Last week, I ordered four books via interlibrary loan. Two of them came in; I’m still waiting for the other two, and so I ordered four more yesterday. I try to read mostly adult titles during my library’s Summer Reading program- in the past, the sheet has said that only adult titles count, not YA. It doesn’t say that this year, so I’m letting one or two slip in there, but I’m mainly trying to keep to the spirit of it all. That said, most of the books at my library left on my TBR are YA, and I haven’t had a chance to head to an out-of-town library, which means *cue ominous music* I was left to wander the stacks without a list of books.
That’s not a bad thing, but sometimes I just wander and wander and get so overwhelmed by all the choices that I have no idea what to choose. And wandering the stacks was how I came upon On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life by Rupinder Gill (Riverhead Books, 2011).
Rupinder’s parents were strict, so strict that she and her three sisters spent most of their childhood cleaning and watching TV, unable to leave their basement and participate in school activities or visit with friends. Dance lessons, field trips, class camping trips, piano lessons, sleepovers, all requests were denied for reasons both cultural and economic, leaving Rupinder and her sisters feeling alienated from their classmates for more than just being the only Indian faces in town. Turning 30, Rupinder begins to realize how few chances she had taken throughout her life, how small her life had become. Making a list of all the things she’d wanted to do during her childhood but hadn’t been able to, she sets forth to finally tackle some of those things.
Tap class. Swimming lessons. Getting a dog. A Disney vacation, a move to a big city, attending camp and a sleepover. Rupinder’s life slowly fills throughout the year, and she begins to bloom with newfound self-confidence and understanding of some of her parents’ past reasoning. It’s not perfect: swimming is scary, she comes to the conclusion that maybe her parents were right about getting a dog (no worries here, the majority of her dog experience comes from dogsitting her sister’s dog, not getting her own and then regretting it. Getting a pet is something she puts a lot of consideration into, moreso than most pet owners, I think!), and she takes a few leaps that will change everything, but it’s worth it. Reliving the childhood she never had forces Rupinder out of the box she’d become far too comfortable in.
This was fun! I really enjoyed reading about the Gill family dynamics and what their particular version of two immigrant Indian parents and a passel of Indian-by-heritage-but-more-culturally-Canadian children looked like. While I was allowed to visit friends’ houses and attend sleepovers when I was young, I wasn’t allowed to join softball or take karate, two things I very much wanted to do, so I could definitely relate to her frustration there. Her joy (and occasional discomfort) at learning new skills like tap dancing and swimming and the major leaps she took (the move, her job, emailing someone at Disney about free tickets) were a pleasure to read and made me wonder what I’m missing out on by not trying.
There were a few parts where this skipped around in time and threw me off, particularly a description of a trip to India with Ms. Gill’s mother, which left me flipping pages and wondering if this was taking place in the present or the past. There’s no major final conclusion to the end, no life-changing realization or calming sense of closure earned by finally being able to participate in such long-denied activities, but Ms. Gill seems satisfied by the path she’s started down, and it seems to have worked for her: throughout the course of the book, she decided that she wanted to leave her career as a television publicist and instead write for TV. As I was doing a Google search to find her online, I learned that she’s one of the writers for Schitt’s Creek, which I watched and very much enjoyed earlier this year. Well done, Ms. Gill!
While this wasn’t my favorite memoir of all time (and I think a lot of the Goodreads reviews are a little too harsh), it was relaxing reading, although at times wistful and occasionally saddening when it came to the racism Rupinder and her sisters experienced (seriously, people? CAN WE NOT ACT LIKE THAT???). I admire anyone who has such follow-through, and as Schitt’s Creek will end with its sixth season, I’m thinking we’ll see more awesome things from Rupinder Gill down the road.
What are some things you weren’t allowed to do when you were young? Have you ever considered doing them now??? (I have zero desire to play softball these days, and I’m not sure my back could handle any kind of martial arts, so I’m good there. The dream of one day attending Concordia Language Villages is still there, however…)
7 thoughts on “On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life- Rupinder Gill”
This sounds like an interesting read! My grandparents lived in Canada while I was growing up and had Indian neighbors whom they loved. They called the children their “Indian grandkids” — I remember being totally fascinated by them (I grew up in a teensy tiny town with zero diversity) and totally jealous too 🙂
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A teensy tiny town with zero diversity sums up my hometown as well! It’s a little better these days, but not much, and the attitudes there reflect that, unfortunately (my best friend and I have an ongoing discussion about whether the town was that awful when we were young and we just didn’t notice because we were young, or if it’s gotten worse over time). I don’t known that we had any Indian families in town- if we did, I never met them. Where I live now is so, so different: I think there are something like 30+ languages spoken at my son’s high school, his girlfriend’s father is Indian (girlfriend is super adorable and such a smart, sweet kid), we have people from all races and religions and backgrounds here. I love it! (I even saw some Mormon missionaries walking around a few days ago! If they make their way here, they’re getting a dinner invitation. 🙂 )
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Ha ha. If there are Mormon missionaries around, then it’s definitely a diverse town 🙂 Seriously, though, diversity is wonderful and I’m glad you and your kids get to be around a variety of different kinds of people. I live in a big suburb, but on my side of town, there’s still not much diversity. Downtown, you’ll definitely find more people of color. Here, though, my daughter is one of only a few brown kids at her school.
You’re the sweetest to feed those missionaries (they’re ALWAYS hungry!). I can send them straight to your door if you’d like (;
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We fed the missionaries in our last town, which was whiter than white and almost entirely evangelical (the second I realized we had the mishies around, I realized they couldn’t have been having an easy time of it simply because of the makeup and, uh, attitudes, of the town, and they confirmed that- the guys two towns over had a gun pulled on them. I worried endlessly about these guys!). The pair I saw last week weren’t the pair I’ve seen twice in the library (the first time, I had them pegged as missionaries immediately, though it was P-day and they were in regular clothes, and sure enough, next time I saw them, they were dressed as missionaries and I greeted them with, “Hey, Elders!” It was just in passing, I was going in and they were leaving, otherwise I would’ve stopped to chat. NEXT TIME! They gave me a friendly smile, followed by the look that said, “Wait, do we know you from somewhere???”), so it’s interesting to me that we’ve got more in our area now, especially since our nearest Mormon congregation is about 15-20 minutes away, depending on traffic. We so enjoyed feeding the missionaries in our last town and were actually disappointed to never see any here when we first moved here. 🙂
Doing my best to be good to my neighbors. ❤
Awww … this is so great! My son has had guns pulled on him, things thrown at him, and all kinds of insults and profanity yelled at him. He takes it all in stride, but I seriously can’t understand how people can do that to these KIDS who are sacrificing so much to do something they feel is important and worthwhile. I mean, you don’t have to listen to them, but at least be kind!
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Oh my goodness!!! Your poor son, and poor you!!! I’m with you, I don’t understand how people can be so terrible to these kids. They’re away from home, most likely for the first time, and whether you agree with their message or not, they’re sweet, polite kids doing something they believe in at pretty serious personal sacrifice, and that’s admirable. We told our first pair when they first showed up that we weren’t going to convert and that we had no agenda or motive to get them to believe anything other than what they already believed, but that if they ever needed anything, our house was a safe place for them and they were welcome anytime. It warmed my heart so much that they trusted us (we got a call one night for a ride home after an investigator turned nasty on them; my husband went and picked them up. They texted me one day to see what the library hours were that day, since it was a holiday and they figured I’d know- and I did, haha!). It was nothing but an absolute joy to help take care of them when we were there. 🙂
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