I spent the last two days binge-watching Never Have I Ever on Netflix. I know, I know the hot takes are already out there. The show will have its share of analysis and disparagers.
I liked it.
I also was irritated by so many things in it.
I cried. No, I sobbed at the end because of what Devi and Nalini brought to that raw, emotional moment. I sobbed thinking of my father. I sobbed because of the different kinds of grief I hold inside.
It is a rom-com. It is cringeworthy at times.
Then there are moments when it is brilliant. There are scenes that represent my normal. Things I have not seen in other rom-coms – cringey or otherwise. I liked how I could relate to the things on the wall, the kitchen set up, the use of kannamma, the random tamizh things, the casual racism and bigotry I see around me.
Mostly, I loved how I could see people like me in Nalini. Like Nalini, I came to the US in 2001. I could have had a daughter the age of Devi by now. I will have my children navigating High School in a few years. I got a glimpse of what it looks like from the point of view that so far has been missing from all the things I have watched.
I have heard the talk by Chimamanda Adichie on the danger of a single story so many times. I nodded all the way through because like her I grew up on a diet of stories featuring blue-eyed, blonde-haired people. I craved scones and treacle filled biscuits even when I had no idea what they were. Unlike her, I started writing later in life. My writing is mostly about experiences. If I hesitated using words I use in everyday life in my writing, I remedied it quickly by writing the way I speak.
Today, when my children watch shows featuring Indian food by non-Indian people, they correct the pronunciation sitting on our couch. They call out when there is a misrepresentation. When they see paavadais on screen, it is like coming home. When they read about Bilal making daal with his Abu, they know what it is. They are not fazed that Bilal calls his dad Abu when they call their dad, Appa.
The different stories we hear and see around us enrich our perspective. It makes us see people around us as complex beings full of good and bad, full of contradictions just like us. It reinforces the fact that there is commonality amid the differences.
Just for that, I commend Mindy and the team for pulling off the impossible, normalizing a desi teen experience in a society when all things India is still defined by cows on the street, palaces, elephants, and slums.