White Hindu Conversations: Part Two

White Hindu Conversations: Part Two December 13, 2013

I’ve always felt a bit self-conscious at my dance classes.

Bharatnatyam, a classical South Indian dance, is often taught to young girls (occasionally boys as well). It’s a lot like ballet is in mainstream American culture. Little girls, and sometimes little boys, learn it. They start to drift away as teenagers and only a few keep up with it to teach or become professional dancers.

I started learning Bharatnatyam when I was 23.

From that time on, I’ve always been in classes with little girls much, much younger than me. At first I was in classes with four- and five-year-olds. By now I’m in class with ten-year-olds.  Some of them are starting to catch up with me in terms of height, but in general I tower above them.

I really, really, really stand out. There I am, standing several feet above my classmates and the only non-Indian in the school (There used to be a Bengali, but she left and now I’m the only non-South-Indian in the school). The other people my age are all parents of children in the classes.

I thought people must really think I’m strange. They probably find me ridiculous. But recently I’ve been realizing that the parents of the other students actually respect me.

My husband came to the class one week and watched. He told me later that the other people watching were thrilled to see him and quick to identify him as belonging to me. He said they seemed proud of me.

I’ve got to find a way to actually start talking to the parents. I think I feel left out because I’m not approachable or doing the approaching. I think they actually would probably be open to getting to know me. I struggle socially, so it’s really scary to think about initiating conversations, but I really do need to start. I’m sure they are as stumped as I am on how to open up a conversation!

A few weeks ago, one of the mothers stopped me on my way out the door and asked where I got all my salwar suits from (she’s only seen a fraction of the ones that I have. I wear plain cotton ones to class. The head of the school always sends out emails requesting that girls wear bindis and salwar suits to class, but it’s pretty hit or miss.)

I told her that a lot are from the Internet.

“Ah,” she said, her face clearing. “That’s what I thought. Even we don’t have so many.”

I felt stung by that “we.”

This is the very heart of my struggle: that no matter how Hindu I am, it will always be “you” and “we.”

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • This is the very heart of my struggle: that no matter how Hindu I am, it will always be “you” and “we.”


    Very interesting! I share a similar struggle, only for very different reasons, one which I cannot get into, but I will share two of them. One, I am deaf, but speak and lip-read. I live in the hearing world rather than the Deaf world, and yet, I’m not entirely accepted because I don’t have all of the skills needed to move along in the hearing world without giving myself away. My voice is not always the only shibboleth that gives me away, but how I interact with people, which brings up the second reason – that my deafness to be undiscovered for so long led me to live independently “up here” for much longer than is allowed children in civilization. I went to church with Mom during the deaf years, but I had NO IDEA what was going on there or why I was there. I thought it was just something Mom did, and she had me with her because it just wasn’t customary for me to be by myself at home. This created a lack of social skills and no understanding of religion. Though many Christians have tried the “understand and extend” trick on me (“very interesting life story you have, and God gave you this experience so that you can…”), there is this upper and lower caste within churches when it comes to deaf, blacks, American Indians, etc. “We whites are upstairs, and you people are interesting oddities with stories to tell, but YOU ARE NOT ONE OF US!” That is what I always get from them, with few exceptions. Those exceptions are mostly not quite honest, in that they try to make me feel I belong, even though clearly I don’t because of my social barriers and my deafness, in the goal of gaining my interest as one of their conversion tools.

    No matter how well I speak or read, I’m always experiencing the sense that I am “me,” an Ancient or Cave Woman (not in the mentally knuckle-dragging sense, but in the immensely distant-time sense – what in the world is that mindset of tens of thousands of years ago like??), and they are “they” who I don’t relate to or belong with, no matter what I try to do.