The Girl Who Kept Falling In Love: An Indian In US Pursuing Acceptance

This is a journey through the life of Kaya, a 40-year-old first-generation Indian American navigating love and identity in present-day urban India. The narrative weaves through global aspirations, institutionalized hate, and the pursuit of love and acceptance.

Rheea Mukherjee
New Update
the girl who kept falling in love, Rhea Mukherjee

This is a journey through the life of Kaya, a 40-year-old first-generation Indian American navigating love and identity in present-day urban India. The narrative weaves through global aspirations, institutionalized hate, and the pursuit of love and acceptance.


Excerpted with permission from The Girl Who Kept Falling In Love, Rheea Mukherjee, Penguin Random House India.

An Excerpt

When it comes to middle-aged men who live in America, there are two kinds: The first type is always complaining about how horrible India is. This kind will tell you how everything was a struggle there and how all Indians are cheats, small-minded and regressive. These men will tell you how corrupt the whole system is and they will be on point about a lot of things except that their critique is, and always will be, limited to what they once knew about a country they left at least two decades ago. They won’t be willing or be able to apply this same level of criticism to America, nor will they be inspired to live in ways that might be called imaginative, especially since this is the land they claimed gave them access to everything.

‘Everything’ usually translated into their owning hotels, gas stations and Indian grocery shops, and indeed the money they made over their lifetimes would be relatively opulent when compared to what they would’ve made had they been running small, working-class businesses in India. But was all the money they had to spend to live and earn in America worth it? I guess that could only be validated by the individual. My father is the other kind of middle-aged man living in America. The kind whose early years had had the tight security of an education provided by a middle-class and upper-caste lifestyle.

They had been taught that India is a land brilliant and inimitable because its culture is as rich as the bright minds it raises. If only it wasn’t for so many poor people and bad infrastructure, they say, the West wouldn’t have been an answer. It’s good to note here that this category of men will always say that they intend to return to India to ‘give back’. Even if they are nearing retirement, they will confidently tell you they are just waiting for their children to settle just a bit more, so they can go back to the homeland. They are perhaps the most confused about what they love and hate about both countries. They consistently grieve the loss of their identity in cold countries. Perhaps you’ll understand why it’s so easy for this diaspora to latch on to some unifying idea of ‘One India’, one religion, one ‘culture’ for them to feel validated while their daughters date White boys, and their grandchildren eat spaghetti.

My father was always uncomfortable with other women, although you’d never know it unless you hung around his generation of migrants. They all had winning stories of adventure and turmoil to make this gigantic transatlantic journey to America worth it. My father’s generation of migrants, at least the kind that most Americans slotted into the category of ‘model citizens’ because of their job profiles, held a secret: one that most of the Indian diaspora are terrified of ever acknowledging—they all hailed from ‘upper-caste’ backgrounds. Class and brown people were enough of a nuance for a global world but it was easier to pretend that caste was a thing of the past, or something that only happened in medieval-minded villages.


A few days after I met A, I talked to my father. His voice scratched with age each time we talked. I still don’t know why but he chose to live in Miami. He had separated from my mother eight years ago, even though up until then he had claimed that real Indians didn’t divorce. Sometimes my seventy-five-year-old father who has lived for more than forty-five years in the U.S.A, doesn’t know how to talk to his forty-year-old daughter who has lived in India for the past eighteen years. Most of the time we argue. Because he has willed it to be so. He typically opens with lines such as: ‘I’m glad Indians are finally taking themselves seriously and taking pride in their culture.’ The pattern of conversation was easy enough. I would ask him to define ‘Indian culture’ and he would take the bait and circle like a penny about to quiver finally into the drain. Then he’d settle in with something that revealed his very casteist and parochial understanding of the religion he was born into. To be fair, the vast majority of India would tend to agree. 

But, of course, he would always say ‘everyone should be able to believe and be what they want, but that’s not to dismiss our Hindu culture.’ Not that my father was religious. Or devout. He was just the second kind of Indian man in America, the one that fled from India as fast as possible with loans and his middle-class parents’ dreams. Furthermore, my father was saddled with the entitlement and awe that most Indian boys were bequeathed by their parents. It included massive doses of social responsibility, boxed into the roles of providing, marrying and having children—the basics of keeping them good and Indian. Indians here could vary by definition a little bit to tweak their differences in language, food choices, class, lifestyle. But what it actually turned out to be was a certain sense of purity and awe-inspiring wisdom of what they had left behind in order to fall into the trap of the American Dream.

Indian men were beaten by their own system. Their bodies and sexuality repressed from themselves, their identity always rigid, pure and traditional enough but not enough to make it complete. They had to find their true validation in America, only then would it all add up. By the time my father’s generation had struggled to put away parts of their brown-insecurity, India had taken upon itself the task of solving its crippling identity issues with dazzling doses of male entitlement and a rigid, hyper-masculine branding of a very casteist Hinduism. Rapidly, my country had changed into a one-religion nation. Ironically, it was not the country my father had been born into. On the phone, we talk in circles and eventually, the discussion comes down to what we had been eating over the past few days. The last time I talked to him, it was during this kind of food talk that my throat itched and, without much forethought, I blurted out, ‘Don’t you miss Mom?’

book excerpts Rheea Mukherjee women in US Indians in US