The India in Me

We came to India, flying over the crashing waves of the Arabian Sea and over the corrugated roofs of slum homes in Dharavi, not knowing what to expect or imagine. I was just a girl with an eagerness to see the world and a hunger to learn. Physically, when I arrived in Bombay, I wore blue jeans, a striped boat shirt from Banana Republic, an Andover sweater and Keds—the epitome of a New England American.

Three weeks have passed and once again we are flying over the corrugated roofs of homes in Dharavi, only now they are the homes of the slum children who kissed us and called us didi. Looking over myself physically and mentally, the changes that have occurred are radical.

I bring home with me the intricate red patterns of henna on the backs of my hands, the jingle of gold and beaded bangles we bargained for at a street shop, a kurta made from the loving hands of a village woman, and a few American-accented sentences of Hindi and Gujarati. But these are just the tangible things—the things you can see and touch, and I am bringing home so many new seeds of thought, discoveries, dreams, and incredible memories.

I have always hated being called a “young woman.” Whenever anyone called me that, I cringed; I thought it was pretentious, and frankly, I didn’t want to grow up. But after three weeks, I have discovered that I don’t mind being called a young woman any more because that blankness in my mind that was waiting to be written and filled with ideas is finally starting to take shape. I’ve discovered what it means to form my own opinions and not just depend on others for their opinions to form my thoughts.

Ideas that I never understood before suddenly make sense, ideas like feminism, corruption, poverty, community, and thoughts on the structure of government and education, the superficiality of material goods, and what it means to be and have noble friends. I am coming home with an open heart and mind.

My dad often teases that teenagers are so rebellious because they begin to understand what it means to form their own opinions and not just listen reverently to what their parents tell them. As a teenager, I always got very defensive when he said this and even contradicted him, but now I understand what he meant because this time, I consciously know that I am bringing home ideas and thoughts that may be debated or questioned. Perhaps I have fully become a true teenager.

One idea that I am bringing home with me is my new found love of people. From our experiences with the village children and their sincere curiosity to know our names and high-five every stranger, to the Cathedral students who opened up their homes and allowed us to see our play/party side, I adore every person we have met. People are beautifully complicated, and because of it, I want to return home and rediscover my friends because I know that I have only brushed the surface.

And on that note, I have only brushed the surface of my own potential. I am  complicated human being too with a future of possibilities and opinions—opinions and ideas that even I have not yet discovered.

One thing I know for sure though is that I am bringing home the dialogue we have begun here in India. I am so excited to share, learn and discover with my parents, my sister, and my friends. I am bringing home a little bit of India with me—not just the bangles or henna, but the Gandhian values and definition of love and community, the compassion for others, the longing for a spiritual journey and self purpose, and the redevelopment of our communities and ourselves.