I’m still learning…
I’ve never felt so comfortable being myself, that being said I’m still adjusting to such a diverse environment. I have never been so proud to be in my own skin. Up till recent, being an Indian was just another part of my background that was brought up but quickly shoveled away. Hinduism was simply considered as the religion that my parents practiced, and I followed without necessarily knowing the meaning and value that it could provide my life with. Coming to Mount Holyoke has made me realize that such diversity is not only valued but is a significant part of the ‘stuff’ that makes this world. This kind of epiphany does not happen overnight, trust me. I battled with this dilemma I faced of being an Indian-American. There were so many times I wished I were Caucasian, or I guess the politically correct term would be white; so it would be so much easier for me to fit in. Even in high school, despite having the diverse Asian environment that I went to school in (as oxymoronic as that sounds, it’s true) I was still embarrassed of my roots and the color of my skin. Odd as it sounds, whenever a ‘brown’ person messed up or did something I personally disapproved of, I felt the need to share the blame. I felt it was something that I had to take responsibility of, I would think, oh gosh those Indian people are doing ____ now people are going to think that I do _______. I felt that all the stereotypes associated with my religion, would automatically be considered as a part of me as soon as people knew that I am brown. As I came to Mount Holyoke I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction people took to me, and my heritage. I got responses like “Oh my gosh, you’re Indian!?!? Tell me what that’s like?” or the “Wow, I am so jealous!” I don’t’ expect people to compliment me all the time, but this response was indeed refreshing. It amused me with the different responses I got from coast to coast. Not that I can blame Cupertino (my home town), being Indian isn’t really unique as much as it is a similarity between the residents. The west coast and the east coast in the United States are just TWO of the many responses I could get. It was during times like these that I realized the world doesn’t just exist within our respective town/cities; there is a MUCH bigger world outside of our hometowns, college towns, etc. I realized one need not lead their lives according to what the people say around them, but should instead listen to themselves and what they feel about THEMSELVES.
Being in the environment that Mount Holyoke creates is liberating as well as unique. As each day goes by, I feel a little more confident in who I am, and what I stand for. I realize that stereotypes are just stereotypes. No one should take them as seriously as I did, or as a rule book of how a race/ethnicity should behave. Indian people may have a stereotype that they smell like curry, but not all Indian people do smell like curry. I for one smell like Paris Hilton’s perfume and a conjecture of many Bath and Body Works lotions. And besides the curry smell is because Indians DO have a rich contribution to food in itself, and curry is one of our specialties. We may be overly competitive, and our parents may be nosy and involved in ALL OUR LIVES as much as possible but that is just because our parents want us to strive for and pursue our dreams, and to be successful in life (because they did work hard to get us here). I am not making excuses or exceptions for Indians as a whole and I’m not saying Indians are perfect (because believe you me they’re not) I still get embarrassed when I mispronounce some words like saying cham-oil instead of chamomile, or nod my head in amusement when my mom shrieks her joys of getting me the perfect boy instead of letting me join the dating game; I’m just saying every culture has its faults and that just makes us more human. I’m still growing and learning more about my culture. Hinduism has become a way of lifestyle for me, as it is for my parents and being Indian is a part of who I am, a puzzle piece that helps complete the whole puzzle of Sharanya Shankar.
Coming to the east coast for my higher education has given me a different outlook on not only the (obvious) weather, but on a different type of lifestyle; being in an all-women’s college has given me a new viewpoint; being in a simply rural and barren town (South Hadley) in itself provides me with a unique perspective. I still can’t say I have completely adapted. Having gone to a UC would have let me adapt much quicker, but I know deep down in my heart that this experience I am getting here on the other side of the United States is a necessary part of my life that I need to live through. This experience and different sort of diversity is a new experience that I have yet to completely adapt to. For example, I was one of the 3 Indian people in my Hinduism class. The rest of the students were Caucasian. Or another example, I have yet to find an Indian-American woman here. The few Indian women who do go here have spent their whole life in India and are citizens of India. I have yet to get used to accepting people for the way they treat me and am still learning to put aside the things they do behind closed doors (sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc). I have to realize that just because I don’t engage in some of these activities such as drinking doesn’t mean others who do, are bad or can’t be my friends. I am still learning to whole-heartedly accept the new culture and community I live in. I am still adapting. It will take time and patience, but eventually I have faith and optimism that it will happen.
Though I feel like I have found some puzzle pieces, I have yet to know where to look for the other ones.
(Apologize for grammar and spelling mistakes, this is unedited).