Behenji

First published in Stonecoast Review

When I first heard
It, the word didn’t
Sound endearing or like
An appellation. Behenji
Was a crude joke reserved for
Those girls who
Wore salwar-kameezes,

Tied their hair into
Well-oiled, tight ponytails
And spoke no English.
Behenjis stood on the other side.
Always on the other side,
Huddled among their own,
Away from us

Convent and
Public-school types. Did
Behenjis cringe the
Same way at those
Dirty looks as did my school friend
While uttering “Mohalla” when
She shared her home
Address with me?

Behenji was
The weird look my
Friend got when he
Asked for Mayawati’s
Biography at a bookstore.
“Inhe Behenji chahiye,”
The store boy sniggered
To his co-worker.

At a diaspora party,
I’m the salwar-kameez
Sporting odd one
Among a bevy of
Desis in short dresses.
I see how easy
It is to become a
Behenji.
 

[Behenji, literally meaning sister, has come to be used as a pejorative term for traditionally-attired, less urban-looking young women across educational institutions in India.]

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One thought on “Behenji

  1. In Great Britain and the European continent, women from our sub-continent who wear salwar-kameez and dress in the manner described, are usually called Paki’s or Pakistanis, a derogatory term as commonly understood by the locals. Indian ladies, wearing ethnic dresses are therefore advised to wear sarees, lehngas or any other graceful National dress.

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