Being Indian, there’s a lot of reasons why Devi’s character on Netflix’s Never Have I Ever resonates with me, but it was the episode where she has to wear a sari that hit home. There really weren’t any Indian characters on TV shows that I could relate to growing up. There was Apu on The Simpsons, but having a long last name is where our similarities started and ended. I love the fact that the younger generations of Indian girls finally have a show with characters that are going through similar issues, so they’re not just sitting and wondering “Is anyone else out there going through this?” Sure, at the start of watching the show, I the characters’ fake Indian accents were slightly irritating, but as it went on I appreciated the fact that there was finally a show with a young Indian girl dealing with learning to not only love the culture she was born into, but the one she’s surrounded by in everyday life, as well.
In the episode called “Never Have I Ever . . . Felt Super Indian,” Devi has to get dressed up in a traditional Indian sari while going to the Ganesh Puja, which is a Hindu festival. Devi reluctantly lets her cousin Kamala help her fasten the blue sari and it instantly reminded me of all the times I had to stand there while my mother or grandmother wrapped one around me. (I actually have a blue outfit similar to Devi’s, which I wore as a kid when I used to participate in competitive Indian dances.) Another feeling I know all too well? When Devi’s mom jokes about itchy outfits being a right of passage. Yep, there were plenty of moments when I complained about that too, and would end up with scratches on my arm from the sari’s embroidery because I wouldn’t stop squirming around in it.
While I’ve always thought Indian outfits are beautiful, I only truly came to fully love my heritage and all that it means when I entered my 20s. You see, I was always the new girl growing up. We moved every two to three years, and all I wanted to do was blend into the background, rather than stand out. It was one of the main reasons I always felt a bit uncomfortable wearing Indian outfits in public because of all the attention it usually brought.
There’s a scene later in the episode where a little girl standing with her mother asks Devi if she’s Princess Jasmine. Her mom makes it worse and asks Devi to take a photo because she looks “so cultural” in her sari. That really struck a chord with me. It was a feeling I knew all too well. The feeling of being othered because of what I wore and my long last name; that’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. I would like to think that had I been in the same situation, I would’ve said no to the photo op and schooled her in the fact that Princess Jasmine was actually Arab, but I can understand why Devi eventually went through with it. At her age, I probably would’ve been so uncomfortable with the attention and just taken the photo to make the situation end, too.
Being a bit older now, I’ve learned to tune out people when they say I’m either too Indian or not Indian enough. I’m just me, and that’s okay. I now look forward to events where I get to wear a gorgeous lehenga or a sari. In fact, I was more excited about wearing my lehenga during my wedding rather than my white wedding dress. There was something just so magical about being in my wedding lengha surrounded by my family and closest friends during this pivotal moment in my life. It made me appreciate being able to share such a special piece of my culture with everyone I loved because this was a moment I had pictured my whole life while staring at pictures from my parents wedding. As I’m sure we’ll see Devi’s character grow to love her culture — as the hinted in the episode — I’m just happy that there’s finally a show out there that spotlights Indian culture and shows the younger generation that it’s okay to be yourself, and for that, I thank Devi (you too Mindy Kaling!).
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