"Everybody is a just a stranger,
But that's the danger in going my own way."
When I was growing up, like so many women, the people closest to me felt it was their duty to guide me. Well-intentioned conservative uncles and aunties felt compelled to show me how to be a proper Muslim Indian girl by pointing out my wrongness as much as possible. Still, even as a little girl taught to respect her elders, I didn't give a shit.
Being born in the US branded me from the start. As a baby, my grandfather looked at me and pronounced this country would affect me. Isn't that obvious? The place you're born will shape who you are.
I think he was warning my mother of the potential heathen she had on her hands.
Molding a good Muslim girl
He was right, as visiting relatives would point out as they discovered I was left-handed. I was told, "The devil eats with his left hand!" My brother is left-handed too. His response was, "What does the devil need to eat for?" They left him alone after that.
I never responded so boldly. Good little Muslim girl that I tried to be wouldn't talk back to an elder. If they dished out bullshit, I just took it because that's what I was trained to do.
I still ate with my left hand, though. Being accosted for just being me was a problem but not enough to stop me from what I was doing.
The other big one was how I dressed. Wear dresses, not jeans. When you're a teenager, you have to stop wearing dresses because you have to cover up your legs. Only put on a one-piece bathing suit and never wear shorts. Or if you do, make sure an auntie or uncle doesn't see you.
Doing what I wanted to do
The constant correcting chatter affected me inwardly. It still didn't change my behavior. When I was in my family's house, I wore whatever I wanted. I didn't do it in front of an uncle. The rebellious side of me couldn't overrule the non-confrontational side that wanted to avoid uncomfortable conversations.
Of course, it wasn't just the outward actions and appearance that needed correcting. Something in my manner wasn't Muslim or Indian enough. I felt it in the snickers in my imperfect Punjabi, in the mansplaining in matters of religion, and in the condescension of being termed a "simple" girl.
My community didn't view straightforwardness as an attribute. They saw it as a weakness. But I never saw it as one.
I saw it as my superpower. I plowed through and insisted on being who I was, even if patronizing aunties made me feel wrong for it. I'll tell you what I think. Just ask me. I might even tell you even if you don't ask me.
Straight, no chaser
At some point in the journey, I stopped feeling wrong. I realized that some of these people would gossip about me no matter what I do. Then, they'll move on to someone else.
I asked myself. Do I care what they say? Nope. Not even a little bit.
I still don't. My simple self dresses how I want, posts the pictures on social media, and speaks my imperfect Punjabi every chance I get.
Being unapologetically me isn't just with Indian aunties and uncles. That's with everybody. I don't live my life wondering how someone will judge me. Other people's judgments won't help me at the end of the day. Those people won't help me at the end of the day. Most of them, anyway.
Yeah, I will be me. Straight, no chaser.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
Sameena K. Mughal, Author, Freelance Writer