The first time we were going back to India after moving to the States, in the summer of ’97, my father declared that I was allowed one pair of jeans, one pair of sneakers and a shirt to travel in. My attire after landing in India was to be salwar kameezes, lenghas and long skirts. As a fifteen year old and a part of the 1.5 immigrant generation growing up in NYC, I cracked a few smart ass comments at my father’s dictate, but didn’t fight it too much. See, this wasn’t worth beating my already sore hands on the drums of teenagedom caught in the middle of the immigrant experience. I could mouth off to mom and dad, insist on my independence, rail against the stereotypes they attempted to impose on me and generally be an Indian version of the bratty American teen (where, really, my parents got off quite easy) all in the safety of my life in Queens. Being on Indian soil, however, wasn’t reality; it was vacation, where what happened in India, stayed in India. For a month or so while we visited family, I could play pretend and be the Sati Savitri type if that’s what my family wanted.
While in India, I never made an attempt to explain my life in NYC to my family members. Maybe it was sheer selfishness on my part of wanting to avoid the lectures on how I’m still Indian even though I live in America that came with opening up with my conservative family about my life in NYC. Staying general usually worked best: yes, school was good; yes, I still remember how to speak Kannada; yes, I do have Indian friends. I smiled a lot, I ate a lot, I wore what they wanted me to wear and I wrote in my journal a lot. I was polite, respectful and most of all, just plain quiet. We never discussed anything deep and certainly nothing related to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.
My writing, however, has never been quiet. I will break my personality into pieces for the various different compartments of my life, but my writing is one place where I live, whole and complete with total honesty. It never concerned me in the past that when I get published (yes, I said it – when, dammit, when), as a creative non-fiction writer, I would be laying my life out for public consumption. With my immediate family, I began to hang the family’s dirty laundry out to dry starting at 16, so it would be nothing new to them. Everything else, I justified. My parents are so closeted about their lives that it’s not like their friends and acquaintances would recognize me as the child of someone they know. My extended family in India – well, I’ll just make sure the book never gets translated into Kannada and besides, how are one brown woman’s words ever going to travel across the ocean anyway? It’s tough enough getting published and being known locally.
What I hadn’t counted on was technology shortening the distance between my lived reality and the person I pretended to be to keep the peace with my extended family. Before, there were phone calls between NYC and India where surface words lay like sweet, sickly icing on top of a cake. Now, there are emails and Facebook updates between my life and my cousins’ in India. With the internet came Google and Facebook and off they ran, snatching my delusions that my writing and my life could be kept separate from my extended family in India.
While working with Noor to edit a short piece of mine for volume 7 of Papercuts, towards the end of the process, I realized I hadn’t changed one of the characters’ name. That realization broad-sided me as I realized I was telling quite an intimate tale that involved people other than myself. With Papercuts accessible online and subject to Google’s tentacles, there’s a possibility that my cousins in India would now have access to that part of me that I hid from them. (Sidenote: I’ve seen the re-designed website for Papercuts and it rocks. It’s shaped up to be quite a strong representation of the talent at Desi Writers Lounge. You all should be uber-excited!)
There was a brief moment where I considered breathing into a paper bag, but then the writer in me, the one who has always had the backbone, snarked, “Well, then you either better hope they never find it; hope that if they find it, they’ll understand; or if they read it and don’t understand, then you better get ready to deal with the fall out – because this story is getting told.” After another dirty look thrown at the hyperventilating pansy, the writer strode off to start penning the continuation of her story.