Growing Up Brown. A Personal Reflection to “Never Have I Ever”
I spend an entire night binge watching Mindy Kaling’s teenage angst dramady “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix. The aftermath was me, with a swollen face and red eyes recovering from the emotional whiplash I suffered from watching this series. The morning after I told my American-born-to-Indian-immigrants husband that he needed to watch it, and began crying telling him the tale of Devi. He unsuccessfully tried to hide his fear that it was going to be “one of those days” with his crazy wife.
As a first born Indian girl of immigrant parents watching this show elicited an intense range of emotions. It included everything from discomfort, shame and anxiety to joy, love and pride. Many have tried to represent American-Indian culture in a watchable format and have failed. It was invigorating to see it captured so well and more honestly than I expected.
I laughed out loud at the references to the “itchy saree”, fondly recalling all the times I yelped in pain while my Mom helped me pin and tie an intricate and uncomfortable Indian outfit. She would TSK loudly as I came down the stairs in my finished product, proclaiming that I wasn’t wearing enough jewelry or make-up. Meanwhile my dad excitedly made me pose for ridiculous photos, making me stand at various angles, having me set my chin on top of my fist for an Olan Mills worthy portrait. I would spend entire nights itching from the embroidery of the clothing, making note of the rashes and marks on my body after stripping it all off in my bedroom at the end of the night. Then of course I would leave the clothes in a heap on the floor for my Mom to deal with, having no idea how to fold 7 yards of material after it had been wrapped around my body several times over.
As a teenager I went through the usual angst of western high school culture, trying day and night to project coolness. Meanwhile at home, I was communicating in a language that was not technically my primary tongue, eating smelly food my friends didn’t eat. I would go to “Gujarati School” and “Jain school” on the weekends when my non-Indian friends were having fun or playing sports.