*This article was first published in #ReclaimTheBindi Zine, Issue #1 (March 2016)
As a kid growing up in London in the 2000s, I didn’t really care about the fact that I’m Indian. I mean, I knew I was and if you challenged me, I would’ve defended my home country proudly – but in all honesty, I didn’t care. Every person of colour I knew was essentially taught not to care: the more British/Western you were, the cooler you were. Right?
And, as kids do, I spent my time chasing their definition of “cool”; I used to inwardly groan whenever it was announced that we were going to India for a holiday, as we did almost every year. Why couldn’t I go to cool places like Florida the way my cool peers did?
Basically, I was a bratty little ingrate.
Eventually, Hindi cinema became the only link to India that I was (secretly) invested in maintaining. (And, to a lesser extent, food. I LOVE lahsun ki chutney.)
The thing that sparked the (gradual) change in my thinking came in December 2014, when Marina Watanabe of the Youtube channel marinashutup made a video on cultural appropriation, which I had never heard of. After I finished it, I went on her Tumblr to see what else she had said about it. And it was there I discovered #reclaimthebindi.
I could finally give a name to the annoyance I felt when I saw non-South Asian people wearing bindis, sarees, doing the “lightbulb” dance, or even when I saw South Asians, who didn’t give two shits about their heritage normally, doing these things for “bants”.
Seeing these things made me angry but I didn’t know how to call the offenders out properly. I remember I once said a BBC Bollywood dance performance (with predominantly white dancers) was racist, which my (white) stepfather was quick to dismiss. I grudgingly conceded defeat but in no way did I agree with him; he thinks reverse racism exists, so when it comes to these matters, I take his opinion with a large pinch of salt. It was still nagging at me, in the back of my head. And now I had a name for it.
So when I started using Twitter in 2015, I started following the #reclaimthebindi account immediately. This was right before Coachella, so naturally my feed was full of Tweets roasting the white girls who thought themselves trendy for wearing bindi(s), and the hashtag #CoachellaShutdown. It made me 100% sure that I was never going to set foot in Coachella, at least not until they cleaned up the mess.
I started following other people who also spoke out against this blatant abuse of Indian culture and people who also spoke about feminism, both topics being of great interest to me. They also shared their love for Desi culture – and this was revolutionary to me.
Because even though as a child I’d only really liked Hindi cinema, I grew more interested in India’s history and culture as I grew up: Mughal architecture. Preksha meditation (a form of Jain meditation). The Hindi and Marwari languages that I’d heard being spoken at home my whole life but always disregarded. But even then it had never occurred to me that it was okay to voice such opinions on a platform as public as Twitter. The doctrine that I’d been taught as a person of colour as a child was still in effect without me even realising it.
These people on Twitter showed no such fear. They declared their Desi heritage proudly. And even the people I followed who weren’t Desi were vocal about their heritage. I started to feel I’d found people who thought as I did and said the things I felt too scared to say. It was so encouraging. And once I started, bit by bit, I realised it was liberating.
I feel like I’m unapologetic about my love for Indian culture now, but this is just the beginning. I have much more growing and learning to do. I also have yet to be truly tested, given that I’m in India right now. As my childhood proves, it’s a lot easier to feel good about thinking a certain way when everyone around you does too.
But it’s a start.
This is how discovering #reclaimthebindi led to me reclaiming my heritage. This is the start of me reclaiming me.