Untold: defining moments of the uprooted is a collection of true stories edited by Gabrielle Deonath and Kamini Ramdeen, and collected by Brown Girl Magazine. Divided into sections by the overarching themes of Identity, Being, and Relationships, each story presents a deeply personal, brave, and authentic slice-of-life from one of thirty-two emerging South Asian writers from America, Canada, Britain, and Indo-Caribbean communities.
Like Brown Girl Magazine itself—launched in 2018 “by and for South Asian womxn, who believe in the power of storytelling as a vehicle for community building and empowerment” (from their mission statement)—this first anthology aligns with the mission and goals of giving voice to the South Asian diaspora. Like the magazine, the anthology provides a forum for sharing, without fear or shame, experiences which, for generations, families have kept to themselves in order to assimilate, to blend, to “disappear” into their adopted countries.
Among the twelve stories in the “Identity” section, there are several about coming out and about the culture shock for foreign-born children on their first visit to India for family visits, and one about a high school girl who makes the difficult decision to begin wearing the hijab. “Born Untouchable,” by Canadian Meera Solanki Estrada, is a deeply moving piece about casteism. She interviewed her father about his family’s history as untouchables. Of his school days, her father matter-of-factly related, “Ours was the era of segregation, so I could go into the classroom. But we had to sit on the floor in the back of the class. And when the master did the roll call, they didn’t say our name, just BC for backward class. That is the name we answered to.”
Three of the nine stories in the “Being” section begin with sensitive content warnings and the phone number for the national suicide hotline, which speaks volumes about the emotional toll of carrying generations of untold stories, such as children attending all or predominantly white schools where they were bullied and learned to resent their appearance. In “Dark and Lovely,” Apoorva Varghese, as a young, dark-skinned child visiting relatives in India, becomes infatuated with a handsome Bollywood star. When his screen persona falls for a light-skinned beauty, she slavers herself with illicitly purchased skin-lightening cream. “I didn’t know it then,” Varghese writes, “but that moment launched me on a journey to self-love that has been slow, steady, and ongoing.”
The final section, “Relationships,” is comprised of eleven essays, on topics ranging from infidelity to end-of-life rituals in the Sikh tradition to a daughter caught between warring parents. In her piece “In the Eye of the Beholder,” Nina Malagi returns from the United States to her ancestral city (Ahmedabad, Gujarat) after ending a twenty-year marriage to negotiate the sale of the couple’s co-owned flat. She’d once defended the gender-bound box she’d found herself in:
As she explained to friends after a difficult 36-hour labor, “The woman always goes home to her parents’ house to give birth and the husband turns up months later,” I patiently explained. That’s how we do it in Indian culture, I lied. And I shamed them for false cultural insensitivity to silence my own shame.
Untold: defining moments of the uprooted is a varied, immersive, informative read. These short pieces of creative nonfiction should be of interest to anyone. These are the true stories of South Asian writers. They are also, simply, true life stories of love, loss, sickness, pain, fear; all the emotions, all the ways in which people—in these stories, brown people—struggle to make lives and to find peace and happiness for themselves and their loved ones under circumstances that, all too often, are less than hospitable, less than welcoming.