I was thirteen when I was sitting in a math class, singled out to the back once again. A Sri Lankan Tamil lady filled in as our substitute teacher. She had a thick accent. She was frail, small and dark, with a pair of those classic, gold-rimmed glasses. And if I remember correctly, she wore some vibhuti on her forehead.
The kids found it funny. Even if they didn’t, they played along to stay safe.
A girl walked up to me and asked, “What’s your god’s name?”
I don’t know. There’s too many. I guess I’ll pick one.
She scurried back to her group of friends––the mean girls with the ‘nice’ blonde and brown hair. They wore their poker faces and formed a group huddle. One girl was intently scratching something down on paper. I figured they finally did some math for once.
A couple moments later, they collectively commenced their chants. I recall it including bits such as “smell like shit” and “dot on my head”, and it ended with a repetitive “‘cus I’m Hindu”. This was just one out of many incidents where I was explicitly targeted for being Hindu, dark-skinned, large-chested… Tamil.
It was those defining instances––the bullying and exclusions at the hands of my non-Tamil peers that grew a bitterness from within. And for the following years, I preached a problematic philosophy as a result of those pains.
No whites. No blacks. No Asians. No Latinos. Just no.
We can be friends, alright. But I’m “sticking to my own kind.”
That did me no favours.
Some weeks ago, I met up with a Tamil-identified male I was talking to online. He was secretive about meeting up with me––so much that he parked away from a well-known hotspot to a hidden one.
Turns out, he really over-estimated his height. His online pictures were deceptive of his build. He barely stood outside of his car to show his posture. We were supposed to meet in his house, except “things changed last minute” according to him.
I figured that he didn’t want the light to expose his lies. It was dark outside, so the dingy car worked better for his cause.
The encounter went horribly. I admittedly may have seemed bored. And not necessarily due to him being five feet tall, but more so his mundane personality.
He ended up texting me that night to tell me that I am an “ugly catfish, no offense.” He figured he wanted to gain control for once and prove some point. Except I bit back. He called me ‘crazy’. But then he blocked me before he could hear what I really had to say.
He couldn’t bear the truth the first time around. Now, he has to endure this broadcast to the entire world.
You just had to reason with your shortcomings by attacking me, didn’t you?
Let’s call you Person #1. You were one of the last few pins I used to finally hang up my obsession to stay within bounds. I was angry that you got away at first, but I’m regaining my control over the situation by writing this.
You’re a grown twenty-six-year-old man who attacked a younger woman, and all because of what? Your ego? Your insecurity? What does that say about you?
I’m telling you to man up. And not in the prideful Tamil sense, where you act up and abuse your women. I’m sorry that no one taught you better, but a real man is honest and vulnerable.
You are just not that. You are a coward. A fraud in its sincerest form.
But Person #2 was just about all that and more.
I was extremely young when I met him. The most prominent saying of his that I remember vividly was, “So, you’re a freak. Eh?” He said it a couple times while he had me pinned down.
I was in tears. I bled. But he continued pounding.
It gets much worse.
I tried to look him up online the following day. I couldn’t message him. I couldn’t find his profile. Must have blocked me from everything or closed down the account.
I was fooled.
He lied about his name and university. Possibly lied about his age too, because for those of you who know the Tamil community––you know that someone is always connected to someone else.
If you happen to be reading this, you really hurt me. You took advantage of the fact that I was young and vulnerable. But more importantly, I was isolated and alone at that point in my life, and I shared some of my deepest and darkest secrets, because I trusted you. I know you were just some stranger online––but like I said earlier, I didn’t know that many Tamils growing up. It meant a lot to me that I found someone I could talk to. Or at least I thought I did.
But I wonder. Were there others? Or was I just that easy? Are you married now? Do you have a sister, daughter, a niece or some other little girl that you care for? How would you feel if it was her instead of me?
I thought I was safe being part of such an interconnected community. Instead, I spent my youthful days fretting in anxiety over potentially getting discovered for engaging in such sexual relations. I woke up from nightmares of getting socially lynched by my peers once again.
––which leads to Person #3. The light-skinned, skinny girl who made those times an actual living nightmare. I had some issues growing up, and it may have been more obvious than I intended for. There were countless drastic phases, highlighted by abrupt personality and physical changes.
The ugly girl. The weirdo. The sexually deviant. The lesbian. The pretty girl. The smart girl. The good girl. The socially awkward. The stutterer. The bad girl. The wild one. The freak.
These were yearly changes. But now, I can’t tell which persona I’ll embody by the day! Fortunately, I’m in a position where I can change by the day without question.
Welcome to university, kids.
It wasn’t that easy growing up in Scarborough. Before I found the world out there, I really believed I deserved all the torment for being different. So, I wore a façade to protect myself from people like you. It was so painfully believable, that others would have never been able to tell what I’ve been through.
I even bought into my own self-taunting acts. I didn’t want to have “gross tits” anymore, so I starved myself. I ditched my baggy, dyke wear to appear more feminine, even though I was uncomfortable as ever. I stuck pins into myself whenever I had the impulse to throw public fits. I came so close to punching you once––my fist was balled up, and we were surrounded by everyone. Yet somehow, I found the restraint within me to pull away.
And yeah, the things I said and did at age fourteen were inappropriate. Though I see as clear as day now, that in a rational world where all factors were considered, I was just a child coping with the hurt. Those mockeries and taunts of yours and your friends made it that much harder for me.
I saw you recently. I know you saw me too. Unlike the first two people I called out, I don’t despise you. You were simply a product of your toxic surroundings. They trained you to believe that shaming the next female over for not conforming is the way to keep your essence as a Tamil woman in society. You were just a child trying to survive and stay safe in this dangerous world.
I just hope that you know better now. I know I do.
But how can I hate you? You learned from the very best.
Person (or Persons) #4. The snarky aunties. The ones who make crude jokes about my known traumas behind closed doors, then show up to my doorstep with hyperbolic concern over my well-being.
“Neetha! Neetha! Where are you?! The kids! The kids! They want to play with you!”
She screeched in her overly dramatic voice, fully aware that I had locked myself up in my room and was taking in no visitors under any circumstance. She couldn’t have cared less about me otherwise.
No, she just wanted to see the talk of the town in live action.
She wanted to go back home with a story that day to tell her friends over the phone.
If I’m not an object to perk up, or a running joke, am I anything more to you people? I would have thought so considering that you watched me grow from the crib.
But so did Person #5–– The one who allows you to step inside of our house, despite all those wrongful actions of yours.
My mother is single handedly the most abused human being I have ever met in this lifetime. She was one of the few educated Tamils from Sri Lanka, in times of the greatest oppressions. She went on to become a teacher, and almost got the school keys in hand as head principal.
But she was getting old. Her parents decided to marry her off to a stranger from London. She suffered the following decades under the rule of her husband and parents. It was only natural that she thought she could gain back her power by tugging onto our leashes.
She wasn’t always like that. When I was much younger, I used to be more active. We played with the other kids at local rec centres and summer programs. I was allowed to stay out a little longer past the school bell, do more extracurriculars, and even go trick-or-treating.
There was that pleasant time once, wasn’t there? I was such an inquisitive and curious kid. I dreamt of doing everything. Write dystopian novels, solve universally complex math problems, play a variety of instruments. Maybe, even invent something!
But then I got my first period at age eleven. For those of you who don’t know, the first menstrual cycle is considered as a step into womanhood in Tamil culture.
She told me I couldn’t go outside anymore. And when I rebelled, I was confronted with chaotic tantrums and wild goose chases around the kitchen. I don’t know if staying locked inside the home and doing absolutely nothing is what a proper Tamil girl looks like––but it surely gave her something to reign over.
The social awkwardness started to noticeably build up. My friends were drifting away. Some even became the worst of my bullies. I had become so incapacitated to effectively communicate my thoughts and emotions. Presentations that were once natural to my vibrant energies, became the most dreadful of experiences. I couldn’t coherently form sentences without stuttering in front of two people, let alone crowds anymore. I had panic attacks from simply stepping out of the house.
My mother didn’t have to stop me from going outside to see the sun. My deterring mental health was already doing that job for her.
I just can’t help but feel that years of potential and growth went to waste. But I didn’t let that stop me. I went from having nothing under my belt, to everything I want within reachable distance today.
I compulsively lied to survive.
I made myself interesting to people. I concocted characters and gave myself storylines that kept them captivated. I made myself seem bigger, bolder and braver than I actually was. Fortunately, this charade of lies ended with high school. And when I left the vicinities of Scarborough, I realized I was actually interesting enough to make some of those stories a reality eventually.
But that’s what our people do. They lie.
Person #1 was a very deceptive character online. He talked like he had game––as if a lot of women wanted him. In the end, his actions spoke much louder than his words.
Person #2 was clever because I sensed some truth behind his words––from one isolated Tamil to another. But he used just that to lure me in and fulfill his pedophilic desires.
Person #3 thrived off of getting me in trouble and speaking ill of me. She didn’t lie necessarily––she just chose to conceal some truths that would have diverged from the nasty rumours she enjoyed spreading.
Person #4 lies all around to make interesting stories and get through the day at home with nothing else to do. Definitely much more than Person #3 considering the amount of time on her hands!
Person #5 stubbornly convinces herself that life is good. And if the facts don’t align with her viewpoint, she will somehow make them do so.
So, this leads to Person #6––my one exception. He never lies. He’s been honest for these twenty-two years of life that I’ve lived. If I had ever experienced a genuine love for anyone, it was for him.
But we are adults now, and we have grown apart.
It pains me to say that the future I envision for myself does not include him either.
But then there was Person #7. I had just met him not so long ago. I shared something special with him that I hadn’t with anyone else I’ve known. I almost loved him.
I never message first on dating apps. Women get way too many messages to even have to try. That being said, when I came across his profile, I saw an opportunity I couldn’t miss.
I couldn’t even tell that he was Tamil. Cornrows and man-buns, huge gold drip on his fingers and around his neck, the 90s inspired baggy street clothes. I just really liked his vibe.
It was more than just liking his vibe. We were the exact same person.
It was difficult setting up a time to meet with him. It took about three or four trials of me waiting around until he would disappoint with another “next time”.
But I was patient through it all. He was different. I just had to know him.
We finally met one day around 12AM after a long wait. On this one starry Saturday morning, two Tamil rejects were sharing a blunt, kissing and talking about life in the back of his car.
I was so intrigued by him and his stories about growing up in the west end of the city.
“I used to get bullied by the other Tamil kids at those Sunday classes.”
“Say less! They hated me too!”
It was the most surreal and cathartic of all the experiences I’ve had in my life. And I will forever be grateful to this thing that we shared––to know that a love like this can exist for me.
But I had to stop. I had to remember. I fell for myself.
That’s not a good thing.
Because I’ve fallen short, over and over again, for those who feel deeply for me. So, karma decided it was my turn to be on the lover side of this one-sided love.
I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve endured the pain. I’m letting you go.
You barely tried for us the way I did. I gave you a chance despite having Tamils sworn off for good from my life. Unlike the rest of them, I felt psychologically safe and sound around you.
I felt like I was at home, which I didn’t even feel in my own home.
I guess you didn’t feel what I did. I’ve been on your end of this before, so I know it’s not that easy being you either.
But I want to be with someone who puts me first. I want to be with someone who keeps me honest. I want to be with someone who makes me better than the kind of people we are.
You were the very last straw I had drawn out.
You were the very last Tamil I had become vulnerable with.
So, why exactly did I write all of this?
Because I never get to tell my story. I am not well-connected within the community, nor do I have any online presence. This is my way of controlling the narrative about me for once.
You don’t think that I see you, but I do. It’s your constant whispers and glares that has given away that I’m much more than some other Tamil girl on your daily commute or at the local lounges. Some of you went as far as taking unsolicited pictures of me to show your friends.
“It’s that girl.”
“Look who I found.”
You thought I couldn’t tell. But I’m calling all of you out too.
You thought you had me all figured out, but I can assure you that you’ve learned new things about me by the end of reading this.
So, let me tell you what happened to me.
This is the story behind the blue-haired, black-lipstick-triple nose-ring-wearing weird Tamil girl you thought you knew.
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