Book Review | How to navigate a mixed-race identity

Jassa Ahluwalia, clearly, has not just sat around wanting to be accepted, but has read books and met people, and introspected deeply

Jasvinder Singh Ahluwalia officially became Jassa Ahluwalia when people in a London hospital could not match his name with his looks of a blonde white man, and as a result he lay writhing in pain, too weak to explain his mixed lineage of an English mother and a Sikh father. The other endearing image is that of a three-year-old Jasvinder dancing, unbridled, to the dhol beats at a family wedding in Punjab. “I was unstoppable, Bhangra was in my bones,” recollects Jassa. And somewhere between the two binaries, lies Jassa’s search for an identity.

Both Not Half is Jassa’s memoir of sorts of a world caught between various cross-sections of people and experiences, of picking one’s way through that and of ultimately finding oneself, when he finally declares, “I’m ready to be me.”

The half-English, half-Punjabi actor with his very British looks and fluent Punjabi has managed to gobsmack most people he has come across. His Punjabi lineage is strong, and he hates to stick out in a South Asian gathering because of his looks.

“The Singh nod, I’ve never had that. I longed for it,” he rues. But validation comes to him in strange ways. At a roadside Dhaba near Delhi, as he is passionately digging into his aloo praunthe, the chef who has been observing him for a while, asks him whether he is Punjabi. He saw the way Jassa was eating, and decided he had to be one. “I grinned so hard, I almost forgot to swallow,” says a happy Jassa.

Even as Jassa talks of inclusiveness which takes on various hues in a multi-cultural set up, he deftly touches upon other aspects intermittently knocking on our consciousness like national identity and minority issues. He weaves in history and contemporary politics to impart context to his own quest for an identity, which, in turn, makes this published work a page turner and a storehouse of important references. He introduces us to authors and terminologies like ‘White Fragility’ coined by Robin DiAngelo. Inclusiveness to him also means the acceptance of one’s sexuality, as opposed to the feeling of being ‘othered’, and this finds relevance in his involvement with the LGBTQIA+ emotion, primarily because of his sister Ramanique’s allegiance to the cause. For Jassa, that’s also coming of age, as it were.

Jassa Ahluwalia, clearly, has not just sat around wanting to be accepted, but has read books and met people, and introspected deeply. Both Not Half is a passage to his heart which needs to be heard.

Moyna Sen is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi

Both not Half

By Jassa Ahluwalia


pp. 298; Rs 399

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