I don’t have to choose between being British or Indian

I may have grown up in the UK, but that doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on my roots

When somebody asks me where I’m from, the answer is always pretty straightforward: Cambridge. I’ve lived there since I was a toddler, and although I was born in Scotland – a fact which somehow always seems to shock people – I’ve never lived outside of the UK. Despite all of this, there’s always someone who feels the need to follow it up with “Yeah, but where originally?” Cue the inevitable discussion about being Indian, being British, and ‘which one I really feel like’.

Portrait of the author as a young child, before knowing what identity was (or how to dress)

My parents moved to the UK from India in the nineties and so my brother and I were born and raised here. Ever since I was little the question of how exactly I identified has weighed on my mind – I’ve never really known whether to consider myself British, Indian or a winning combination of the two. To be honest, that became significantly easier when I got my British passport and dual citizenship, making me ‘officially’ British-Indian. Finally having some kind of a label to slap on, something that neatly informed everyone what I was, just seemed to make everything simpler.

However, it took me a while to realise that didn’t really change anything and I had to take the time to think about why it mattered so much to me. Being a teenager, already undergoing several (relatively minor) identity crises, I felt desperately like I had to choose which place I felt I was ‘from’. Sure, England was and still is home to me, but if I said that, wasn’t that tantamount to me denying my roots and my heritage? Eventually I got a little older and figured out that I could be both English and Indian and identifying with one doesn’t erase the other. But establishing myself as someone who considers themselves as part of both cultures came with its own challenges.

Growing up in the UK meant that culturally, I experienced many of the same things as everybody else. But it would be naïve of me to assume that meant I had the same experience, and it would be doing my parents a disservice to discard everything they brought over from India and taught both me and my brother.

My brother and I, pretending we’re tourists

It’s an understatement to say that Indian culture, the culture my parents grew up in, is vastly different to British culture. The values they held, which they tried to instil in me growing up (I say ‘tried’ because I was/am a very stubborn, mouthy child) are definitely different to British values. The focus on family is definitely not the same – for example, the expectation that children should leave home aged eighteen and attend university away from home is so much less common in India. Needless to say, my parents were incredibly keen for me to stay at home. Obviously this is partly because they love me and, I assume, like having me around anyway, but it’s also something inherited from the culture.

The generational and cultural difference between myself and my parents also means there’s a lot that they can teach me that I wouldn’t necessarily learn otherwise, and they try their best to do so. I also think I have a greater appreciation of certain aspects of both Indian and English culture – I think that in India the work ethic among students is significantly stronger, although that’s possibly just me being way lazier than my cousins. On the other hand, I’m grateful to live in a country where I’m afforded certain freedoms as a woman that I might not have otherwise, notably being able to go out clubbing and experience the nightlife (which definitely has its downsides, but that’s a discussion for another time), which gives me much more responsibility and autonomy.

Before the inevitable descent of the night out

Of course, it’s not as if all my non-immigrant friends live wildly different lives to me. We went to the same schools, grew up in similar areas – I can’t ignore the impact that growing up in Britain has had on me. I love this country, and it’s my home. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t turn my back on that, mainly because I wouldn’t actually be able to speak to anyone in India in a language other than English and also because growing up in the West has, for better or worse, made me who I am.

I’m not trying to say that either country is doing things ‘better’ or in the ‘right’ way, because they’re just doing things differently. But I know that having access to both cultures, while at times seeming like a burden, has helped me in so many ways, more than I probably even realise. Ultimately I think I’m lucky to have two different backgrounds, because it’s made me a more layered, multifaceted person. As difficult as it can be, I’ll always be grateful to have two places to call home.