Writing Indian Characters
So the first thing that pops into my head when I think about writing Indian characters (as a second gen immigrant who was born in India and moved to America) is the overwhelming diversity within just the blanket term “Indian character.”
Writing Indian Characters in India
North Indians and South Indians are very different from each other. Things change dramatically from state to state as well, whether you’re talking about the food or the language or the style of clothing. There’s also religious diversity in that while the dominant religion in India is Hinduism, there are also Muslim Indians and Sikh Indians and Buddhist Indians, all of which have different perspectives on what it means to be Indian. India right now also has a pretty large age span, where with the population boom, there are just as many old people with prejudices as there are young people with liberal mindsets. India’s also at a point now where it’s an up and coming country, with values and goals of young people changing rapidly. The information age hit India pretty hard, and there’s large discrepancies between the rural areas with few, if any, accesses to technology, and the urban settings where there’s large amounts of technology everywhere you look.
That’s the main thing I would try and keep in mind when writing characters IN India — just the ridiculous amount of diversity and change that’s happening now in India. Young people there also have this mindset there that the Western world is better and everyone seems to want to immigrate to American or Britain when they grow up.
If you’re talking about writing Indians in Western countries, like immigrant stories, that’s another story.
Writing the Indian Diaspora
There, it’s still important to keep in mind the diversity of India because that could change the perspective your character has on the Western world as well. Research is once again, your best friend. Research holidays that your character might celebrate like Rakhi and Holi and Diwali, research religions and the religious holidays (Hinduism has an enormous amount of gods and goddesses and holidays for them as well). Research where in India your character is from, because that colors things differently too. As I said, South Indians and North Indians especially have different views on a lot of different things.
The other thing about Indians living away from India is that they’ll find each other. Literally everywhere we’ve lived in my life we have had neighbors and communities of Indian people that we would collaborate on showing Indian movies in local movie theaters with, people we would send things to India for our family with and ask them to bring things back for us. We’d put on festivals and shows and dances and things with them.
Of course, you can’t forget the racism either. As a brown girl growing up, you get made fun of for how you smell, how you wear your hair, the clothes you wear, and then you also get to watch as everyone grows up and ~discovers~ these things and wears henna and bindis as if they’d never made fun of you for doing the same thing before.
That’s about all I have off the top of my head. If you have any other specific questions, feel free to send them in, and we’ll do our best to help!
If any other Indian followers have anything to add to this, please let us know as well!
I feel like I should add something…. Take what I say with a grain of salt.
1. It’s pretty simple to divide India into North and South… but there can be some more distinctions: Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, etc. I’m not actually part of those groups (so I can’t really say how different they are) but I’m pretty sure there are some pretty distinct traditions in those groups.
2. Feel like I should mention the existence of Northeastern Indians, at least. They aren’t usually what people think of when they think of India… but they exist.
3. Don’t assume that the Indian character knows another language other than English, if they grow up in India. (And don’t necessarily assume that the language is Hindi, especially if your character is from South India). At least in the Indian community where I grew up most of the 2nd gen immigrants could understand the language but had limited abilities in speaking or writing. But it depends.
4. And remember that people in India can speak English too? Their fluency probably depends on their education level (most schools teach it as a second language, if I remember correctly) and how often they use it.
5. Also a reminder that the holidays mentioned above are Hindu holidays so Indian people of other religions may not celebrate them if they’re not living in India. (I was raised Hindu sooooo I don’t know how true this statement is but I thought I might as well mention it?)
6. Oh, and a reminder that Indian movies != Bollywood. Bollywood is one of the film industries in India, producing Hindi language films. I believe there’s a pretty big Telugu film industry? But Bollywood movies are still the most popular. At least in the circles i run in.
Everything else sounds chill.