I was a bit doubtful that I would be able to really capture the “Indian-ness” of this dancer when I began this painting. I felt like maybe it would end up being an imitation of sorts. But somehow I was able to bring my very unique experience with Indian culture to the table in a way I really didn’t anticipate.
In first grade, this little girl came in new a few weeks into the school year. She had brown skin and very straight shiny black hair in pig tails and a huge bright pink hello kitty lunch box. They seated her behind me and at 6 years old I was baffled by her. On Sesame Street I had seen Black people and Asian people and some blonde people like myself (which was nice, since mostly everyone else around me was dark and Italian) but this little girl did not fit into the neat categories provided to me by 1970s childrens programming and my own limited experience at the tender age of 6. Hence, I turned around and began to stare because I had to figure out this mystery of the straight hair on this very dark little girl. Well this little girl did not take kindly to me staring at her and after giving me maybe a second or two of staring she abruptly said “SHUT UP AND TURN AROUND!” This was a moment when everything in my white/American/Italian existence changed. This little girl who was Indian befriended me and I ended up spending lots of time at her house, eating Indian food, going to Indian parties, even watching some girls practice for Indian dance competitions. And I learned how important each hand gesture was and how important each movement in these dances are. With each small movement of the hand or feet a critical part of some ancient story is told.
I began to feel so grateful as I put the paint to the canvas that I am lucky enough to have been adopted into this great family whose culture I feel is a little bit my own after these 30 some odd years. They have taught me many things that I would have never learned otherwise. For one, no food is too spicy. For two, that being a member of their family you are never alone, a Patel can always be dispatched to rescue you at your most dire moment in any state in the union, be it an apartment full of stuff that has stuff that needs to be moved that minute, or you run out of gas, or you need important documents hidden from your crazy ex-husband. But what drives all of this is the greatest lesson of all which is LOVE. My friend went thru catholic school with me for 12 years and I have to say she and her family where far more “Christian” than anyone I’ve ever met. They love with their whole heart and give with all they’ve got. So i dedicate this painting to my best friend, Anoli. Thanks letting me in all those years ago and allowing me to be a part of your rich culture and your great family.
Now you shut up and turn around!