12 Mixed-Race Indians Share Stories That Celebrate Cultural Diversity [Vol. II] - Homegrown

12 Mixed-Race Indians Share Stories That Celebrate Cultural Diversity [Vol. II]

[If you missed the first volume of this series, catch it here.]

“What are you?” might just be the most commonplace question every Indian child learns to respond to, dodge, or deflect, depending on how they feel about the person who’s doing the asking. Ethnicity, race, and personal identity continue to forge an inexplicable link the world over—often highlighting our differences rather than bringing us together. The latter two, however, are aspects of the human experience we consider far too little in a country like India, which remains insulated by a particularly contextual bubble we have created around us. And despite further global interaction than ever before, it’s still a bubble that’s best understood from within.
Perhaps it’s the fact that cultural diversification from state to state is so immense—it often feels and looks like individuals might as well be from different races and ethnicities, despite belonging to one nationality. It would certainly explain why mixed-community marriages are still considered a huge break away from the majority mindset, or why minority groups still feel so targeted. Or perhaps it’s the fact that our instant labelling of people’s ancestry is usually based on tracing their last name over their appearance? It’s a method through which our parents, if not us, can easily gauge what caste, class, religion, and part of the country somebody is likely to be from. But what happens when we take an axe to these comforting boxes we put people in and split the wooden cage wide open?
Splinters, splinters, everywhere. 
In 2013, National Geographic ran a wonderful and insightful feature on visualising race, identity, and change through the transforming face of America. Having never forgotten it, in a similar vein, we set out to uncover young (partially Indian) Indians whose ancestries serve as reminders of the blurring race/ethnicity lines we’ve been seeing over the years, more stratified and diverse than ever.
In this first volume, we covered the story of 12 of them, in an effort to understand how the multiple cultural influences played into how they see themselves. Many embrace their ‘DNA disco,’ revelling in their ability to move between cultures, enjoying the more convenient parts of their lineage too. Like a wider exposure to different cuisines, of course. Others admit to facing constant challenges in how they identify themselves, largely depending on where they are. Still, almost all of them appear to reject the notion of easy labels, and are opting, instead, for a far more fluid sense of identity.
If the current trends of globalisation are anything to go by, we can only hope these cultural cocktails become more commonplace. Because these 7 individuals prove that with more diversity, comes a greater acceptance of different kinds of people. Something we can all agree our country needs more of—let alone the world.
Scroll on to know them better…

[We’ve attempted this list before, but with so many different cultural cocktails across the world that include a splash of Indian identity, we needed a second volume to do justice to the subject.]

I. Anissa Putois | Parsi-French.

Where the unconventional union began
Anissa’s Mumbai-based mother, a Parsi who spent some of her time learning French at Alliance Française, moved to Paris to study when she was 20 years old, where she met Anissa’s father studying at La Sorbonne. Since he was at the top of their class, and she was struggling with the French language barrier, she innocently asked him to help her. As that aid sparked a connection, they started to date in the city of love. When she returned to India three months later, a spontaneous moment of true love prompted him to impulsively propose to her via telegram, and they were married the following Christmas in Mumbai, in true Parsi style. They settled down in France and Anissa was born four years later in Paris. Despite the concept of a Parsi marrying outside their community being frowned upon, all of Anissa’s Parsi aunt and uncles strayed to wed a Bengali, an Iranian, and a Christian from Goa respectively.

“Being from a mixed-blood background has taught me to seek out and adopt other ways of doing and thinking, yet while doing so I’ve learnt what a truly influential impact our culture has on us. In its inherent duality, being mixed-race makes you feel like a genetically modified fruit: You’re somewhat better adapted to an increasingly globalised world, yet bound to raise a few eyebrows.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
“Despite having lived most of my life in France, my home life has always been a mismatched Indo-French blend. From the languages we spoke (French and English, with a number of Hindi and Gujarati words and expressions peppered into the mix) to the food we ate (curries made by my French dad, ready-made meals microwaved by my mum) to our family values of putting others first and practising hospitality and generosity (Indian) mixed with not interacting with our neighbours and speaking quietly in public spaces (French). To this day, I enjoy dry French comedy films just as much as I love vibrant and effervescent Bollywood dramas,” Anissa says, sharing how her cultural mingling brings her the best of both worlds.
Still, growing up in Paris, which can be quite monocultural, Anissa was often seen differently, and even called ‘Chinese’ or other nationalities. But when she moved to England to study, she was more accepted in that pot of multicultural mixes, which inspired her to be more of a global citizen, and she was encouraged to live in Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and Australia. With subtle cultural influences from both her ethnic origins, she truly represents an amalgamation. She dislikes wine and cheese, prefers chapatis to baguettes, and her intrinsic belief systems draw inspiration from Indian traditions, such as the cyclic nature of life, and Karma—despite having grown up in Paris. With all these traditions interacting with her French breeding, Anissa has found a way to identify with both sides of her origin, creating a personal and unique Parsi-French identity of her own.

II. Eshaan Trivedi | Bengali-Estonian. 

Where the unconventional union began 
Eshaan’s grandparents, both originating from places outside Europe, happened to meet by chance in London, as fate would have it. During World War II, his grandfather, who was originally an Indian from Calcutta, and his grandmother, hailing from a small fishing village in Estonia, found each other in the same college in the UK, and the rest was history. Two generations later, Eshaan stands today as a Bengali-Estonian cocktail.

“Being from a mixed blood background is the only way to be, and I can’t think of any other format!”

The melting pot of cultural influences
“I have to accept that I look different,” Eshaan shares, as he states that most of India, especially northern parts, are sadly homogenised, and when people look different, they are looked at differently. Often, he’s mistaken for an Afghani or Israeli. Even though he was born and raised in India, his alternate culture seeps into various aspects of life such as, when his sister and him were younger, they were put to bed with Eesti nursery rhymes. For Eshaan, when he was younger, Estonia was like a fairy tale to be thought of, but not lived. Now that he’s older and has a larger understanding of the world, he attempts to connect with his other side as much as possible.

III. Haider Hussain | Kashmiri-German

Where the unconventional union began 
Haider belongs to the first generation of the the mix, with his father hailing from Kashmir and mother from Germany. Their Bollywood-esque love story began on a flight to Delhi. His father was returning to India after his first international trip to Europe, and his mother was coming to India for the first time to join a charitable organisation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin basti. This was 1985. He was the first Indian man she had met and by the time they landed in Delhi, they were both smitten. Fast forward a few months and they were in Goa, and fast falling in love. They married each other without telling their parents, and as one can imagine, the families were shocked when they found out. Her family was expecting a turbaned, moustachioed man riding a camel, while his was expecting a bikini clad blonde hippie. They were both wrong.

Being from a mixed blood background has been very entertaining, especially when dealing with auto-wallahs and politely saying ‘bhaiyya mujhe chutiya mat banao when they try to fleece you!”

 The melting pot of cultural influences

“I grew up in Noida and went to a pretty standard Indian school,” he shares. However, he never escaped the tag of being ‘different’ with people always calling him ‘gora’ or ‘angrez’. But, he made it a point not to let it bring him down. “My identity has never really been an issue for me. I can easily adapt to the more Indian side of myself, and to the German one as well. I actually take pride in the fact that I have a better grasp on Hindi than most of my ‘Indian’ friends. I even made sure that I learnt the crassest Hindi possible. This is all a part of everyday life for me, and I really, really secretly enjoy surprising the fuck out of people when they find out I’ve understood every little thing they’ve been saying about me in Hindi,” he jokes.

“Though I’m sure it wasn’t that easy for my parents. I can’t imagine how my mother, being a German woman, manoeuvred her way through living in the chaos of India,” he shares. “Growing up, it was pretty common for us to throw parties on Eid and Christmas, and then join in the neighbourhood frenzy of Diwali and Holi. We’re pretty culturally open as a family so there’s never been a standard religion or culture my sister and I have been indoctrinated in to. And when it comes to food, I’ve enjoyed everything there is. Though, nothing beats the meaty goodness of Kashmiri Wazwan! It’s actually been quite a privilege to be of mixed race because I feel I can adapt anywhere. And I’m pretty close to my mixed ethnicity, which really helps because I don’t feel maniacally fanatic about religion or identity,” he shares. “To me, it’s just a spectrum.”

IV. Jasmine Chopra | Punjabi-British

Where the unconventional union began 

Back in the early 80s, Jaz’s then 20-year-old mother, who was born in Singapore to an English mother and Irish father, flew to Delhi to take up a job at the British High Commission. Here, a chance encounter with a Sikh Punjabi at a social gathering formed the basis of her love affair with Jaz’s future father and India.

A few years later on a Goan getaway they decided to tie the knot at a registry office in Margao and called on two random locals to bear witness. They then set up home in Bombay, and soon after Jaz’s birth moved to Susegad in Goa.

“Being from a mixed blood background, I live a life of versatility and ambiguity. I may be a foreigner in my own land at times. But I have also felt like a local in foreign lands.”

 The melting pot of cultural influences

“I have often been conflicted with regards to where I truly fit in, especially based on my physical appearance. My particularly fair complexion has at times made me look like a foreigner here, and my dark features have left people questioning my cultural heritage in the western world,” she muses. However, growing up in Goa, she seldom felt she was an ‘oddball’. “I didn’t really consider the concept of ‘identity’ until I reached my teens. I was too busy just being. Too busy immersed in pure living.”

At the age of 13, she moved to England, and there, she was the new kid, complete with bushy brows, untamed hair and a distinct desi accent. “In comparison to my immaculate, makeup-clad classmates, I appeared to be something straight out of the jungle. Amusingly, I was once asked if I lived in a mud hut, and asked why I wasn’t wearing a sari.”

“I miss the food desperately when I am in Europe. Food is the everyday luxury we should allow ourselves, and India gets that right. I miss the explosion of colour, textures and flavour that Indian food offers. And it does all that whilst retaining its simplicity.  There are discreet tell-tale signs of my Indian roots: I wear a kara, potter around the house in flip flops, and at times have difficulty distinguishing between my Vs and Ws,” she adds, “My British traits are just as evident. I have an obsession with the weather (and a dislike of it!), the desire for a good tan, and a love for earl grey tea.”

  V. Lubomir Jabbanda | Coorgi-Ukranian

Where the unconventional union began 
Working at the Indian Embassy in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1980, Lubomir’s Coorgi father was in charge of security. His Ukrainian mother was the translator, and as all his communications had to go through her, their interaction began through notes and messages. One fine day, he passed her a note expressing his feelings for her, and they were married in 1985. Three years later, Lubomir was born in Odessa.

“Being from a mixed-blood background opened my mind and reduced my dependence on my Identity, which can be the root of my ego. It has definitely made me a lot more flexible.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
When he moved to India in 2001, language was one of the primary barriers he had to deal with. Apart from that, his foreigner-like appearance made him susceptible to being ripped off occasionally. But, as he says, “I have never attached much importance to having to identify with something or having to define myself to feel a certain way,” so drifting between cultures never posed much of a problem for Lubomir. His food habits are all inclusive, with both Indian and Ukrainian cuisines featuring in the mix. “My lifestyle has been like that of any Indian who has grown up in Western media, never really bothered about religion or nationalism. I am spiritual but not religious,” he shares.

VI. Malini Patnaik | Oriya-Japanese

Where the unconventional union began

“My mother is Japanese and my father is Oriya. They met when they were both working for Japan Airlines (JAL) in 1982,” she shares. Her mother was a stewardess, while her father was training in Operations and Marketing, and they would meet at the tennis court of their hostel in Narita, Japan. In 1985, he moved to Delhi and continued to work with Japan Airlines at their city office. Since she was flying international, she would meet him in Delhi as much as she could. In 1987, she made the big move to India and they were married by the end of the year. “My mother’s parents were not happy with this and did not meet my dad till many years later,” she muses.

“As both my parents were living away from their families, it literally was the both of them against the world. There were financial struggles, and mum took quite a while getting used to living in India. It was a huge culture shock. I was born amidst all this on 10th November, 1989. At that time, mum was staying at home while dad was working the night shift. In fact, when I was born, even my paper diapers were being flown in from Japan, with help from my parents’ friends at JAL.”

“Being from a mixed background has made me someone who understands differences and adjusts very quickly to any situation, because that’s what I’ve been doing since the day I was born!”

The melting pot of cultural influences

“It has been quite an interesting experience, to be honest. I’ve actually witnessed the increase in open-mindedness over the years, first hand. I’ve come to embrace the fact that I’ll never be fully Indian or fully Japanese. I hold a Japanese passport, but I have big eyes. My legs are too long to be Japanese, but I have that eastern touch. The immigration officer at the airport in Singapore refused to believe I was Japanese and questioned me for about 20 minutes about my passport,” she confides.

“People are constantly trying to figure out where I’m from. I’ve had my share of ‘Are you Assamese?’ I know exactly how people from the North-East feel while living in Delhi. I’ve been called chinki and asked if I want noodles. I still have people think that my staple diet is sushi till they see me attack butter chicken and fish curry. I have to admit though, that having been born and brought up in Delhi, my upbringing hasn’t had a strong Oriya influence.”

VII. Nikhil Rathore| Rajput-Benjali-Scottish

Where the unconventional union began

It all started in London in the mid-70s. Nikhil’s father was an up-and-coming musician from Scotland who left home at an early age and arrived in London to chase his dreams. His mother, a fairly rebellious and groovy Bombay girl from royal stock, landed in London at the same time to study mass media and communications. As destiny would have it, they crossed paths on the tube and fell in love.

His grandparents had planned to marry off his mother to a member of the Jaipur royal family. So, the young rebels did what they could to stay together—they ran off. Her disgruntled family accepted the couple only when Nikhil was born.

“Being from a mixed blood background can be challenging, but it is one of my biggest blessings. I am so grateful to be a living bridge between two worlds and to live such rich experiences. Having two cultural identities has also prompted me to question and explore who I am down to the very core of me—mind, body and soul.”

The melting pot of cultural influences

Having spent his life dividing time between India and London, Nikhil has experienced challenges on both sides. In India, his complexion alone is reason for people to treat him like an outsider. And while he found it unnerving as a child learnt to make peace with it with time.

In Britain, he noticed that as soon as people knew  he was of mixed heritage, they treated him as if he were exotic—they were fascinated with his life. Meanwhile, in India, he encountered the standard questions: ‘what is your good name?’ ‘Where is your native place?’. All these questions left him very confused, mostly because of the life he led. “If my father is Scottish, then I am by default Scottish. But, this has very little resonance with me. I’m a Londoner and also an Indian, but not really a Scotsman in terms of my culture as I’ve never had much influence from that side of the family—I’ve grown up with my mother and nani telling me that I am a Rajput warrior!’

He feels that his ethnicity would have to be defined as ‘multicultural Londoner’. Having grown up with friends from every cultural and economic background, he finds himself equally comfortable hanging out in the roughest ghettos in London as he does in Rajput palaces. “Thanks to my parents, I’ve been raised to see all people and places as equal and valuable. Embracing the culture and identity of others does not in any way diminish your own traditions or beliefs,” a fact attested by the fact that he celebrates Diwali in London and Christmas in India!

VIII. Priya Silverstien | Maharashtrian-American

Where the unconventional union began

Priya’s mother, hailing from Mumbai, went on a holiday to Skiathos, Greece, to pay one of her close friends a visit. It was here, that she met Priya’s father, an American expat. She was living in London at the time, and we she returned, they continued to keep in touch. Once, he came to visit her in London, and proposed in the back of a taxi. She quit her job, and moved to Skiathos with him. They eventually moved to the US. It was only after her husband’s death that she and Priya moved back to London.

“Being from a mixed blood background is enriching, albeit confusing.”

The melting pot of cultural influences

“I live in the UK, so I don’t face many challenges other than being perceived as white, and so, not feeling completely in touch with my Indian side,” she confesses. “However, when I go to India, it is challenging to be perceived as a tourist. I am the first mixed generation in my family, so it is unusual being the only ‘white’ person. I think it wasn’t too difficult for the rest of my family to understand the mixed marriage though, as being white is seen as the only thing higher than Indian to my Parsi family. Although this made it easier for my mother, it is a very strange dynamic to be a part of, and does make me uncomfortable.”

Her partner is also of mixed race—half Caribbean half Scottish, but she grew up in Birmingham, a city in the UK populated by more South Asians than any other minority group. “We both grew up with Indian food and would have it at least once a week. So now in our home, we do the same. My mother moved to London with every intention of getting away from Indian traditions, so they don’t really affect my life much. But I feel the Indian values of academia, working hard, and family are intrinsic to me. My other ethnicity is American-Jewish, and although when I visit my family in the US I do attend temple, not much of the rest of my life is influenced by this. Living in the UK though, I do embrace British culture as I have lived there most of my life,” she shares.

 IX. Prosenjit Kundu | Bengali-French

Where the unconventional union began 
Tucked away in a Parisian suburb called Neuilly-Sur-Seine, at a hotel called Club Med, Prosenjit’s French mother and Bengali father found themselves working together. With love in the air in France in the ‘70s, their affair began, and they were wed soon enough. In 1975, Prosenjit was born, and lives as a first-generation cultural blend of Indian Bengali and French.

“Being from a mixed blood background means the world is slowly coming together.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
Having grown up in four different countries, and being raised by a Canadian woman for a significant period of his life, Prosenjit often feels like he doesn’t belong to any one country or race. Various different cultures have influenced him, making him a well-rounded individual. His first encounter with Indian culture came when his father moved from the US to Canada, where they stayed with his Bengali aunt and uncle. Having grown up with TV dinners and McDonald’s, this exposure to Indian food and traditions was a unique and transitional experience for him.
As he has lived in India on and off for the last 10 years, his connection to his Indian side has grown. And as he lived in Paris for two years, his French side has also flourished only recently. Ironically, due to being raised in North America, that culture influenced him more than his Indian or French sides ever did, truly making him an adaptable citizen of the world.

X. Sophia Dalal | Gujarati-Dutch-American

Where the unconventional union began 
Sophia’s Gujarati father and Dutch-American mother both grew up internationally, and trotted around the globe durig their youth. After graduating from Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, her father decided to pursue a medical degree in India. But, as the competition and stress of it all got to him, like it does to so many others in the same position, he changed his mind and set off for the US instead. There, he got a consulting job in New York, where he met Sophia’s mother. Their love affair started when he was her project manager, and soon enough they were married with two children, Sophia Dalal and Kavi Rajan Dalal.

“I am teaching myself to remember and believe that I am from a mixed-blood background.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
Having grown up in San Francisco her whole life, Sophia is assumed to be White in the US and enjoys all the privileges that come with that identity. “My Indian identity is something fun to say at parties, but it’s not something I think of myself as in day-to-day life,” she shares. While bi-racial marriages and families are abundant in the US, they are primarily black-white unions, so she has often felt uncomfortable calling herself bi-racial since she doesn’t have the same problematic sense of belonging.
The Indian side of her origin features in her life quite regularly as she travels to India almost every other year with her family. She experiences the benefits of being a White person in this country, but also feels a sense of distance from being included in things. “I have a lot of mixed cousins, but none of them are as white-blond-blue eyed as my brother or I, so sometimes I feel like a tourist in my own family,” she admits. Growing up in a house where neither of her parents were particularly religious, they celebrate the whole line of festivals—Diwali, Holi, Christmas and Easter. Having grown up eating Indian food, Sophia is familiar with the cuisine and aesthetics of this culture, as well as the movies and music, but the religious and linguistic aspects escape her sometimes. “The longer I’m here, the more I realise that there are a lot of things about India that feel very natural and dear to me,” she shares.

XI. Victoria Kumari | Bengali-Tamil-Irish.

Where the unconventional union began 
Victoria’s mother, a Bengali-Tamil born to a zamindar family in Simla, was a traditional ‘upper class Indian’ in most senses. She wore a sari, learned to cook Indian food, spoke Hindi, English and French, and celebrated Diwali, Durga Puja and so on. Victoria’s father, a typical white Irishman from a simple and humble background was a hardworking person who celebrated Easter and Christmas. As both these souls individually moved to London in the 70s, their paths crossed. “He saw my mother in London one day whilst on a lunch break, was ‘blown away’ by her beauty, and immediately approached her with the offer of lunch,” she elaborates. While the lunch offer was reluctantly accepted, they were married two years later.

“Being from a mixed-blood background, I love having the best of all worlds, I enjoying seeing how similar we as humans are, and, how different we try to appear through culture. I  only see one race and that’s the Human Race. I can’t be put into a box which is generally what most people try and do.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
The mixed-race marriage that Victoria’s parents had, though born out of pure love, was unaccepted by both families. Racial comments were hurled here and there from the surrounding public in England. Still, the marriage was eventually allowed and attended by all, with an Indian wedding service followed by a civil registry ceremony. “It wasn’t until I was born two years after the wedding that the families really accepted them. I was the symbol of the union between the two worlds,” Victoria tells us.
Having visited Ireland only once, she finds it much easier to relate to her Indian side, moreover because most influences in her life stem from her mother. While she cooks Indian food, her Irish grandmother taught her how to craft a ‘good Sunday roast’. Her dressing style is a fusion of Indian and Western attires, and both English and Hindi frequent her vocabulary. Her Indian family spans across India, from the north as well as the south. “As I am of fair complexion, in south India people generally comment about how non-indian I look,” she says, while North Indian people assume that she’s Punjabi. In all of this cultural mixing, she has added yet another hue to her ethnic kaleidoscope. Victoria’s husband is an Austrian, making her new-born baby a beautiful amalgamation of Irish-Bengali-Tamil-Austrian origin.

XII. Zahra Khan | Afghani-Russian-Persian-Indian. 

Where the unconventional union began
“My maternal grandfather Shangullah Tilio Khan was of mixed ancestry—his father was from a beautiful village bordering Hunza and Afghanistan, and his mother was Russian. He grew up in the idyllic Hunza valley (now in Pakistan) and spoke several languages, including Pashtun, Russian and Farsi,” Zahra begins. In the early part of the 20th century, he moved to Mumbai to make his fortune, where he met Zahra’s grandmother Roshan hailing from Kathiawar, Gujarat. This meeting of chance came about as they were both Shia Ismailis and followers of Aga Khan. Their oldest daughter, Zahra’s mother, inherited her father’s porcelain complexion and blonde hair, and stood out from the rest of her community. She met Zahra’s Indo-Persian father Aziz in Mumbai, and after being pursued for years, eventually married him. The couple moved to Tehran and lived a good life there until the 1979 revolution. Then, the Iran-Iraq war started and Zahra was born right in the middle of that conflict. In 1987, as the situation in Tehran was unbearable, the family fled to India and settled here for good.

“Being from a mixed-blood background, I love the diversity than runs through my genes. I totally love telling people that I’m 1/4th Indian, 1/4th Persian, 1/4th Afghani and 1/4th Russian - it’s a real conversation starter!”

The melting pot of cultural influences
Living in Tehran, Zahra spoke Farsi, a little bit of Hindi and a smattering of French. Her English skills were non-existent, owing to which she was often bullied in school and teased with names like ‘firang’. As her origins exempted her from having to learn Marathi, she was further alienated from her class. She recollects stories that her grandfather used to tell her about how he adapted when he first arrived in India, “He very quickly realised that he needed to blend in (as much as his strikingly tall and blonde appearance would let him) in order to get work. He even dyed his hair black and worked as an usher at the Royal Opera House, before Prithviraj Kapoor noticed him and asked him to take part in his plays. He went back to his blond roots but eventually quit theatre as it wasn’t his cup of tea. “Taking cues from him, I literally started walking around with a dictionary in hand to improve my English. Later, I went off to boarding school in Panchgani and was devouring books of all kinds by that point” Zahra says. As she overcame this language barrier, her English improved phenomenally, leaving her an avid reader, enthusiastic writer and top of her English class.
Of all the ethnicities in her family history, her Persian heritage resonates the most. With gorgeous Irani food crafted by her mother’s hands, she is a kind of authority on the cuisine’s authenticity in India, as she tells us, “Let me just say that the chello kebab you eat at Copper Chimney or the berry pulao you eat at Brittania is far from authentic. Having grown up eating chello kebab and zereshk pulao like the ones you get in Iran, I can tell you that the closest version of authentic chello kebab is available at George Restaurant in Pune.” The Irani culture seeps into her life in other ways as well, with the traditional celebration of Irani New Year featuring copious amounts of drinks, food and dancing, and several other minute aspects as well. With so much varied culture running through her veins, Zahra represents a truly unique and beautiful mix of different worlds and traditions.

Compiled by Rhea Almeida, Krupa Joseph and Diva Garg

Introduction by Mandovi Menon

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