Love, Life Stories

I wore a sari to my junior prom for all the wrong reasons

As I struggled to preserve my ethnic identity and avoid being too conventional, I found myself romanticizing my culture and being miserable at my own prom.

 Bottom line: I am constantly trying to prove how Desi I actually am.

It’s complicated.

I am passionate about proving to both myself and everyone else around me that I have not assimilated to Western culture and that I am as Desi as I would have been if I had been raised back home in Kolkata.

Is it unhealthy to go out of my way to show that I am more cultured than my Western counterparts? Probably.

Is it because I’m salty about the two hundred years of British Raj and the Eurocentric beauty standards that are so blatantly present all throughout Southeast Asia today? Also, probably.

[bctt tweet=”I am constantly trying to prove how desi I am.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Should I apply my rational thinking skills and realize that I have nothing to prove to anyone? Definitely.

Will I? Nah.

This is where my junior prom comes in. It’s May, and everyone is scrambling for a dress. I suddenly realize that this is my chance to show everyone my brownness. This was my one shot to show the people at my high school that I’m nothing like them. They’re too Western, too basic.

Not me, though, I am extremely cultured and in touch with my roots – far too cool to wear a conventional prom dress.

I decide to tell my mom that I wanted to wear a sari, a black one (because it’s slimming) and she is absolutely ecstatic. In the beginning of the year, she had given me a lecture on how she wasn’t going to buy me a prom dress over AED 300 because it’s just too much money, but now, to no one’s surprise, she was ready to send in my measurements for an AED 600 sari blouse.

[bctt tweet=” I told her that I really wasn’t trying to make a statement, but who was I kidding.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When people would ask what I was wearing to prom I always said, “Oh I am wearing a black sari,” but in my head, I was adding, “…because I don’t want to look like a basic white girl.” But I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t a little afraid of looking like the Patel sisters from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire once the blouse arrived.

When I told my closest friend that I was wearing a sari to prom, she sent me a screenshot of a girl from her old high school who did the same thing with the message, “It’s nothing new.” I told her that I really wasn’t trying to make a statement, but who was I kidding.

Come May 27th, my mom is buzzing. She is so excited.

I feel sick.

I take it back. I don’t want to wear a sari. I am going to look so strange. Everyone is wearing a dress. Why did I feel the need to make a statement? What’s so bad about conventional anyways.

I was gonna be straight up slapped if I tell my mom I don’t want to wear the sari, so I decided to prioritize my relationship with my mother over my own anxieties.

I put it on.

I don’t like it.

My face is breaking out, I can’t wear a bra with this sari so I have absolutely no support, none of my friends are going, my eyeliner is uneven, and I’d much rather do my physics homework (and I never do my physics homework).

I go to prom and I hate it with my entire being.

Not because I was judged or because I felt ugly or anything like that.

(Honestly, everyone at prom is too damn concerned with their own selves to take a moment of their time and judge me).

It’s because prom was exactly how I expected it to be.

One, I didn’t have a date (not that you need one, FYI), two, most of my friends didn’t go, and three, experiencing prom in your right senses is just no fun.

[bctt tweet=”I go to prom and I hate it with my entire being.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Back then, I was an extremely responsible young lady.

I knew all of this, but I still had to go. I needed to prove that I was Desi. Desi enough. I criticized Priyanka Chopra for not wearing a sari to the Oscars, so I lowkey felt obliged to exemplify the same philosophy I preached.

It’s been three months since my junior prom, and I’m convinced I wore a sari for all the wrong reasons. If I truly wanted to be the best Desi version of myself, I’d actually take the time and learn my own mother tongue properly.

[bctt tweet=” I’m convinced I wore a sari for all the wrong reasons” username=”wearethetempest”]

I’d acknowledge all that is wrong with the Desi community, like anti-blackness, an obsession with Eurocentric standards of beauty, and misogyny at every turn, instead of romanticizing it like a misguided 16-year-old passionate about establishing her uniqueness.

I go to a high school represented by eighty different nationalities, so what was I trying to prove?

I wore a sari to prom because I romanticized a culture without acknowledging its deep flaws, and I was more concerned with not looking basic than looking Desi. Essentially, my priorities were all wrong.

Too often, diaspora kids much like myself will talk about how they love Bollywood, but not mention how there are tons of intensely misogynistic movies like Raanjhanaa, where manipulating a girl into liking you by threatening to slit your wrists is totally okay.

[bctt tweet=”Essentially, my priorities were all wrong.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Every year at our school’s Thanksgiving lunch, they play “Sheila ki Jawani” and all the brown and white kids start raving, oblivious to how the song features a skimpily clad actress dancing to the tune of vulgar and anti-feminist lyrics. The best part of the event is the brown kids who are focused on demonstrating how well they know the lyrics to this masterpiece of a song.

Summer of 2015, the summer before my Junior year, I only ate Indian food, I only watched Bollywood movies and I only listened to Hindi songs. I was fanatical about including the word “Desi” as a part of my self-identity.

Whether or not that part of me was authentic was irrelevant.

Summer of 2016, I visited India after two years in the heat of Dubai and reality slapped me across the face.

I had to write essays on the India-Pakistan partition and on the Bengal Famine. I finally understood why our inferiority complex towards the British is still so ingrained.

[bctt tweet=”The saddest part, I think, was that most of it was internalized hate.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I had to interact with distant uncles and aunties who were just unapologetically misogynistic and racist. The saddest part, I think, was that most of it was internalized hate.

I was once again exposed to what poverty looked like.

The glitter and glamour of Dubai made me forget there are 8-year-olds in the world who go begging in the morning with a child by their arm.

I realized that India isn’t just yoga retreats, eat, pray, love and kadak chai. It’s not just what I romanticized it to be.

[bctt tweet=” India is not just what I romanticized it to be.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I realized that I don’t have the right to romanticize my culture in an attempt to preserve my own ethnic identity. Point blank.