Is it such a crime to be the Indian who skis and prefers pasta to pakora? And why does that make others think, ‘uh-oh coconut’? If you’re new to this cultural cliché, that’s brown on the outside but white on the inside – yep, really. See, I grew up in Essex, away from the tighter-knit Indian communities of northwest London or Leicester and so-called Brit or ‘white’ culture featured heavily in my childhood.
It was cool to hit Romford market on a Saturday morning, munch on crabsticks and shop for legwarmers. It was not cool to spend Sundays eating off partitioned plastic trays at the wedding of your dad’s second cousin’s son who’d last seen you aged three. In my mind, these were just my preferences - and it was fine to prefer the ‘British’ option to the Indian one on occasion.
Coconuts, listen up. Let’s re-define the term. There’s nothing wrong with having cultural preferences which aren’t Indian. Yes, I’d rather watch a cult arthouse flick than a Bollywood one. And I’d rather hit a music festival than a mela. It’s to do with what you like. But while I was listening to indie pop as a kid, my mum still mum played Bollywood tunes and ghazals and I like them. I can even sing a few word-for-word. Hell, I even speak fluent Gujarati. Besides, hanging out in an all-Indian posse and going out to Indian clubs does not an Indian make. Take that, coconut persecutors.
A bona fide ‘coconut’ is one with little interest in their heritage, not someone who sometimes prefers non-Indian activities. I spent three months in India a few years ago. I had a blast and felt a real connection. When I was 18, I remember going to an indie night with friends on a Friday but by Saturday, I was dancing garba and banging sticks at dandia with the local Lohana community in Romford’s Dolphin leisure centre.
Your formative years, and who you spend those with, really do shape you. ‘Coconut’ as a label is way too brown or white. What about the grey areas in between? I propose something more variable. Like coffee. A dark espresso is the Indian who can’t contemplate Sunday without a trip to the jalebee shop while the archetypal ‘coconut’ is a milky latte, some brown stuff at the bottom, but otherwise all milk. I’d place myself somewhere in between. A cappuccino perhaps, and it tastes pretty good.