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Nanie Legacies

Written by: Shirani M. Pathak


When she died, those legacies died with her...


“Nanie, what’s that bump on your head?” I asked my grandmother in Hindi when I was a little girl.


“Oh that’s from when your Nana hit me,” she replied matter of factly. No emotions, just cold hard facts. 


“Why did Nana hit you?” I wondered why my Nanie, a grown up, would get hit. I knew what it was like to get hit as a kid. But why would a grown up get hit?


“Because he drank too much.”


I had no words. Just more confusion. How can a kid even respond to that?


My grandmother was third generation Indo-Fijian. The granddaughter of Girmits brought over straight from India. She was the eldest in her family and only got to attend school until the third grade. She told me that at that point she had to stop going to school so that she could help her family out around the house and take care of her younger siblings. 


As I started to learn more about my colonized ancestry, I began asking her about her parents. She recounted stories of the fights and violence between the two.


“My bappa used to hit my maiya. He would hit her hard, with a broom,” she shared. “I used to jump in between them and tell my bappa, ‘Baap, maiya ke nahi maro!'” 


Some days she said she got caught in the crossfire, but she said her father always listened to her. 


My nanie had always been a strong woman and a fighter.


Nanie was a dark skinned girl. She told us that nobody wanted to marry her. 


“I got married late, your grandfather’s family was the only one who agreed to marry me.” she would tell me in Hindi.


I think she said they hadn’t even come to see her, they simply agreed to marry her to my grandfather. 


That surely should have been a sign that something was amiss.


As a little girl, whenever I thought about getting married, I thought about how wonderful it would be. And how unlike my parents’ marriage it would be. If you grew up in chaos like mine I imagine the same may have been true for you. 


I don’t know if my nanie ever had the privilege to dream those dreams. 


What I do know is that sadly, my nanie ended up in a violent alcoholic marriage, not much unlike that of her parents.


There are certain legacies that no matter how hard we try, we just can’t get away from. Some of us don’t have the resources and the education. Some of us don’t have the tools. Some of us don’t even know that it’s an option because that’s all we’ve ever known.


As a child my mom always told me how my nana was very different with us kids than he was with her and her sibling growing up. 


I knew my nana as the person who would be there for us bright and early every morning, ready to take us to school, no matter how much he’d had to drink the night before. Some days he reeked of alcohol. But, that was my nana. 


Of course there was the violence we witnessed at my nanie and nana’s home. As immigrants to the U.S. we were fortunate to have a nana and nanie who could take care of us while our parents worked their two shifts each at the gas station and went to trade school.


My dad never beat my mom. Something tells me that she would not have tolerated it. Just like my grandmother, my mother is strong, and doesn’t take any shit. 


In our home it was only us kids who were beat. According to my family that was okay, because at least my dad wasn’t beating my mom. Afterall, kids deserved to get beat because they need to be disciplined. How else were they going to learn?


I recall the day that was put an end to that.


I was 16 years old, sitting in the study room of our home, staring at the computer screen, trying to get some stupid homework assignment done. My dad walked into the room and started doing what he did, either pulling my hair or slapping my face over some stupid shit. I think it was something about the dishes not being done, or not being done to his standard. 


I turned around and decked him a good one, straight in his gut.


“Don’t you ever fucking hit us again,” I said to him through gritted teeth, my nostrils flared and my death glare steady on him.


He never did hit us again after that. Instead, he hit the bottle. 


Systems of supremacy and oppression create cultures in which alcoholism, abuse, and violence are the norm. 


Never, ever, was I ever going to be in a marriage like that, I always told myself.


I left my home at the age of 18 and never went back.


Nearly a decade later I’d had one heartbreak too many, and a friend suggested the book Women Who Love Too Much to me. In the book it said if you grew up in a family with lots of chaos and dysfunction, you may want to check out a 12-step program of recovery. 


I didn’t want to go. I didn’t care to go. However, I was tired of hurting. I was tired of the same old thing. Looking for love in all the wrong places, looking for love outside of me.


Little by little I began to get better. I began to heal. I began to see the patterns of the legacies. The legacies of violence, the legacies of abuse, the legacies of women doing for others at their own expense (and the martyrdom that ensued). The legacies of secrecy and collusion. 


No more. No more. No more would that be a part of my legacy. 


Epigenetics, the science of how environment impacts gene expression, confirms that our DNA changes to adapt to whatever circumstances and threats were present in our environments…and that those alterations get passed down from one generation to the next. 


Research also demonstrates that those effects can be undone. 


All it takes is one person to rewire their brain and their nervous system in order to change an entire legacy. 


My nanie passed away on January 14, 2022. As I grieve the loss, I grapple with the fact that all of those legacies of violence and abuse died with her. They no longer have room for expression in my family system. At least not in my direct lineage. Whatever anyone else chooses is not up to me.


I am Shirani M. Pathak, fifth generation Indo-Fijian. And the legacies of abuse, violence, and systems of oppression will not be passed on by me. I am Shirani M. Pathak, fifth generation Indo-Fijian, and the legacies that I pass on are those of Love, hope, healing, and regulated nervous systems. I am Shirani M. Pathak, fifth generation Indo-Fijian and I am creating new legacies. 


 


Shirani M. Pathak (she/her) is the founder of the Fierce Authenticity™️ Movement. She’s an author, speaker, consultant, and coach on Relational Intelligence – the skill set that helps people feel deeply seen, heard, and understood in all of their relationships - at home, at work, and in the community. As a life coach, Shirani helps daughters of immigrants heal intergenerational relational wounds so that they can experience the Love, joy, peace, and ease they’ve always desired and deserved. As a corporate consultant, Shirani works with executive leadership teams to turn their high conflict workplaces into cultures of collaboration, connection, and belonging. You can learn more about Shirani on her website at  www.shiranimpathak.com and follow her on IG @shiranimpathak


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