Just a Shanti-Banti Soul

I shouldn’t really be blogging –  way too much work to do right now, but I had to post this picture, sent to me this morning by Anand from Chennai. He saw my photostream on flickr and sent me this message:

Its good to see your collections..
im surprised you a westerner have adapted indian culture.. its strange..
whereas in india people down here got attracted towards western.
I could smell the indian flavour throughout your wesbite..

Well, i gotta funny idea when seeing one pic.. so i tried some what
you might like..
plz do take a look


Apart from making me laugh out loud, this also made me remember how as a child, I’d sometimes wish I could wake up brown. I wanted to be Indian so that my spiritual and cultural life wouldn’t be so commentworthy for people – particularly at school. I suppose for a shy girl, all I wanted to do was not stand out. Having red hair and white skin and belonging to a community that wears traditional Vedic clothes and all the rest, is a pretty good way of attracting attention.

As I grew up, and grew into my own skin and identity, I became more comfortable with it. I even began to enjoy shocking people that hadn’t previously guessed my background, with my knowledge of something Indian. I could laugh off stares and comments ranging from the amusing, to the downright rude. Once I got interrogated by an old lady in a supermarket while I was dressed in a sari – ‘Do you know what you’re wearing? Do you know where it comes from?’ She seemed amazed that I did.

Of course sometimes it was still an issue. Particularly when performing in Indian classical music and dance performances, a white face means standing out in a much more obvious way than in everyday life.

Now, I’ve gradually come to see it as a blessing. People noticing and asking questions gives me the opportunity to examine my deep philosophical beliefs that I learnt as a young child, but didn’t always consider growing up. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna talks about the body as being no more than the discardable covering for the soul, which is eternal. With this knowledge, I can understand that my external is irrelevant. I can’t imagine how confused I might be without knowing that I am not really any of the labels that society chooses to give me, whether it be wannabe-desi, white girl or HinJew. In Israel I got ‘shanti banti’- what young Israelis call white people that get into Eastern culture. It’s all fine. I am an eternal soul, and even if sometimes I think a suntan might be nice (!), I no longer wish to become any different on the outside.

In the words of the singer India Arie:

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations no no,

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.


Filed under Krishna Consciousness, Photos, Videos

8 responses to “Just a Shanti-Banti Soul

  1. wonderful blog post! thanks for sharing. i can relate to the standing out feeling.

    i’m in an asian/american body (read-mom is chinese and dad is irish/american) and i get the “where are you from?”, “did you know you are wearing Indian clothes?” and even sometimes devotees ask if i’m from Kazakhstan or China. I tell them I’m from southeast Virginia, I just happen to have an asian looking body.

    once an Indian gentleman actually argued with me when i told him i wasn’t Nepali. He was insistent that i was lying, lol.

    thanks again 🙂

  2. Isn’t it amazing how people so stubbornly think they must know you better than you do!

  3. awesome job at the photo alteration! I’m very impressed.

    you know, I have the flipside experience – people think I’m indian (punjabi, to be exact) and will argue with me when I say I’m not! But ultimately, you’re so right Jahnavi, Krishna consciousness isn’t an Indian thing, nor is it even a Hindu thing. It’s the nature of the soul.

    I think we as gurukulis are intimately reminded of this on a regular basis.

  4. but you do have marvelous hair and skin, i might add.

    mandakini…you are leaving out the fact that your husband’s japanese last name is BABA!!! (was that the motel incident you were talking about?)

  5. Bhakti, just in case you thought the photo was done by me, it was skilfully done by Anand…who just told me he’s a graphic designer.

  6. mala108

    Hahaha!Amazing!Great post Jahnavi!I’d been into various situations like this too. One time somebody thought that I’m from Manipur,lol!How I wish!Here in FL, people will just randomly speak to me in Spanish coz they think I’m from Peru! I can already foresee my kid’s “identity” issue thing in the future :o) They will be a quarter of everything! But because of KC, I’m confident that they’ll handle it well just as you did. Thanks again for sharing. Hare Krishna!

  7. devadeva~ yes, that was the hotel incident 😀 it’s amazing how people get so hung up on bodily concept. and yes, my last name is Baba. Makes it even more confusing for folks. I swear it’s a typical Japanese last name.


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