The dot, turban and the hijab.
It was another day at middle school. I still had not made any friends. Well , the truth is I really tried but no one wanted to be my friend. It was lunch time and I was looking for a place to sit in the cafeteria. This is one thing I dread the most. Everyone had a group of friends of their own. The popular group sat in the corner. They were the cheerleaders, basketball players, kids with good looks (most of them wore makeup so cannot really tell if they were really good looking) and then there were the rich kids who only wore only branded clothes , shoes. I certainly did not belong there because I didn’t have the skinny body type which those cheerleaders had. Forget sports. I cannot even do ten push-ups straight. I wore clothes which I got on sale from JCpenny and not Armani, Gucci or Nike. When it came to looks neither did i wear fake lashes nor did I have hair extensions. I did not have a tongue piercing, tattoos or coloured silky straight hair. The only thing I wore was eyeliner and I always carried a chapstick for my dry lips. My hair was curly and frizzy and always looked a mess.
Then there was another group of kids. They played music while they were eating. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. They were singing some song and one of them was even dancing to it. But I was not sure if they would mock me if I sat with them because I wasn’t dressed like them and I didn’t have a clue which song they were playing.
I saw a bunch of kids who were not a part of any group. They were not even speaking to each other. Each of them in their own little world , fiddling with their food. I decided to sit with them. When I sat down the boy who sat right opposite to me said hello. I said hi back and smiled. After sometime I realised that there was a teacher sitting along with them. She smiled at me and asked me
Teacher: Why are you sitting here? Aren’t you embarrassed to be sitting with the kids with special needs?
Me: oh! I’m sorry I don’t know what are special needs students?
She explained that these kids sitting beside me had autism, Down syndrome, dyslexia, blindness and ADHD. Such kids are given extra care and she has been with them for the past 8 years. This is the first time someone has come forward to sit with them during lunch.
I instantly became friends with these kids and we had lunch together every day.
One day they were a bit late for lunch so I sat with a new group of kids and this was the conversation that followed.
Harry: Hey brown girl. How did you get to USA? Did you jump a fence or something?
The rest of the kids were laughing to this
Bianca: Aren’t you supposed to be having a dot on your forehead?
Me: It’s not a dot. It’s called bindhi. It can be worn by anyone but it is the tradition of Hindu culture in India. It has its own significance. Since I’m a Christian I don’t wear bindhi that often.
Thomas: There are Christians in India? I thought y’all were all Muslims!
Me: We have more than nine religions in India.
Harry: okay so do y’all speak Indonesia?
Me:Omg! Indonesia is country. It’s not a language.
Bianca: Don’t your men wear turban and women hide their faces with this black cloth. Where is your black cloth?
Me: The Sikhs in India wear turban. It's their identity. The women who wore black cloth. It called a hijab and it is worn by all muslim women around the world and I think its beautiful.
Thomas: Why did you people bomb us in 9/11? You should go back to Iraq
Me: We did not do bomb the U.S. It was done by terrorists. Terrorists can be from any country. They do not have a religion. They are paid to kill people. India and Iraq are two different countries of the continent Asia. Iraq is in the middle eastern part of asia and india is in the southern part. You people need to learn your geography and watch the news more before making a comment. I do not walk around carrying a bomb. I am human being just like you. I have feelings too. Don’t be so ignorant about the world around you. Don’t hate. And don’t spread hatred. I sit with the kids with special needs everyday at lunch because no one has taught them hatred.They smile at me all the time. They know me as the kid who sit with them and help them with their lunch. They don’t identify me as an Indian. They don't identify me as a muslim. They see me as their friend. That is the difference between those kids and you.
Well to be honest. I did not say the last paragraph. These were the words that echoed inside me. These were the words I wanted to scream out but I kept it inside. I was too shocked to believe that people can be so ignorant and stereotypical of other races.
I remained silent as i walked out of the cafeteria wishing I was back in India