The Paradox of My Dual Identities

It is perplexing when this sudden realisation dawns on you that you are a forever misfit. Being the child of parents who migrated to Delhi, I have been raised here and form the second generation of “Delhiites”.

Most of my childhood, and perhaps even now, consists of two worlds. One is in the public sphere of friends which comprises conversing in Hindi, discussing Bollywood movies and songs, sharing lunches consisting of rotis or paranthas and sharing a common longing for holidays, mostly centred around predominantly North Indian festivals. The other, more veiled and personal world comprises of the home, of family. The language spoken here is Telugu, the TV screen plays Tollywood movies, food takes the form of rice, coora (curry) and curd and conversations mil around the lack of holidays to celebrate a Telugu festival.

For the most part of my childhood, I kept both of these worlds strictly separated, as even the slightest bit of overlapping engulfed me in a fear of ridicule and mockery. Living in a dual world and transitioning roles constantly makes it difficult to fit in. During my school days, the urge to feel a sense of belongingness led me to keep updated with the latest Hindi songs or movies, and I would constantly try to speak better Hindi, without any accent. I would sometimes even wish I had straight , sleek hair like most of my classmates, instead of my frizzy, curly hair. While at home, especially when visiting my cousins during holidays, I would keep up with the latest trends, but in Telugu.

Despite this, I could never truly belong to either. Somehow there was always something that fell short. I would have to inevitably confront labels and categories based on my native origins and where I lived. In my school, I would be different because of my hair, differences in cultural experiences, and small slip ups in pronunciation. Similarly, for my cousins, I would be too much of a “Delhiite” because I do not know as much Telugu culture as they do, I speak much more Hindi than they do and do not understand their inside jokes, which often need to be explained to me.

This constant juggle to fit in became excruciatingly difficult and left me feeling like an alien with no sense of belonging, at least in school. Which is why, for the most part of my school, I remained a quiet and a reserved person, often troubled by questions like “Where do I belong?” and “Who am I if I don’t belong anywhere?”

It took me a really long time to finally understand that I should not depend on the validation of others. After having joined college and meeting new people, some of whom have had similar experiences as mine, I realised that I will not always belong to a group, and that is no grounds to dismiss my experiences or question my identity. This does not however imply that I have completely stopped feeling out of place. There are still times when I remain silent or confused on account of not relating to something during conversations. It is just that I have started to appreciate the myriad layers that form my personality. Instead of focusing on separation of the two sides of my identity, I have started to accept and embrace that I am a hybrid of a mosaic of cultures and practices. I do not need to fit into different moulds for other’s approval because I have discovered that my sense of belonging lies in my self- acceptance . As enlightening as it sounds, it is actually not an easy task and the acceptance would surely not come about in a day, but is a gradual process. And the first step towards this acceptance is to allow myself to cherish and love my curls, and to finally wear them down more often.

Akshara is a 3rd year undergrad History Honours student in Delhi University.

Featured image credit : Furkan Dokuzlar/ Unsplash