When I first started reading Mytrae Meliana’s “Brown Skin Girl,” I thought it would be just another love story about an Indian-born girl who falls in love with a white, American boy against her parents’ wishes. Instead, this autobiographical novel captivated me as not only a story above love, but also as one of heartbreak, faith, immigration, tradition, culture, self-realization, trauma, identity, and resilience.
“Brown Skin Girl” is indeed an “Indian-American woman’s magical journey from broken to beautiful,” as its subtitle reads. Meant to be about the author’s telling of her own life, the novel expresses the story about Meliana and her traditional South Indian family’s move from India to the United States in the 1980s, where she falls in love with an American man while in graduate school and is banished back to India to live in her familial home as punishment.
The book explores Meliana’s gut-wrenching, raw and jaw-dropping navigation through abortion, multiculturalism, coping with sexual abuse, social stigma, and breaking away from oppressive cultural traditions, all with the solace of her one true passion: music.
In addition to Meliana, the characters that take center stage in this tale are Meliana’s love interest, Evan, Meliana’s parents, Amma and Naina, and most surprisingly, Chinmayananda. Evan is a breath of fresh air who allows Meliana to realize her musical potential and gain confidence as a first-generation immigrant in a predominantly white community in North Carolina.
Of course, their happy days are short-lived. Like a scene out of a Bollywood movie, my heart warmed when Evan and Meliana were able to reunite, but again, not without facing difficulties along the way.
Amma and Naina exhibit the stubbornness, blind following of traditional values, and (unintentional) emotional abuse that many South Asian parents dole out to their children, but to a higher degree. The manner in which Meliana described their cold and seemingly incomprehensible behavior towards the author, including the imposition of their faith in Chinmayananda onto Meliana, could make even the most unemotional individual soften with sympathy.
I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and save Meliana from the pain she felt but the most I could do was continue my eager reading—and it was well worth it.
While the writing style may veer into the melodramatic at times and Meliana’s accounts of her interactions with the “divine” may face the skepticism of non-believers, what is so poignant about Meliana’s tale is that, despite the harrowing, difficult and painful details about violence, ostracism, and abuse, it nonetheless is a tale about identity that many Brown Girls and their families may relate to or have experienced. One passage from the novel describing Meliana’s feeling of “un-belonging” as a new immigrant stands out in particular:
Suddenly I want to cover up my brown skin, as centuries of British rule rises up in my throat. The way Indians bow and scrape before foreigners, my culture’s fever for fair skin, British and “foreign” accents, education and things. In this sea of white, my brownness brands me inferior. Second class. I can never be their equal (59-60).
Ultimately, Meliana, as the protagonist “Brown Skin Girl,” helps us realize that we are meant to love the brown skin we are born in. “Brown Skin Girl” is a heroic triumph for the human – no – the brown girl experience.
It is honest and touching and vocalizes themes and messages that many of us may have difficulty expressing. It is the type of thought-provoking content that the brown, and all other communities, need more of.
“Don’t bully me with your kindness,” says Pi Patel (Hiran Abeysekera) to Lulu Chen (Kirstin Louie), from the Canadian embassy who is visiting Pi in his hospital room in Mexico. Pi was the sole survivor of a cargo ship traveling from Pondicherry, India, en route to Canada. His family and the animals from his zoo from back home all passed away, and Pi turned up after being stranded for 227 days at sea.
In this scene from the “Life of Pi,” that recently won in three categories at the Tony Awards, Pi’s sanity is being questioned as his account of what transpired at sea is too…fantastical. His vivid imagination and inspired attention to detail seem like a story a child would share. The character Lulu, from the embassy, is trying to gently nudge him into telling her the more ‘truthful’ account of what happened —one that doesn’t include a carnivorous tiger, a cannibalistic island, and a horrific Frenchman. Pi finally tells her to stop patronizing him. To stop bullying him with her perceived kindness. To actually listen to what he is saying.
It is this one line from the show that has become one of the most surprising and thoughtful lines I have encountered in all the art I have consumed in 2023 thus far. In fact, surprising and thoughtful are words that I would use to describe the overall musical itself. Directed by Max Webster, and adapted by the playwright Lolita Chakrabarti from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel, “Life of Pi” is so enchanting, charming, and fantastical that with every beat of the show, I would hear gasps emanating from the crowd. The 24 cast members, many of whom were puppeteers, brought the different animals to life as we switched between the two timelines of Pi recounting his life at sea, in the hospital room, and Pi living out his life at sea.
Dreamlike to the audience and a nightmare to Pi, the scenes depicting his challenging, lonely, and magical time at sea beautifully depicted the magical realism of the novel. The choreography of the different cast members puppeteering the animals added a sense of whimsy and movement that lent itself to Pi’s childlike imagination. The lighting, the sound, the set, and the actors all came together to create a musical that is like almost being in a drug-induced trip — the set moves seamlessly from the hospital room to the boat, and back to the hospital room, and then the boat; sometimes both at the same time. You can feel the waves when Pi is on the water and see the little fish moving about. It’s as though you are with Pi throughout his journey — you feel scared when he is attacked, you feel inspired when he is in bliss, and you feel pain when he longs for his family.
The biggest marvel, though, is Richard Parker. The puppeteering behind this character is excellent — he is at once menacing, vulnerable, scared, and strong. The transformation of Parker is such that he starts out as such a grand animal and when we see him finally arrive on the island, he looks so frail and thin. You root for him as much as you root for Pi. And Pi himself is the heart of the musical. Abeysekera imbues Pi with so much confidence, playfulness, wit, and fear, that it makes you believe his stories and his relationship with the relentless tiger.
When Pi tells Lulu to not bully him with her kindness, he is telling her to not shatter his perception of the world he has lived; either it be real or constructed. Pi eventually shares with Lulu and Mr. Okamoto (Daisuke Tsuji), a representative from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, a version of events that is devoid of animals but one that is darker as it depicts human beings in their primal, selfish states. He then asks them, “Which story is better?” Lulu and Mr. Okamoto are speechless, as is the audience. In the end, it’s not about the story they believe but the one he believes. For the one he believes is the one he lived. And no one can bully him into thinking otherwise.
January 1, 2023January 1, 2023 7min readBy Brown boy
Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.
Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?
Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.
What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?
I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.
What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”
In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.
What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?
So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.
As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?
So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.
What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?
Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:
“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”
That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.
My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.
Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?
Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.
Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?
Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.
Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?
Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.
Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?
Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.
But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.
How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?
Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.
Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!
South Asian representation in entertainment and media is rapidly increasing nationwide. “We are making strides in the industry, and I am excited about the journey ahead,” said Indian American actor Teresa Patel, known for her roles as Paramedic Harvell in the NBC medical drama, “New Amsterdam,” and Neela Patel in the ABC soap opera, “One Life to Live.”
As a rising star, Patel is breaking barriers for South Asian women nationwide. We, at Brown Girl Magazine, had the opportunity to speak with Patel, a pharmacist by day and an actor by night, about her journey into acting and how she balances both careers.
While her love for Bollywood is common among South Asians, her background and continued work in pharmacy are what make her stand out the most among other creatives.
“I went into pharmacy school knowing that I wanted to do both,” Patel said.
She added that while she knew she was interested in both, she wasn’t sure how to pursue them initially. She never let that dream or passion die down.
“I’ve always known I wanted to pursue acting. I knew I would have to pave a path to pursue acting, and I figured I will work as a pharmacist until I could make it possible — because acting is an investment.”
Patel shared her experiences and emphasized the importance of financial stability, especially for women.
“I believe in strong independent women who can finance their own dreams and build the life they want to live. You don’t want to have to rely on anybody else to do it for you.”
She shared that while it was something her parents did want her to pursue, being a pharmacist was something she eventually loved doing and ultimately helped her pursue her dreams of acting, due to the financial stability it provided as she built her acting career.
“I enjoy what I do and that’s what I love about the life I created. I have grown to love my pharmacy life and I love pursuing acting. I feel fulfilled with both.”
When talking about balancing two demanding jobs, Patel walked us through a day in her life. We spoke about the importance of organization and how she managed to juggle both, but of course, it didn’t all come easy. She shared how she worked during the day and simultaneously enrolled in an acting conservatory which she attended in the evenings.
She also noted that she had to make a lot of personal sacrifices since her time was limited with work, training, and auditioning. But despite how difficult the times were or how much she initially “struggled” to find that balance, Patel shared that those were some of her “most memorable” times.
“It felt like a hustle, and I had the chance to experience two very different parts of my life. Looking back, a lot of my growth as a person happened during this time — which is what makes it so memorable for me.”
Speaking about representation and how the media has changed over time, Patel noted that while South Asians are still often given stereotypical roles, recently, a change can be seen in the roles they have been playing and creating.
“There’s just more inspiration and more out there now,” she said, speaking of the different emerging writers, actors, and shows depicted in the media.
“South Asians are starting to be seen as leads, as people who can have love interests, who have their own issues, not just white-collar professionals on screen.”
She added that change cannot happen overnight but is slowly occurring in media spaces. Patel also noted that more roles that don’t just highlight one’s identity are needed, adding that roles should not just represent a culture but be able to be played by anyone, despite identity or color.
Reflecting on roles that emphasize characteristics only associated with one culture, she said:
“Women have so many types of backgrounds, that’s what I want to see more. A role shouldn’t be just for South Asians,” Patel said. “Like any woman should be able to take a role, my identity shouldn’t define what roles I can get.”
Outside of acting and being a pharmacist, Patel wears several other hats including directing her own short film. Without giving any spoilers — we learned that Patel’s film will revolve around the bond between herself, her sister, and her nephew.
“Instead of waiting for the right role or opportunity, I realized I can invest in myself and create my own.”
In terms of advice, she would give to others,
“I don’t believe we are all meant to do only one thing all of our lives. We are full of potential, but you do have to believe in it and try your hardest to live up to it,” she said.
She noted that people often “glamourize” the acting world and forget to talk about what brought them to where they are, emphasizing the importance of training, marketing, and networking — all of which can cost money.
. “While you have a full-time job, you can still invest in yourself financially to live out your dreams.”
Patel can be seen in American medical drama “New Amsterdam” on NBC.The show currently has five seasons available.