Growing up an immigrant in the West, kids have to contend with a lot – namely trying to blend the cultures of their parents with that of their adopted homelands. Often this can lead to angst, identity crises, self-loathing and a shame of one’s culture; other times, this can result in hilarious culture gaps when these differences are confronted headon. For those in the latter camp, I’ll say thank god for a writer like Rupinder Gill who has written a beautiful memoir, On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life about her journey in recapturing her youth.
Growing up in Toronto, Gill and her sisters grew up under the watchful eyes of her immigrant parents, who seemingly approached the West with wariness and suspicion. This resulted in Gill staying home a lot – and in between the Cinderella-like chores, she would be parked in front of her television spending hours watching bad late 80’s early 90’s TV – Gill would make references to Full House, One Life to Live and Perfect Strangers. She wasn’t allowed to go on sleepovers or to camp; instead she studied, hung out with her family and consumed lots of junk food while watching TV.
As an adult, Gill takes stock of her life and decides she will fulfill some of the things she wasn’t allowed to do as a child – like get a dog or go to sleepaway camp. Some readers would approach this book with caution, less it comes off as Eat, Pray, Love or other books of priviliged folks who take time off from the real world to “find themselves.” Those readers shouldn’t worry, because there’s a healthy amount of self-mockery and self-awareness in Gill’s handling of her story. She gives voice to the various friends around her who eye her journey warily and with bemusement. And despite her very sincere desire to change her life for the better, she remains grounded with perspective that despite her misgivings, she’s had it pretty good.
I loved this book, and I loved Gill’s distinct point of view. She has a genial and friendly literary presence. And while the book is decidedly light, there are moments of weight – her time volunteering for a summer camp run by cancer charity, Gilda’s Club, is a great example of Gill’s ability to transcend the trap of naval-gazing that memoirs often have, and doing something productive and meaningful with her quest. I’m hoping this is just the beginning of a long career for Gill because she’s got a singular voice and should be heard.