In Brazil, while shopping with a group of students one student, Raj, a desi, approached me with a pensive look upon his face. “I just had to ask” he said in a hesitant voice as I sifted through beaded necklaces and looked curiously at him “How are you… so normal” Why do I wear jeans to the beach… or sniff my food before I eat it.. those questions I could understand… but the sincere question of the cause for my normalcy threw me off completely. We spoke of the struggle of the ABCD, the struggle to be a part of the country one is born in, and the guilt and overwhelming sense of obligation to not forget where we came from because it is undeniable that it is also who we are. The struggle to balance the two can be difficult particularly when seemingly innocuous things to one culture can be wildly offensive in another… balance can feel at times a struggle worthy of Olympic gold. Raj said he’d never met an ABCD who wasnt either sitting in a corner with prayer beads, or hanging from a chandelier in a bar punch drunk. It was why he stayed away from desis… the internal quest for identity and its resulting manifestations was entirely too exhausting for him. Though everyone who reflects struggles with identity, for ABCD’s the struggle is often a tangible and painful question. Who am I? Is not just just an abstract existential hypothetical but a real and painful question… and the Namesake explores just that. The quest for normalcy, or as close to it that ABCDs can achieve.
Though it was 9pm when I read the email from Tee with a link to the Namesake trailer, the 30 second snippet broke my heart in two and I knew I had to watch it. I found it playing in 30 minutes in a cinema 30 miles from our house, ran upstairs beseeched K and high tailed it to the theatre. Watching the movie.. there were moments I felt frozen in my seat, exposed, as though someone displayed my life for the world to see. Its a vulnerable feeling to see your soul bared without your consent. Namesake was about me and the countless others like me who despite our different circumstances went through the same internal struggles for identity, so eerily similar.
Namesake captured the quest for identity… of being proud of your name and then at moments cringing when the substitute teacher stands confused squinting at the page wondering how to pronounce the strange words before him… of admiring your shalwar kamiz and then the awkward moment when you see your non-desi friends giggle at your bright red dubatta and green churidar pajama. Namesake captured the awkward attempts we make to balance coalescing universes.
But more than the hybrid child’s struggle, the movie captured heartbreakingly the struggle of our parents as they adjust to a new world and raise hybrid children who try as they might they can never fully understand. Despite their greatest efforts we belong to two lands, one familiar and one constantly, imperceptibly beyond reach. Watching the Namesake I couldn’t help but wonder, did my mother feel that isolation when she first arrived? Sitting alone in an empty home writing back home of material things she now possessed but keeping her longing for her extended family deep within her heart? Did she struggle for language? To assimilate? To adapt while struggling ever so dearly to cling to what she knew and who she undeniably is? Namesake breaks your heart as it forces us to look at our lives through our parent’s eyes… of their struggles to understand these creatures they gave birth to, these children whose needs and wants they once fully understood, and who now they look to longingly… these strange creatures with eyes like theirs… but accents unfamiliar…. hybrids with one foot on familiar desh… and another on lands they will never know with the familiarity their children possess.
In its essence the film is a tribute to parents, all parents, and the sacrifices they make, and the struggle that hybrid children face in finding an identity and how the true solution to identity is perhaps accepting yourself as you are, and letting go of the labels we try to affix upon ourselves.