A few years ago my husband and I were at the AT&T store for a new mobile, as on the night before, someone had broken into my car and stolen my phone. During the long wait, my husband went back to our car to get a water bottle. And as soon as my husband left the store, a Sikh man in a maroon turban approached me and said, “Are you Indian?”
It wasn’t the first time my ethnicity was questioned. I believe that my facial features are Indian, especially my nose—a typically wide-protruding-convex Punjabi nose. But my outward appearance—hairstyle, dressing, and personality—are not of an average Indian woman. In India, everyone assumed that I was a Christian from Goa not a Hindu from New Delhi. And my western sounding name supported this myth.
In the US, I encountered something different. Black men would go out of their way and nod at me. One even addressed as “sister.” I always nodded back, but it puzzled me. The Hispanic staff in the restaurants and malls conversed with me in Spanish whenever I said gracias instead of thank you. I always replied in Spanish that I didn’t speak Spanish. They looked astonished. More than once in Mediterranean restaurants’ restrooms, women joked with me in Persian. I always laughed and pretended and participated mutely, but I don’t even know how to say hello in Persian.
All this, added to my history of not fitting in with my family and Indian society, made me question my origins. Did I have mixed blood? My ancestors and paternal grandparents from Jhang in British India; this was very close to Persia. Then, unlike all Indians I know, I can’t tolerate Bollywood music, I don’t have a taste for spicy Indian food, I have zero attraction towards sarees and salwar kameezes, and I find long hair and long nails as waste. Was I genetically different?
So, on this valentine’s day, my husband gifted me the DNA test from 23andMe. It took me forever to send my sample. I spend countless hours on their website building my profile, answering questions, and filling medical surveys. For a long time, I waited in anticipation for my results. And one day I get an email stating that my 23andMe account was deleted.
I felt cheated and pissed. Upon investigation, it was revealed that the Amazon seller, who sold us the discounted kit, used a stolen credit card for the purchase. So, all the samples under his order were discarded.
As my husband contemplated buying a new kit, 23andMe offered me a free kit. Thank you 23andMe. So, once again I send my sample, build my profile, answered questions, filled surveys, and waited. It took a really-really long time to get my result.
I was surprised. I have unadulterated 100-percent Indian blood.
I am a pure Indian.
The information hasn’t changed anything in my life. It has baffled me further. It still leaves me with the answered question: why I am different from other Indians? Probably, it is because of my choices, not my genetics.