Embracing My Differences

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

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| This is the 372nd story of Our Life Logs |

My parents had a marriage of love. I say this because my dad hails from India where he first had an arranged marriage to a girl he barely knew. It wasn’t a good match, and they often had arguments, making each other miserable in the process. My dad then moved to the UK to join his extended family. To cut a long story short, while there, my dad had an affair with my mum, who was Scottish. They fell in love and got married, later having me in 1990 in a small town on the west coast of Scotland.

Me, age four.
Me, age four.

From a young age, I felt different and often lonely. I was the only mixed-race child in the small town of Arrochar until about the age of 10 when I gained a baby brother and, soon after, a baby sister. Still, with them, I felt like an outcast since I was so much older and they were just 18 months apart and inseparable. It was as if I had to wade through the waters alone.

No matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I belonged. The incessant racial comments didn’t help. Some weren’t meant to be unkind. They came from curious children who had never seen someone having my complexion. But mostly, I knew the others were trying to make a point, showing off in front of their friends, or trying to upset me. I had kids laugh and tell me I smelled like curry. And so many times I heard them shout, “Go back to where you came from!” When I said, “I am from here,” I was often not believed. “Where are you really from?” they’d snarl back.

I grew up confused, saddened, and self-conscious by the questions that I did not know how to answer. I often wished that both my parents were Scottish so that I could fit in and make friends, and it was a miserable time.

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As I entered middle school, it seemed there was no way around the ridicule from my peers. My dad managed three businesses in our town, one of which was a small grocery shop he ran with my mom. My dad was very hardworking and wanted to pass this onto me, so I was expected to help during the weekends and summer holidays. Kids from my class would often come in, spot me, and whisper to one another before running away giggling.

One day, my dad caught a few of the kids stealing and threw them out. After that, the teasing grew even harsher. Kids would say, “Her family must be very poor if she has to work in the shop. How embarrassing.” I tried to ignore them, but oftentimes I would hide in the stock room until I heard the front door close and their steps fade away.

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As I got older, my differences were so stark they were hard to ignore. As a teenager, I had wished I had blond hair and fair skin like the other girls that the boys fancied. Instead, my dark hair and brown skin stood out. I tried my best to ignore boys’ rude comments by throwing myself into my studies. It worked for a while. I got all A’s in my final exams, but I still wasn’t happy with my life.

Despite my desire to be like everybody else, my dad encouraged me to learn and embrace his culture. With his guidance, I became bilingual, and once a month, we would drive to Glasgow to attend mosque. After, we’d go to big family get-togethers. I could run around with my cousins without fear of judgment. The women at these events would make lots of delicious food in enormous pots, and we would all eat together. I was taught to cook these traditional Indian meals as well and I loved it! Surrounded by familiar faces, I got to be at ease for a few hours each month. But all too soon, it was back to reality.

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I went on to study accounting after high school, in hopes that I could fly under the radar with few stares in a university setting. But there was one boy, a lovely boy, I met at 19 who stared at me with love instead of disdain. His name was Mark.

We met on a rare night that I was actually out at a party. He was kind, funny, a great listener, and very approachable—I fell for him straight away! What really drew me to him was that he seemed to like me just as I was, and I could totally be myself with him. He was a chef and became interested in learning some Indian recipes from me. I happily taught him everything I knew. It was the first time—outside my family gatherings—that I didn’t feel ashamed of my culture.

And it wasn’t just my culture. Mark made me feel like I was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and that everything about me was wonderful. He was kind and attentive and very sincere with me. As a child, I had often felt lonely, and these feelings disappeared when I met Mark. I felt so happy and so lucky to have met him.

I began to slowly accept who I was. I was away from the bullies and people no longer made comments about the color of my skin, and, for the first time, I felt understood. Bit by bit I started to improve my confidence.

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Our relationship soon developed, and we moved in together. During my second year of university, I got pregnant with my first son, and while I had to give up my studies, I was so enthralled by the new bundle of love and joy that became part of my life.

After becoming a mother in 2011 and again in 2013, I began to think more about my experiences at school as a child. I didn’t want my own children to feel ashamed or like they didn’t fit in. And while Mark and I split up a few months after having our second child, I remembered how he used to treat me when we first met. Mark had taught me that I was, in fact, beautiful and unique, and I wanted my children to know that too. I actively sought ways to embrace my differences and became very proud of my dad’s culture. I know that he has worked hard to provide for his family and give us a better childhood then he had, and I also wanted to honor that.

A few years later during a conversation with some of my family, I opened up to them about how I wish I could show my sons what it was like to celebrate in an Indian festival, but unfortunately, Mela was a city quite far away. To that, one of my relatives had said, “Why not bring the Mela to Arrochar.” I’m not sure whether she was serious or not, but that was something I decided to do.

In 2018, I organized a small Asian festival in my home town, which was well received. We borrowed a field from a local farmer and put up marques. Smells of spices wafted through the town, and there was a sea of colorful clothing and costumes. My Indian friends and family from Glasgow visited, and we had dance and music performances and cooked for everyone. I invited the whole town and raised money to help build a school for orphans in India.

At the festival in Glasgow.
At the festival in Glasgow.

Some of the people I had been at school with attended the event and enjoyed tasting the food and soaking up the atmosphere. One of them even apologized to me for making me feel weird or different at school. At that moment, I knew that I had helped create a more understanding environment for me and for my children—that feeling was worth all the tears.