“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees – my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight, but necessary.”
my mother always asks me why i even allowed myself to fall for a pakistani muslim man. what was i thinking, she asks me, why did i even open this door?
what was i going to do, not date someone because of their race or religion? i was never raised that way–i don’t mean that i wasn’t raised to be racist, i definitely wasn’t, but you don’t have to be racist to prefer to date or marry inside your own community. it’s a natural preference that makes all the sense in the world to me. what i mean is, i wasn’t raised to be part of my community.
i wasn’t raised speaking marathi or celebrating hindu holidays or praying or even watching hindi movies.i had no idea they existed until at the age of nine, i saw one on the tv in my pakistani best friend’s house. my parents have always spoken to me in english. we visited india often, but my life there was conducted almost entirely in english. i never even really saw india as a real place until i grew up, i think before then it had consisted entirely of my grandparents’ and aunts’ apartments and rikshaws in between. everyone in my family eats beef and my mother’s favorite books are by p.g. wodehouse. i’ve always felt very indian, longed for more of that culture, but i was never raised to know the boundaries it imposed on me. my parents have always had friends of all races and religions–including several pakistani and muslim families. some of my parents’ best friends are a hindu and muslim couple, who eloped to be together. so why should this have been any different. when he asked, why would i have said no? and when he was wonderful, why would i have tried to fight that?
to my parents, and i think, to most indian parents, romantic love is another indulgent western falsehood–something for which americans have invented a need, like wisdom teeth extraction surgery or antidepressants.
what’s more important is someone who shares your values, will be good to you, and can take care of you. someone who can become part of your existing family and the bedrock of your new one. those are the values i learned. but you see, i thought that that was what i was doing too. i found someone who loved music and art, who was interested in the world and saw it as an amazing place full of wonder, just like me. i found someone called his parents every sunday and talked to them about the things in his life, and in his heart. i found someone who asked me my grandparents names and their story, who understood what it was to long for a place that you have always imagined but then when you get there, find out it doesn’t exist. what more could i have asked for? what more could they?
it turns out, the differences american society erases between minorities of the same general shade are thrown into stark relief anywhere but here. there’s no such thing as “brown” in india, as i discovered this december in bombay. but here, the world treats indians and pakistanis as the same because we look the same, talk the same way, miss the same food, long for the same unknown place. we treat each other that way, we see each other as the same because white people see us as the same. but in india, it’s so different. pakistanis are as different from us as afghans or iraqis, and while individually they’re nice and when you’re traveling abroad there’s no-one you’d rather meet, at home their faces evaporate. they are an idea, not a people. and the idea that a beloved child, who you have nurtured and indulged and sweated through life to raise might want to become part of that idea is unthinkable.
what my parents forgot to instill in me as a child they have accomplished now. i can see the difference between us now. and i can see how much they will cost me. the parts of my birthright he threatens to steal. because if i choose him, no one will ever feed me rice so i won’t smudge my mehndi-covered hands. nobody will ask me to turn over my filligreed palms to search for the letters of his name, secreted among the dark red flowers. loving him will cost me everything. but he is also the man whose love, as i wrote to him so long ago, will never let me go.
there are no good options left for me. no matter what happens, we can’t all have what we want. even if they somehow come around, this can never be the joyous thing i didn’t know i needed it to be.