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Shakti perspectives: Sukhmani

Sometimes I wish I was a rebel.

I’m not sure if there’s a particular gene I’m missing, or if my brain just doesn’t have the right mix of chemicals - whatever the thing is that gives people the freedom mentally to pursue what they want to despite any expectations or norms or external pressures, I’m pretty sure I don’t have it.

But God sometimes I wish I did.

For the past 23 years I have felt like I have been progressively ticking off items on a checklist that has been prewritten for me without any form of consultation. It’s a checklist which has completely shaped the framework through which I view the world. I struggle to even conceptualise what life would look like or who I would be if I didn’t check off the boxes saying go to a ‘good’ high school – do ‘useful’ subjects – get ‘good’ grades – go to a ‘good’ uni straight out of high school – graduate with an employable degree – get a ‘good’ job straight out of uni.

I struggle to conceptualise what life will look like if/when I don’t check the boxes which say something like get married and have kids. I know this feeling isn’t unique. It comes with being a child of first-generation migrants. When your parents leave everything they’ve known behind to move to a foreign country so you can have more opportunities than they did, you feel pressure to check the boxes of those opportunities without a fight. Living between a culture which emphasises duty to family and community and one which emphasises individualism and self-discovery can be exhausting.  

I also know this feeling is an incredibly privileged one to have – which is why I often dismiss my desire to rebel and go back to checking things off my life checklist. Though sometimes I tell myself my feelings are valid and all that good stuff and indulge in a longing for a life I haven’t lived. When I say I wish I was a rebel, I don’t necessarily mean I want to do drugs or not come home for days (although that may be fun). It’s more that I want to break from the expectations of what a South Asian woman should be and how a South Asian woman should act. As someone who constantly craves growth through new experiences, I can’t help but feel like I haven’t experienced enough or grown enough.

I was 21 when the pandemic started and I’m 23 as I’m writing this. The time for self-reflection I’ve had cooped up in my house for two years has come as a welcome wake-up call for how quickly life goes by. I’ve realised I don’t want to waste much more of it building up to the next item on a checklist. I still don’t think I have the right mix of chemicals in my brain to be a rebel, but I definitely am going to pretend I do. 

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