I Promise I’m Grateful, But —  



A quote  

From The God of Small Things  

By Arundhati Roy 

“There is a war that makes us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves.” 

It was one of the first times that 

I realized 

How much I hated myself 

And how much I hated India 

I had known  

For a long time 

For example 

That my skin  

Was less desirable 

Less pretty. 

Less Clean. 

Even when I was born 

The first thing they said was 

She’s so dark. 

And that was in my homeland. 

I had grown up  

Hating and loving my sister all at once 

Hating her for being olive skinned and mistaken for Italian 

and Loving her for everything else. 


But you see,  

Arundhati Roy 

In “exposing” India 

Had made me hate myself more. 

She talked about the days of the Untouchables  

And I was horrified learning about a history which was apparently mine 

But I had never claimed to be mine 



One that Couldn’t be Mine. 



So I went home 

And I talked to Dad and Aunty about it 





They told me that it had never been like that 

They had lived through it  

And it had never been like that 

Dad even called Arundhati a “communist”  

But that’s another story. 


And then I read 


By Jhumpa Lahiri 

And was reminded all over again 

About the long legs 

The slim hips  

Slim torsos 

Light skin 

Of everyone who wasn’t me. 

Hell there’s a million dollar industry running off of creams to make you lighter skinned in India 

When would we stop adoring our conquerors? 

When would we begin adoring ourselves? 




Oh she doesn’t sing? 

Mine does, she placed first in her school actually 

Hum long ke liye ga lo beta (Sing for us child) 


Doesn’t dance? 

Mine does, she’s so in love with our culture 

Dekha do sab long ko (Show them all) 


UConn? That’s wonderful. Ours went to Harvard, she loved it. 

Henna, beta? (Right, child?) 


Ye to moti ho gayi hai! (She’s gotten so fat!) 

Why, I would even say she’s tripled in size!! 


You have a boyfriend? *with a curt smile* That’s nice. 




6 moves within 1 year 

Mom barely spoke English 

So she, upon moving a thousand miles away from her parents, 

And never really learning how to be a parent herself,  

Fell into a clinical depression 

Dad supported a family of 4 on 30,000 

And became 1 parent to 3 kids 

Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy was suggested 

But time and a foreign country heals all things 

Or really it forces you out of them. 

My sister suffered a lot too 

I don’t know if it was because of the culture shock or because 

It was destined to be. 

But she developed severe anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, panic attacks 

The Whole Barrel 

Kids made fun of her, a lot. They were just cruel 

And I think part of it had to do with her not being like them 

Having thick black hair that fell beautifully down her back until she bleached it blonde and wispy 

Thick glasses that helped her see 

Thick body that had been fed well by loving and devoted parents 

Who didn’t know any better 

Who didn’t know what to make of The Whole Barrel 

But then again 

Maybe it was genetics 

Maybe destiny 

But then again 

What if we hadn’t gone in search of that white picket fence? 




I am Indian 

Indian American I guess but  

I prefer  




I’m not Indian. 


I mean, 

I have to prove to other Indians that I am indian. 

I speak Hindi with an accent 

I don’t know how to eat roti with one hand 

I can’t understand everything in Hindi movies 

I barely know anything about India because for the longest time 

I didn’t ever want to go back. 


The last time I had gone back 


there were people with polio dragging themselves across the dirty, shit covered train station floor and stray dogs and poor people and it was hot and we got sick and the toilets were gross and the air killed you  

But that was all an excuse. 

And it was 7 years ago 

And then I lost my grandfather 

And then I lost my only other grandfather 

And now I’m left with the question  

Why didn’t I go back? 




So now we’re here 

Because I have to end this piece, 

But more because I don’t want to say any more. 

A lot more is left to be said  

But not all of it can fit in here 

There’s a whole discussion to be had 

About the American Dream, 

Whatever the hell that means 

About the Third World, 

The Developing Country, 

And how enraged those terms make me. 

For they impose a hierarchy between countries  

And Glorify Western Living as being the Ideal 

When it’s NOT.  

Not only does the term perpetuate stereotypes 

But it also 

Reinforces those stereotypes within those communities about which these stereotypes are made 

And so again 

We Adore Our Conquerors And We Despise Ourselves 


To be Honest  

My life is very comfortable 

And I am happy 

So grateful 

For the experiences that I’ve had  

That I wouldn’t possibly have had if I had stayed  

But Then Again 

What would have happened if we had stayed? 

Culture Shock is an anonymous space for underrepresented and marginalized groups at UConn to share their stories. You can submit your story here.

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