cus­tomer ser­vice was because the staff was rude or rude because of your skin color

Means to sing in the rain after class­es, on your way back home

Means going out and allow­ing the sun to kiss you with­out the wor­ry of get­ting darker

Means to not spend the rest of your life edu­cat­ing your lover

Means singing and laugh­ing loud­ly with­out being told by your elders that only loose girls do so

Means not hav­ing uncles and aun­ties polic­ing your body & the ways you decide to dress it

Means not hav­ing to bar­gain your iden­ti­ty with Amer­i­can folks and your moth­er­land relatives

Means lov­ing and grow­ing with your brown, black, and white sis­ters rather than see­ing them as competition

Means what you want it to be, what makes you feel whole, more than a label, more than a sta­tis­tic, more than this world’s pol­i­tics, what makes you feel human and happy

Because to be care­free is to be revolutionary

To be care­free is resistance.

Ena Ganguly
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2015

This post was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on Brown Girl Mag­a­zine, and being repub­lished with their permission.

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