Stones and Sticks and Suchlike
Growing Up Asian in Australia (ed. Alice Pung), Black Inc, Melbourne, 2008


I’ve been called a lot of things. Especially growing up, being one of only three Indian kids at school, apart from my brother and a squeaky-voiced boy whose name escapes me now.

Curry-muncher, towel-head, abo, coon, boong, darkie, nig-nog, golliwog.

‘Black’ followed by any suitable or just thunk-up epithet. Often all at once, accompanied by a Chinese burn or dead-leg.

My mother would always say ‘Stones and sticks and such-like can only shake your skeletons. Just rise over it!’ Which was even more irritating than if it’d been said correctly. She was right, though – after being called anything and everything enough times, I stopped wincing. Even for dead-legs.

‘Ya black bastard,’ kids would say affectionately, and I’d take it good-naturedly. Didn’t want to appear a bad sport – especially when I wasn’t any good at any sport at all.

But the one thing that always got under my skin was my own name. Sunil. My mother and Indian relatives pronounce it ‘Soo-neel’; my own broad accent makes it ‘Sir-neil.’

SUN-ill, SOON-ull, SAN-eel, I’ve heard ‘em all. ‘Sunil? Like senile?’ Or that old playground favourite: ‘Sunil? Like banana peel?’ If I had a dollar for every time, how many rupees would that make?

Naturally, growing up, I didn’t want to be a nigger, a coon, a darkie. I didn’t feel ‘black’ anything. I just wanted to fit in.

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