A Rhythm of Identities: Alesha Wallabh

 

A Rhythm of Identities

 

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Chennakesava Temple: Belur, Karnataka.

As a young Indian woman who was born and raised in New Zealand, I have often struggled with my sense of belonging in different spaces. From a young age I have been fortunate enough to have been deeply connected with my roots, my culture, and what I consider to be my Indian identity. Throughout my childhood, I was able to visit India fairly frequently and I feel as though this created richness, depth, and security within my Indian identity. As I grew older and responsibilities became more prominent in my life, the ability to reconnect to what I consider my motherland became more difficult. This is where I found my “western” identity to have blossomed. Often in New Zealand I find myself struggling to find a belonging in westernized contexts, anywhere that is not home for me. I juggle these two identities frequently in New Zealand, in a sense that at university, work, outside of home, my ‘western’ identity is stronger, more visible to both myself and others. At home, my Indian identity is at its full depth and richness. When I found out I would be touching the soil of my motherland again, I was scared. I wasn’t sure what truths I would be confronted by, or what feelings would surface. Would I feel like I don’t belong in two countries instead of one? Would I find myself deeply disconnected with my culture? Or would I feel at home?

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Mysore Palace: Karnataka. 

The first week in Bangalore and Mysore proved my preconceptions to in fact be far from the truth. I felt as though I no longer had to juggle these two identities, my culture and roots were so deeply embedded into me that I felt a true sense of belonging. Communication with locals came naturally and the way I held myself was of pure comfort and relief. A feeling that I can only describe as overwhelmingly emotional. I found that a lot of who I am as a person has come from the culture itself, the selflessness, the endless banter, the laughter, the unconditional love, the respect, the generosity, all these aspects are powerful parts of the Indian culture. I remember a key moment of walking in to the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in New Delhi. I covered my head with a few friends from the tour, and things became natural instinct such as touching the step before the temple, donating money to the temple box, taking a step backwards as I leave to honour the temple. These are all things I remember doing as a child.

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Bangla Sahib Gurudwara- New Delhi

As I continued to walk around the Gurdwara, the sound of the music, the peace, the community that had gathered filled my eyes with tears. In that moment of walking around the temple even as a Hindu in a Sikh temple, I became emotional. It was my first moment of true confrontation and that confrontation being that I had been so deeply connected, yet so disconnected from my culture in many ways. I tried to think back to the last time I visited a temple in New Zealand and it had been many years, and my excuse was “I just don’t have the time”. The rhythm of juggling these two identities was out of beat, I lost my rhythm for a moment, perhaps years. I’m starting to realise that I don’t have these two identities, there is just Alesha. An Indian woman born and raised in New Zealand. Through the next few weeks I am excited to explore more of this rhythm, to relearn the steps to the song, to adapt my current choreography to my identities, to balance the strengths of both, to control this rhythm. The rhythm of both identities, so that it becomes one.

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