Coming to Wits helped me to come to terms with my heritage and to accept that there is nothing wrong with being different. 

Growing up as an Indian in Johannesburg, in an environment where, apart from my own family, I was primarily surrounded by a white community resulted in me conforming to culture norms that were not my own. I struggled with accepting my Indian heritage and felt that I had to choose between “Indian culture” because of the colour of my skin, or adapt to the white environment I was in.

I went to a private school in Bryanston where most of my classmates and teachers were white. In primary school I had an Indian classmate but once I reached high school, I was the only Indian student in my class and the only Indian teacher who taught me was my mother. I knew I could not look like my white friends, but I at least tried to be like them, ignoring my culture’s cuisine, celebrations, and attire.

As a child I never thought much of cultural differences or that my Indian culture was so different from the schooling environment I grew up in. When I was young, I embraced my culture, I proudly wore traditional Indian attire to celebrations like Diwali (a five-day festival of lights) and got excited whenever my mother would take me shopping for new clothes and bangles in preparation for the celebrations. I would often invite some friends over to celebrate the day with us.

However, as I got older, I realised there were such things as cultural differences. Being surrounded by people who were different from me made me self-conscious in my own skin. My vibrant Diwali attire changed to a t-shirt and jeans. I got embarrassed whenever my mom would bring sweet meats (traditional Indian desserts) to share with her classes, my class and friends included, on Diwali. When friends spoke about Indian restaurants they had been to, I would pretend that I did not know what they were talking about. Sometimes I would tell people I had chicken for dinner instead of chicken curry. My culture made me feel like I was truly different. I truly hated being a part of Indian culture, I did not like standing out.

I have now embraced my culture openly as I have slowly begun to accept who I truly am. Attending Wits University made me aware that there were people like me. When my university friend from first year asked if I knew how to play Thunee (an Indian card game) or when I saw other students playing the game, I felt proud to know that this was an aspect of Indian culture that I was a part of. The old me would have never admitted to knowing anything about Thunee. I am more open about who I am with my high school friends. I invite them to my house often, rave about my mother’s cooking, and will proudly discuss anything Indian related with them.

Looking back, I could not be more disappointed in myself. My teenage self looked down on the young girl that was excited to dress up and celebrate Diwali because she was not aware that people were different, that there was nothing wrong with being different. However, now that I am 23, I have come to the realisation that as a teenager I let my surroundings and society dictate how I should present myself to the outside world. I should not feel ashamed about my culture or the colour of my skin since it is something that is bigger than me – it is the history of my family.

FEATURED IMAGE: Tylin Moodley. Photo: file