Mish-Mashed Identity – Nabeeda Bakali

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Mish-Mashed Identity – Nabeeda Bakali

Identity. It is such a strange word. What does it actually represent? Does it represent the brownness of my skin? Or the whiteness of my accent? Maybe it represents my love for Bollywood? Does it include my religion? Maybe my place of birth? Who really knows?

For years I was so confused about this word and my own personal identity. Who was I? What was I trying to represent? The thing is I was born in Pakistan and I loved it there – I truly did. One day suddenly at the age of 9 or 10 (I don’t even remember exactly when) I moved to the UK. That change was massive for me as it would be for anyone. My little brain struggled so much with this new reality.

I hardly spoke any English. The girl who once couldn’t stop talking was now just staring at others trying to find the people who would understand the inner struggles. People around me thought I was weird because I just stared at them but how could I explain to them that I was trying to learn their language. Concentrating on their every word so I could be the same so I could fit in and not stick out like the sore brown thumb.

As I watched and watched, I learnt English and I learnt it quite well. This meant my teachers loved me, my parents loved me and overall everything seemed fine. But the reality is things weren’t fine. I didn’t know who I was. There is a saying in Hindi “Dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka na ghat ka” Loosely translating to: a person who belongs to two groups and not considered as belonging to either.

That is how I felt , as at home I was this typical Pakistani girl listening to songs by Noor Jehan with my parents and at school I was this girl who was trying to fit into this world of Eminem. With this world I had years of catching up to do and no matter what I did, it still felt like I couldn’t catch up.

I felt like the third friend in every friendship group because even though I could now speak their language, I couldn’t relate to them. But I kept trying and trying and trying some more. I listened to their music and hid my taste for Bollywood. I ate their food even though nothing beats my mum’s Biryani, and I watched their TV shows even though I loved nothing more than a good series in Hindi/Urdu.

I tried it all. Even with all this that feeling of the Dhobi ka kutta got worse because I didn’t feel like myself at all and I was no closer to fitting in with the British life so it felt like a game of chess that I couldn’t win no matter what move I made. So I had to stop and I had to reflect. Whatever I was doing was not working so what could I do next?

Until one day, it happened. How it happened? Why it happened? Maybe it was all the reflection. Or the tears I shed when I was confused about myself but I figured out who I was. I was a Pakistani girl and I was proudly a freshie (as I had been called many times) but at the same time I had some British values but I was happy to be a mix of both. Show off both of my sides. Wear that Pakistani shalwar suit to town and wear that skater dress to my aunty’s house. I had found my balance. I was blasting my ‘You are my Soniya’ whilst also vibing with ‘It wasn’t me’.

Once I accepted that it was okay to a mix of the two cultures and it was okay to love them both, I felt so liberated. Because now I could do whatever I wanted and not worry about the judgement. Not worry about what my friends would say or what the community would think. Most importantly, I wasn’t the third friend anymore. I had found my crowd. I had found my tribe.

That only happened because I had found myself. In my constant battle with myself I was attracting all these different people who I never belonged with. But as I found my inner peace, my own carved identity, I found a group that reflected that, complemented that and most importantly appreciated that.

Now, if anyone tries to question my identity by asking where I am from? Or who I would support in an England v/s Pakistan match. I can proudly say that I belong to both and both hold a piece of my heart. That’s how I turned that lose-lose game to a winning situation.

By Nabeeda Bakali


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