They say that the first week of college is the best week of your life. But by the third week of school, when my first semester in college was in full swing, I still didnâ€™t feel like I had a close group of friends the way I did in high school. I loved meeting people from all different walks of life, but it was hard to find people I had things in common with. More importantly, dining hall food lost its appeal pretty quickly; I never though Iâ€™d say this, but I genuinely missed being able to have Indian food for dinner. I was desperately craving a little â€œmasalaâ€ in my lifeâ€”in more ways than one.
That same week, there were flyers all over campus promoting a little soirÃ©e being held by the South Asian Students Association, saying that there would be cool people, good music, and most importantlyâ€”free Indian food. I figured it couldnâ€™t hurt. Even if I had a bad time, it would have been a step up from the day old pizza and French fries that had become staples of my diet.
Sure enough, that night, the samosas had run out by the time I got to the meeting, but I got something a lot more satisfying. I found a group of people going through the same thing I was. We joked about how strange and annoying our parents were sometimes, but how much we were starting to miss them; we made fun of all the boys at the meeting with their spiked up hair and fake colored contacts, and they made fun of us because we had all obviously made use of our hair straightening irons before the meeting; we talked seriously about how most of us were pre-med or business, but werenâ€™t sure if that was really the path we wanted to take in life. We shared in the fact that we were all in a transitional phase in our lives and were trying to figure out who we truly were.
Soon, the people I met at that meeting became some of my closest friends. We all bonded at dress rehearsals that lasted till 2 am for the Diwali show. We always found ourselves at Desi parties, having Bollywood movie nights in our dorm rooms, gossiping about our fellow Indian friends, or cracking inside jokes in Hindi. The university didnâ€™t seem so big, when you started to know every Indian person on campus through at least one of your friends.
I was taking a class in South Asian civilization, as well as Philosophies of India. I was discussing the BJP with my dad, and reciting anecdotes from the Upanishads to my grandmother. I begged my parents to send me to India for a month in June to learn more about everything I had studied in class. They all thought I had gone crazy. After all, who begs to go to India in the midst of summer heat and monsoon season?
Apparently, the â€œnew and improvedâ€ me did.
It was a fairly radical transformation considering my life before college. I had almost no Desi friends growing up. I barely spoke a word of Hindi (nor did I show any desire to learn). I would go on a hunger strike if my mom cooked Indian food for dinner more than two nights a week. I thought Bollywood films were shallow (yet, I had seen American films like â€œCluelessâ€ over 20 times).
Still, somehow, when I was home for Thanksgiving break and she heard me blaring â€œBole Chudiyanâ€ while discussing the finer aspects of Khabi Khushi Khabi Ghum, and she saw that my Prince William poster had been replaced by Sharukh, she wasnâ€™t the least bit surprised at how much I had changed. My sister and brother had gone through the same phase of cultural awareness when they were in college. And my mom reminded them of it when they made fun of me and said I should change my initials to â€œFOB.â€
When I went back to school I really was enjoying spending time with my friends, but I started to realize that we were not the least bit willing to diversify. We had (unknowingly) chosen to completely alienate people who werenâ€™t desi from our circle. So, when I called my friends from high school to update them on the happenings in my life, it was hard for them to keep track of my stories when they had to struggle to pronounce the names of my friends.
It got worse one night when I decided to see a movie with a friend from class instead of going to an Indian party. My friends couldnâ€™t believe I was ditching them. â€œBut everyone is going to be there!â€ they would keep saying.
That was exactly it! Everyone wasnâ€™t going to be there. There was a whole group of non-South Asians on campus that I had closed myself off from. I felt like I was being suffocated. I knew that no friends of mine, Indian or not, should control who I did and did not hang out with.
After that night, much to the dismay of my friends, I began to hang out with different people. I became best friends with a girl named Melissa, who was experiencing the same conflict with her Korean friends. We both realized that we didnâ€™t want to alienate ourselves from our friends, but at the same time we needed to remind ourselves that we valued people beyond their ethnicities.
Part of experiencing college and learning who you really are is done by meeting people who are different from you. I realized that a lot of the friends I had initially made were only my friends because they were Indian, not because we shared a bond any deeper than that. If that was my only criteria, I could be best friends with the entire subcontinent. There was an entire world to be discovered out there, and I was shutting myself off from a huge part of it.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. I had a wonderful freshman year. I loved all of the friends I made, and I am still friends with them. In fact, some of my best nights were spent ordering in Indian food and complaining about how it wasnâ€™t nearly as good as home cooking, and breaking out into Bhangra at nightclubs when Punjabi MC came on. And of course, I did brave the elements and go to India last June.
Being Indian became a huge part of my life, but it wasnâ€™t my entire life. I stopped trying to run away from my heritage the way I had in high school. As my mom always says, â€œAs long as you have that face, youâ€™re Indian. Learn to love it.â€
I do love it. But the most important thing I did for myself was to find balance. At then end of it, it seemed, â€œI could have my samosa, and eat it too.â€ –TINA SADARANGANI