I am a dancer.
I worry what you hear when I say that is I like dancing. Which to be fair, I do. I love going to Brown parties and busting out all the latest Bollywood moves, or trying to see if my muscles remember the motions from long ago ballet classes, or trying and failing to imitate those cool K-Pop routines.
But that’s not what I said.
I said, I am a dancer.
Specifically, I am an Indian classical dancer trained in the North Indian style known as Kathak. It’s a beautiful form that was originally a temple dance before getting bastardized as a whore’s dance by the British, before getting bastardized again by Bollywood before being reclaimed once more in recent years.
It’s a part of my culture, but it feels like, just with every beautiful aspect of my heritage that I so cherish, it gets warped.
Like the other day, when my Dada (paternal grandfather) and I spoke. For those of you who don’t know, one of the most important religious texts for the average Hindu is the Bhagavad Gita, and not once does it say anything to the effect of “man shall not lie with man” or some other bullshit nonsense like that. So why was there such a toxic backlash toward the LGBT community? The repeal is too recent to have changed the national culture toward queerness.
That shouldn’t be my culture, because that’s not what my religion preaches, but somehow that’s a part of my culture now.
My religion teaches us the power of women: these angry, glorious women who killed demons, brought their husbands back from the grips of the lord of the dead, stayed strong in the face of terror, and represent knowledge and wealth. Somehow, it’s been twisted into this belief that girls are burdens. The same people who say a daughter-in-law is a form of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, taking human form also bemoans the fact that they have a daughter in the first place. (These are the same people who ignore daughters-in-law used to come with dowries because daughters were sold into marriage).
It’s hypocritical and I hate it.
The deities who are depicted in caves and ancient art as dark skinned. The deities became blue skinned when Victorian artists decided it was more aesthetically pleasing. Yet also, Bollywood only rewards light skin and every aspect of media shows fair and lovely is better than any kind of melanin.
It makes it so hard to love myself, including my heritage.
There’s this distance between my culture and my religion and I can’t understand how these discrepancies formed. It can’t only be the last stubborn remnants of colonization, can it?
I feel like I constantly have to twist myself to defend a religion I don’t practice very faithfully in order to feel somewhat proud of the culture I am so grateful to have inherited. I have to weave through the bits and pieces I believe are wrong to settle into what feels right.
When it comes to my identity, I’m always dancing around the labels and categories that come with my heritage to put together something that bridges the gap between what I’m taught and what I see. I don’t stop performing when I’m off the stage, because I can’t.
I am a dancer.
And sometimes, it feels like that’s all I’ll ever be.