Pesky Memories

Tags

, , ,

Do you ever have pesky memories? You know the ones I’m talking about.

The memories you try to keep in the maximum security prisons of your mind. The ones that come from experiences you don’t want to think about. Sometimes they slip past the guards, climb walls, dig tunnels, and get out right? Pesky memories – they’re annoying because they’re always trying to escape when your guard is down, when just for a second your mind wanders, it looks the other way. They slip out in the vulnerable moments: when you’re on a long drive through the countryside, or lying awake at night trying to fall asleep, or hugging someone for the 1,000th time who makes you feel safe. I get them when I’m on planes, when I’m left with nothing but music in my headphones and thoughts in my head. I can feel the locks turning in my mental prisons when we take off, the searchlight turning off in the prison yard, the excitement of all the escaped thoughts who want to run free. By the time we reach cruising altitude, my eyes are closed and the memories are wreaking havoc.

Maybe your pesky memories are like mine?

Maybe you remember the ones you’ve lost that left a mark on you. Do you think about having a cup of tea on the roof with your uncle, watching the sun set over grazing buffalo while he recounts his shipyard days? When I stand on my balcony now with chai, the memories make me wish he was still there to tell me stories. Surely, you think about playing video games and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with your best friend, the one that was taken too early? I remember him when I watch a movie that he would like, when someone mispronounces my name in some way that would’ve made him laugh. Or,

Maybe you remember the land you left behind when you immigrated. Do you think about those moments at the train station, when you roll away from the longing faces who wonder when you’ll be back? They come to mind at the end of every Indian meal, every road with too much honking. You at least remember the nights spent next to your grandparents right, talking about their hopes and dreams for you? I think about those in the quiet moments after a shower when I wonder whether I’m a good person. Or,

Maybe you remember the relationships you left behind. Do you think about the first awkward kiss you had on campus? What about driving away from someone you love, struggling to see the steering wheel through your tears? Some nights when the apartment feels particularly lonely, and I’m staring at the microwave heat something, those memories get out. They always require 15 minutes of wrestling back into their prison cells so they don’t become overwhelming. 15 minutes of telling myself that things happen for a reason. Some memories don’t deserve the light of day. Or,

Maybe you remember all the instances of unrequited love. Do you remember when someone told you they couldn’t love you, but you couldn’t get the damn possibility out of your head? I bet it comes to mind when you hug that person a second too long or listen to just the right Ed Sheeran song. You probably have the pesky memories of all the times you could’ve told someone the way you felt? Maybe even after you said something it didn’t work out anyway. So then there’s just a lot of what ifs swirling around in your head along with the memories. And what ifs are tricky, because they’re hopeful and colorful and seemingly innocent but trust me they belong in your mental prisons too. Or,

Maybe you remember the times you could’ve been better. Do you think about the words you said that caused pain? I guess you wonder why you never called back that friend, the one you loved getting fro-yo with. I think about those words when I lay in the grass with my best friend and look at the clouds. I get those memories when I’m scrolling through my phonebook wondering why I haven’t talked to all these people in so long. Well,

Hopefully when you think about all of that, you realize those pesky memories were born from the moments that made you, like they made me. You know, it’s those moments that built your character, taught you to be better, love more openly, and thank more often. But the memories of those moments don’t allow you peace of mind. The memories are still of mistakes, lapses, sadness, and they belong in the prisons of your mind. It just takes an occasional prison break to remind you why those thoughts deserved a cell in the first place.

So, do you ever have pesky memories? You know the ones I’m talking about.

Little India

Tags

, , , , , , ,

If you’re driving through Irving, a nearby suburb of Dallas, TX, you might pass by a neighborhood park known as Thomas Jefferson Park. At first glance, it’s like any small park you might see in suburban America. A grassy field. A small pond with ducks running around. A basketball court. A couple of benches in the shade. When you take a closer look though, you’ll notice something slightly different about this park – every single person walking, playing, or sitting in the park is Indian. In fact, the locals don’t even know it as Thomas Jefferson Park. It’s known as Gandhi Park. And the cricket matches there are no joke.

pic4

Told ya so.

When I moved to Dallas in 1998 with my parents, such a concentration of Indian people would not have been possible. I went to an elementary school where I was one of two Indian kids in my grade, my parents and I only went to Pasand or Tajmahal Imports for Indian food, and there was only one Hindu temple to attend. In 18 years, the population of Indians in Dallas has pretty much exploded. Indian children going to school in Dallas suburbs face no shortage of other Indians in their grade (some have up to >50% Indians in a grade!!). Irving practically has an Indian restaurant on every block, and I can’t even count the number of different Hindu temples my family has visited.

The growth in the Indian community in Dallas is undeniably impressive, especially in Irving. But has it all been good? What does it mean to be an Indian-American when it’s so easy to just be Indian?

pic1

Seems like a conundrum worthy of Philosoraptor

 

There’s certainly some good to this growth. Immediately, new immigrants have access to a sense of community and familiarity, akin to what other immigrant communities have had for years. Namely, we have our own Indiatown now around Irving1, just like all the Chinatowns, Koreatowns, etc. (interestingly, Microsoft Word recognizes Chinatown and Koreatown as words, but Indiatown gets the red squiggly line). This sense of community means we begin to have a more noticeable presence in Dallas. And not least of all, it means we have plenty of good food options to choose from.

pic2

ALL THE FOODS ARE HERE

 

 

But there are also some real drawbacks to the Indian population growth in Dallas. By bunching together in certain neighborhoods, we’re choosing to self-segregate. This belies the so-called “melting pot” that America is supposed to represent. And worse, it can create suspicion among others. It prevents Americans from learning about us. How many of the Trump supporters who’ve harangued Muslims over the past year have actually lived with regular, friendly Muslim neighbors? Self-segregation only reinforces the fact that we’re outsiders.

Also, part of living in America with a hyphenated identity is supposed to be the struggle with the hyphen. Is the hyphen long or short: Do my two identities have a large divide or could they coexist relatively easily? Is the hyphen weighted towards one side: If I had to choose just one, which one would it be? But many Indians around my age who move to Dallas now don’t have to face these same questions. You can ostensibly move here, work in the IT department of a company that is full of Indians, eat Indian food night and day, watch Indian entertainment, and in some cases not even have to speak much English.

If you tread that path, is there any point in moving here? (other than the dolla bills). Indians in Dallas need to be careful. We should certainly embrace our culture and the ease of finding each other in a place that is foreign to us in many ways. But if we don’t simultaneously embrace the learning opportunity of America, a land more heterogeneous than our own, we’re doing an injustice to ourselves. After all, immigration is one of the greatest learning experiences a person can have. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Gandhi Park, I’m just saying we should invite some non-Indians to come play cricket once in a while.

pic3

Generic bro confused about how to play cricket

Note 1: Irving became a hotspot for Indian immigration due to a couple of reasons: A) Several companies located nearby had large IT needs in the 90’s and Indian immigrants to Dallas, who largely held technical degrees, were prime for filling those needs; B) Irving is centrally located in the greater DFW area and has relatively cheap rents with relatively great schools. It’s the practical Honda Accord of Dallas suburbs.

A Reason for Permanence

Tags

, , , , ,

There is an interaction that has become routine in my life.  Let me offer a recent example: I was sitting around a large group of people, some of whom didn’t know me as well as others. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, so my Batman tattoo was showing prominently on my right shoulder. One of my close friends pointed this out to the group and thus began the routine interaction. Someone usually snickers and asks, “Why would you get THAT tattoo?” Another person usually says “Wow, good luck explaining that to your kids!” There’s also the occasional nonsensical comment about the tattoo being bad for my career (since we all walk around corporate offices in tanktops, obviously).

There’s about a 50/50 chance that someone new to the tattoo will ridicule it or admire it. And there’s a 100% chance that people wonder why anyone in their right mind would permanently put the Batman symbol on their body. The unfortunate thing is that when people ask me about the tattoo, we’re not in a position to have an insightful conversation about it. This often results in me providing a cursory answer or avoiding the question altogether. I can’t explain how I like Batman because he continuously evaluates his own decisions and molds himself into a better person. There’s usually no time.

Well, good thing I have a blog now.

 

shi_t_its_about_to_go_down_by_stampmaster-d5dl13s

Finally a chance to explain!

————————————————————————————–

I first noticed Batman after immigrating to the U.S. in ’98 and immediately Americanizing myself through cartoons. Of course I liked the things the other kids liked: the gadgets, the villains, the vehicles. I think most boys had a thing for Poison Ivy too (or was that just me?) I also liked that Batman was an only child like me and owed his ideals to the upbringing he received from his parents and Alfred. But I especially liked how Batman and his city were flawed.

I immigrated from an India that was flawed – our laws, lawmakers, and lawmen were often corruptible and hardly set in stone. You might see your uncle use a bribe to avoid a ticket at one traffic light, and then help a beggar at the next light. Right and wrong never seemed to be black and white when I was in India. In contrast, as a child in America, there seemed to be a lot more rules and a lot more people who were upset when you bent or broke those rules. I never liked this part of America, and always enjoyed the ability to set my own rules when I visited India (i.e. I made sure to engage in public urination whenever I went home).

main-qimg-5056f9076cee95bbcb2b90f0dfebbe7e

Ahhh… freedom

Batman, too, lives in a world where the rules are not absolute. His methods are not conventional and his morals are his own to decide, challenge, and execute. He does not always do the “right” thing as defined by society because he abides by his own moral sense. Criminals do this too – they choose to skirt the laws of society because they find them stifling or unimportant, but the difference is that Batman does this for the sake of other people. Cause no harm to those who don’t deserve it, punish those who hurt others, and create a better society overall. This moral system might evolve over time for Batman, but certain rules are never compromised. For example, regardless of how tempting it might be, Batman refuses to kill the Joker. Doing so would negate the difference between him and the criminals he fights. Each day he remakes the decision not to kill so that his struggle is not just one of personal revenge. This is crucial – Batman makes the conscious decision every day to stand for something.

The desire to examine and decide my way of life is one of my main reasons for having a Batman tattoo. Recognizing that the world operates in a moral “gray area”, I believe in sticking to the principles that I define for myself. These might change over time, but some rules are incontrovertible, like the way I treat true friends or the respect I show people. Too often, people go through life without questioning their moral code or decisions. In other words, they live a life unexamined. Instead, I use Batman’s example to remind myself to lead a deliberate life. To help me, I surround myself with people who are different from me yet understand me. When I talk to my friends, I can look to them to challenge my views and help me grow. Sometimes that just means they tell me when I’m being an ass… Seeing my tattoo every day reminds me to intentionally decide what kind of person I want to be.

Keeping with the theme of being flawed, Batman is one of the few superheroes that are absolutely mortal. He is rich through no merit of his own, but everything else he became was the result of a measured choice to strive for perfection. What is “super” about this is simply a mindset of hunger and belief. Not only does he train himself physically, he is well-versed in literature, sciences, philosophy, and social life (read: ladies). This goes hand-in-hand with leading an examined life. By assessing and challenging your own way of life, you find your weak areas and strive to fill the gaps. Even though the Batman we see in comics and movies has built himself to a near-perfect state, he still finds ways to learn from every new case or villain that he encounters. He makes mistakes but does his best to correct them – such that he never makes them twice.

DK

One of my favorite scenes from the Dark Knight – after Rachel dies, Batman is conflicted about his decisions and almost gives up being Batman. Yet, he perseveres and decides to learn from the grave mistake he made

The desire to constantly improve myself is another of my main reasons for having a Batman tattoo. If I’m not improving, I’m stagnating. Accordingly, I try to keep in mind the things I’m working on each year – becoming better at my job, becoming more fit, becoming more connected  in my community, etc.. I also like to acknowledge my weaknesses to myself and others– admitting my mistakes ensures that I will mature. With the acknowledgement that there is always more to learn, I aim to never be satisfied with who I am. Seeing my tattoo every day reminds me to keep pushing forward.

It’s unlikely that every person with a Batman tattoo thinks similarly. But as I grew in my appreciation of the character and read the defining graphic novels of his lore, Batman’s morals and desire for self-improvement stuck out to me. More so than the latest Batmobile or costume. When it came time to put needle to skin, I knew why I was really getting this tattoo. It was a concise, visual way to represent ideals that I planned to keep for the rest of my life. 1) Live honorably by consciously deciding the rules you set for yourself and 2) stay humble so you’re always improving.Besides, when your tattoo artist plays Lil’ Wayne music and talks about tattooing people in their private parts, you don’t feel like it’s really happening anyway.

So, for all those who see my tattoo and wonder if I’m “still going to like Batman when I’m 70 years old”, the answer is Yes. Yes, I will still want to examine myself every day and decide the kind of person I want to be. Yes, I will still want to learn and better myself every day.

These values are permanent and this ink on my right shoulder is accordingly, and incredibly, permanent.

Capture

And here’s my tattoo!

Nice vs. Kind

When I was in my sophomore year of college, a close friend asked me to describe her in one word. When I told her that the word “Nice” came to mind, she was visibly disappointed – she wanted me to use any other word because “nice” didn’t mean much to her. Of course, I was confused by her reaction. Didn’t people want to be nice? Through most of high school and the first year of college, I heard most people described me by that one word as well, and I had never felt disappointed by it. After all, we’ve all been raised to think that nice is a good thing.

Confused

When bae don’t make sense

 

Looking back, I realize now why my friend was disappointed. I’ve now met a decent amount of people, and heard these people describe a multitude of other people too. It seems that the first word we use when describing someone is always “nice”:

“He’s such a nice guy, he’s done so much…”

“She’s so nice, super driven…”

“He’s nice, but sometimes he can be an asshole”

No matter where the sentence goes, it usually starts with nice. These days, nice has become a minimum requirement, written into the social contract of modern American interactions, as opposed to something we should strive to be. Society requires “nice-ness” of us when it demands that we all be politically correct. Society also requires “nice-ness” of us when we conduct so much of our communication digitally – since every word is recorded and scrutinized, we’re forced to be much more polite and deliberate. So when my friend in college was disappointed to be described primarily as nice, that’s because nice only meant she had met the bare minimum. Nice just meant that she could have friends and fit into society, but it certainly shouldn’t have defined her as a person.

Now, time for a disclaimer: I’m not saying that being nice is a bad thing. It’s certainly a good thing that society is more accepting and polite. I believe that I’m privileged to spend my time around people that are nice by default. Plenty of mean people exist in the world, people who are racist or bigoted or enjoy inflicting pain on others.

mean_girls__gretchen_weiners_by_maliheartsgaara

Mean people probably say stuff like this

 

But keeping in mind the general populace that actually tries to be nice, I just have a suggestion: let’s strive to be kind, not just nice.

What’s the difference between nice and kind? If you check the dictionary, you won’t find much to separate the two. But the way I see it: “nice” is a demeanor we adopt because society requires it, and “kind” is how we act when we truly look to help others. In another sense, the line between nice and kind is often drawn by one thing: honest intention. A nice person may have good intention, but acts “fake” at times because society requires it, while the kind person’s good intentions are always backed up by honesty. It’s actually easy to be nice, to say something that you know will be accepted, even if you don’t mean it. It’s much harder to be someone with the reputation of meaning what they say. When your friend dresses badly for a night out, it’s easy and nice to tell him he looks good. On the other hand, it’s a lot harder to be kind enough to tell that person the truth – but your caring and honesty are often appreciated in the long run. [A personal aside: I might practice kindness a little too much when my Mom asks whether she looks fat in a certain dress.]

When we act kind, we take time out of our day to help someone who needs us. When we act kind, we improve ourselves and the world around us. When we act kind, we go above and beyond what society expects of us. It’s not a requirement, but that’s what makes it so important. Kindness is something we can all strive to implement more in our lives.

If the distinction is still unclear, consider the following example:

You’re walking down a busy street in Austin, TX, near the University of Texas campus. Cars pass by on the road and people are walking up and down the sidewalk, brushing past you while looking at their phone or chatting with their friends. You’re catching up with a friend while walking, someone you haven’t seen in months, so you’re pretty absorbed in the conversation. Both you and your friend are carrying some leftover food from the restaurant you just left. As you walk halfway up one block, you notice a homeless person sitting near a dumpster, and he asks you for food or change. Let’s see how different categories of people react:

Mean

You loudly refuse to help the homeless person and scream at him to get a job. Alternatively, you completely ignore this homeless person’s existence. Either way, you can’t believe he would interrupt the conversation you and your friend were having.

Nice

You politely tell the homeless person that you can’t give him any food today (you need your leftovers for later). You feel bad for a second, but you continue talking to your friend and soon forget. Alternatively, if you have any coin money, you give that to him since you don’t have much need for coins anyway.

Kind

You gladly offer your leftovers, and your friend’s, to the homeless man. You ask him if he needs anything to drink with that and give him any small change if you have it.

Alternatively, you do what my close friend did recently in real life.

I was actually catching up with my friend Zabin in Austin earlier this month, when we walked past a homeless man sleeping next to a dumpster. I hadn’t even noticed him, but Zabin promptly stopped, and I asked what was wrong. She wanted to buy the homeless man some dinner to eat when he woke up. Amazed by her kindness, I followed her across the street to Jimmy John’s where she proceeded to buy a sandwich and water for the man. Before leaving it securely next to the sleeping homeless man, she took the time to write a note, which I took a picture of for my own memory:

Zabin food

Humanity.

 

When I witnessed my friend’s need to help a fellow human being, I was touched and inspired equally. It matters little if Zabin had been nice to everyone she met on that day – I don’t care too much whether she was careful to be polite and politically correct every moment. Because for one moment, she went above and beyond what anyone really expected her to do as a member of society. And she single-handedly made someone’s day as a result.

There’s a simple way to think of all this: “Nice” is what we do for ourselves, to fit in and feel good about ourselves. “Kind” is what we do for others, to make them feel good. I hope we can all feel inspired to add a moment of kindness to our week or month. Let’s strive to go above and beyond nice.

Have you found good ways to add moments of kindness to your life? Do you disagree with the above? Please comment below! 

 

Explaining Hinduism (An Island of Religions)

Tags

, , ,

As a Hindu living outside of Asia, I’ve been in the uncomfortable situation of explaining Hinduism to someone who’s never met a Hindu before. The kind of situation that used to elicit a sudden rise in the temperature of my face and plenty of “umm’s“ and “uhh’s”. Over the years, I’ve been in this situation several times and my explanation of Hinduism changed and grew just as I did. It wasn’t until the latter half of college that I was able to draw a coherent picture of Hinduism in my head and make my explanation consistent.

These days, when someone asks “What is Hinduism?” I say: Hinduism is really an umbrella term for several types of religions practiced in India. There’s a few principles that most of these religions share, like a belief in reincarnation (the soul returns in another body), karma (what goes around comes around), and dharma (moral and religious duty). But in general, the religion is a very personal one, and can be practiced in many different ways. Many Hindus, for this reason, choose to think of it more as a way of life than as a strict religious doctrine.

[Good speech, right? Mic drop]

mic_drop_key_peele_obama-crop-rectangle3-large

The issue with defining Hinduism is that it’s a reflection of its homeland, India. It is confusing yet simple, diverse yet homogenous, dirty yet pristine, philosophical yet rudimentary. It can be both magnificent in scale and miniscule. If Hinduism had its origins in modern-day northwestern India, then by the time it reached the southern tip of India, it had been transformed and adapted, and those changes would have been sent back to the north as well. In short, there is no single Hinduism. We do not have a single prophet, a single text, or a single unifying vision of God. This is the probably the most unique aspect of my religion, and perhaps the most difficult.

The specific common themes and differences in Hindu practices are a topic for another day. In order to better answer the question “What is Hinduism”, the true key is to understand the open nature of the religion itself. To understand this open nature, I think of the following metaphor:


 

An Island of Religions

Imagine an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. We’ll use this island to represent different world religions. The island has diverse and beautiful scenery, including beaches, forests, and rolling hills with distinct boundaries. Some areas of the land are well-trodden by tourists, while other areas at the fringes are not as populated. The land is large, but surrounded on all sides by water that stretches out for miles and miles.

This island represents the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Their boundaries are well-defined. If someone believes in the word of the Qu’ran, they are Muslim. If they believe Christ died for their sins, they are Christian. If you don’t believe those things, you usually can’t consider yourself part of that religion. Sure, there are different levels of belief and strictness within each of these religions, and there are people in each religion who live at the fringes, but it’s very easy to draw those lines. Land by its nature is solid and dependable, but limiting.

In contrast, Hinduism has blurred lines. If the Abrahamic religions are the island, then Hinduism is the ocean itself. When you wade into the water, you can’t see where it ends and begins. You’re not sure how far you can go before you end up in deep waters. You could move in any direction and still be in the ocean, no closer to reaching land anywhere.

The possibilities in Hinduism are nearly endless – as a Hindu it’s hard to define what should and should not be considered Hinduism (there are even philosophies in Hinduism that doesn’t believe in the existence of God!). Because of this, it’s easy to feel confused about your own spiritual progress. When you compare yourself to other Hindus, it’s often not an apples-to-apples comparison, and the religion ends up being an entirely personal one. Of course, many Hindus choose to seek community and direction in the midst of all this open-endedness. There are many sects, community groups, collectives, etc. that agree on and follow a decided set of Hindu beliefs. Some follow a particular leader, and others follow a particular book. Whilst being in the ocean, these people are swimming close to the shore.

But if you’re not sticking close to shore, your progress and direction is your own to measure. That’s what is difficult and beautiful about Hinduism. My religion provides some guidelines and examples of good morals, but there are very few hard and fast rules. A person needs to test themselves, grow and change their ideals, perhaps even cease to believe in some things, on their Hindu journey. My beliefs currently are entirely differently from my beliefs as a high school senior, and they are also entirely different from my Hindu friends and family. The only common thread is that we all consider ourselves Hindu: we choose to find ourselves in the ocean, comfortable not setting foot on shore.

life-of-pi-287

When you’re feeling a bit lost in the ocean…

In case you’re wondering, atheists fit into this metaphor as well. They’re at the island bar not giving a crap.


 

For the reasons above, it’s often hard for Abrahamic faiths to truly understand the nature of Hinduism. I’ve heard multiple times that in faith-based schools, Christian students will study the Bhagavad Gita as an introduction to Hinduism. Yet, is reading a single ”holy” book an appropriate way of trying to understand something that is not Christian? Growing up, I’ve been exposed to the Bhagavad Gita but my family and community never emphasized its role in my religion. It’s not a requirement to be a Hindu, like reading the Bible might be a requirement for being a Christian.

Perhaps a better way to understand and explain Hinduism is to understand the breadth of spiritual beliefs possible amongst Hindus. When we describe our religion, we should draw attention to what is unique about it – our boundaries are ours to define, and no two people have to practice it the same way. Instead of describing Hinduism as one belief system, perhaps we describe it as a collection of beliefs with a few common threads and an emphasis on finding your own path.

Whether you are Hindu or not, by reading this I hope to have shed some light on how to handle the question “What is Hinduism”? What are your reactions to the above?

The Virtues of Being a Mama’s Boy

Tags

, , ,

As I prepare to move out of my parent’s house for the first time since college, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the things i’ve learned while living with them. Hope you enjoy!

I’m dreaming. Running up the spiral staircase of an old castle towards a girl in a red dress. As I climb the last step and move towards her,

*Knock, Knock* A door opens.

I’m awake.

“Abhi, wake up it’s already 12 o’ clock” says the blurry figure of my father at the door. I can’t see him without my glasses so I grunt some acceptance of my waking fate and sit up quickly in bed. How is it noon already? I fumble for my glasses, put them on. I reach for my phone, check the time.

10:07 AM.

Damn trick gets me every time.

598270

When my dad tricks me into waking up

When you’ve lived with your parents for 24 years, you get annoyed by some things. Sometimes your mom calls you five times a day to check when, how, and what you’ve eaten. Your pop always has one more chore for you to do when you feel like you’ve helped out enough for the day. And perhaps most annoying is the dreaded commute from the suburbs – you don’t expect to deal with that until you have a minivan and two kids. There’s also the stigma in Western society of living with your parents. Most people get a mental image of you sitting in your parent’s basement, playing video games and eating microwaved cheese.

Still, maybe all the above is a small price to pay for the real benefit of living at home. Some of you are probably thinking FREE RENT! No, not that (though it is pretty awesome). Having chosen to live at home after graduation, I’ve had the privilege of learning much from my parents. I’ve seen how a happy marriage works, I’ve understood my parents as individuals and not just parents, and I’ve witnessed how selfless they are with taking care of our family in India. In a nutshell, I’ve been able to work on developing two traits our entire generation needs to work on: gratitude and selflessness. I still have a lot of work to do on both, but this is what I’ve learned so far.

These days, when people my age talk about the future, I hear a lot of “I’s”. I’m hoping to get the promotion in July and then I’ll propose. I’m applying to residencies and I’ll be going abroad. I, I, I. And it’s not our fault either. Since we were young, most of the people I know have been raised with the pressure of the next step. Study hard now so you can go to a good college. Do well in college so you can get a great job. Get promoted quickly so you can reach a good position. We’re climbing and climbing this ladder, and no one thinks to get off midway to wait for his/her parents to catch up.

When I find myself spiraling into this “I” mentality, I think of my friend Parth. Since graduating from UT, Parth went home to Kansas City, leaving behind the huge social circle he developed in Texas. Why? So he could live at home and take care of the family business. When I call Parth to keep in touch and ask about what’s new in life, he does something different than the rest of us. He talks in a “we” mentality. He tells me how he’s managing the business together with his parents, and how the degree he’s working on now will help the family. When I complain about my long commute to work, I think about how Parth is happy to commute to school if it means staying at home. By listening to Parth and by living with my parents, I’ve learned a bit about selflessness. Some days, selflessness is planning your day, week, or month with family in mind. Other days, it’s just taking the time to bring back groceries, or taking your parents somewhere new for dinner. My parents will be the first to tell you that I haven’t mastered this yet, and I won’t argue that, but each day spent at home is a chance to improve.

11084245_10203891155830576_3307514285800918685_n

This is Parth. Parth takes care of his family. Parth is selfless. Be like Parth

Gratitude comes hand in hand with selflessness. When you’re willing to sacrifice your time for the people around you, you’re not taking them for granted. Living with my parents has taught me to understand them as individuals – people with their own desires, fears, and mistakes. Sometimes we learn a lot from each other, and sometimes we just make each other laugh. To show them I care, I want to show them the world, even if it means dealing with my mom’s constant nagging about walking everywhere. When I travel with my parents, I understand them even better – how do they interact with people they can’t understand, what activities they enjoy, etc. It lets me open up a world for them that they hadn’t explored before, because they were too busy taking care of me. That time they sacrificed for me – that’s a favor i’ll spend a lifetime repaying (and yet how do you ever really repay someone who cleaned your diapers?)

If I want to know how to make time for others, my friend Parker is the best example. [If you want to understand Parker’s views too, check out his recently published blog post on a similar topic – totally unplanned!: Parker’s Blog] Recently, he went on a trip with his 90-year old grandpa, and surprised him by reuniting him with a fellow WWII veteran that fought alongside him. Wow. How many of us who are fortunate enough to have living grandparents have taken the time to truly make them happy? I’d bet very few. If we see our families only as caretakers, then we just take and take. If we stop and try to give, try to learn –then we’re truly being grateful.

dinner-again

Parker’s grandpa is the only one who brings a hot date when we go to dinner

These days when my Pop gets me with the 12 o’ clock trick, I get up, I get angry, and then I can’t help but smile. Living with your parents definitely has its small annoyances, but I’ve learned some big lessons in how to improve myself. When you live with your parents, you prepare for a life spent thinking of others beyond just yourself. I’d say that’s the best kind of life to live.

IMG_5553

Happy family exploring 🙂

Cleanliness is next to Godliness…?

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Last summer, I had the privilege of visiting one of India’s holiest cities, Varanasi (AKA Benares or Kasi) with my friend Shelby and her brother Brian. Varanasi, which sits on the banks of the river Ganga, is home to countless temples and even some important historical sites of the Buddha1. Many Hindus travel to this city in their last days so they may be cremated and have their ashes thrown in to the river. At the heart of all this religious fervor is one of the most famous temples to Siva2, the Kasi Viswanath temple.

SAM_0569.JPG

Shelbs and I being touristy in nearby Sarnath outside Varanasi

Shelby, Brian, and I left for the Siva temple on a cloudy summer morning. Winding through small cobblestone alleyways still wet from last night’s rain, we held our noses long enough to get through the dirty streets and out onto the banks of the river. Here, we were able to negotiate with a boatman to ferry us out to the famed Kasi Viswanath temple. The ferry ride provided my first moment of confusion that day. While I was making conversation with the boatman in broken Hindi, he asked me to reach my hand in the Ganga and throw some water on my head. Now, sprinkling holy water on one’s head is a fairly common practice in Hinduism and even other religions. But in this particular instance, I had continuously seen cremated remains being thrown into the river over the past few days. Moreover, the Ganga is well-known for not being exactly pristine3. Needless to say, my reaction to touching the water was somewhat like this:

what-did-you-just-ask-me

Still, to appease the boatman, who started to guilt trip me about whether I was an Indian or a foreigner, I dashed some of the Ganga water on my head. After reaching the temple, I expected to get a good view of the Siva idol that so many had travelled days to see. Yet, when I reached the idol, he was buried in the offerings of the day’s pilgrims. Milk, honey, ashes, leaves, flowers, and other things kept anyone from even seeing the deity. For me and many other Hindus, the act of visually seeing an idol at the end of a pilgrimage is a calming and profound spiritual experience – often known as darsan – but this temple offered no such luck. I exited the temple feeling underwhelmed, looking around to see if anyone else wanted to shrug their shoulders and say, “huh, I guess that’s it”.

The entire experience left me feeling somewhat angry at the messiness of Hinduism. After making it through insanely dirty streets and getting ripped off by every merchant who could tell I was American, I just hoped to enjoy a view of the famous idol. I couldn’t get that because it was buried in offerings that no one bothered to clean. Why couldn’t people enjoy the idol instead of covering it in offerings? In the western culture of America that I’ve grown up in, I’ve often heard the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness”. Whenever I’ve stepped inside a church or mosque, they’ve been pristine to a fault, regardless of how much foot traffic the holy site experienced. So, standing outside the exit of the Viswanath temple, scratching my head at my underwhelming spiritual experience, I couldn’t help but feel a bit irked.

ummm_1237346i

Bush being my spirit animal and showing my feelings about the temple experience

I realize that Varanasi doesn’t have the infrastructure of a city like Rome – I can’t expect our holy city to resemble the cleanliness of the Vatican. I realize as well that Varanasi deals with a sheer amount of bodies that many Western holy sites don’t have to contend with. So let’s remove those considerations. I’d argue that our religion is still messy in nature, because of our specific method of ritual prayer. It hardly suffices to sprinkle holy water on an idol during a ritual ceremony. Throwing flower petals in myriad colors is exceedingly common, as is offering substances like honey, butter, etc. onto an idol or into a makeshift fire pit. All of this makes for a mess of leftover petals, congealed sticky stuff, and lots of ash.

Case in point: after I went off to college, my parents converted my room to a prayer room. What was once a normal room now smells distinctly like a temple. The sink is deeply stained by ash and other powders, and at any point there’s bound to be a heap of flower petals in a corner. This has nothing to do with infrastructure or population, and in fact my parents are clean freaks themselves. So why was my room transformed in this way? Why do we feel the need to bury our idols with all these things, why are there so many colors and fires and powders involved in our ritual prayers?

My friend Dhaatri offers an insightful explanation: India’s never been a place for subtlety. From our Bollywood movies down to our food, our culture errs on the side of ornate and obnoxious. Our religious festivals involve lighting firecrackers and lamps, throwing heaps of color at each other, and flying hundreds of colorful kites in the sky. As people that give our full selves in many aspects of life, why should we settle down when it comes to prayer? If we shower our houses and clothes with decorations and colors, why don’t we do the same in our temples? If we love to feast with 20 dishes, why can’t we offer God just that many things when we’re trying to appreciate him? In short, cleanliness by definition is restraint. It means that we try our best to be controlled, to pick up after ourselves politely. What we can appreciate about Hindu prayer then, is that it is unrestrained. There’s a religious fervor here that you have to feel firsthand to understand. What other religion has as many spiritual endeavors that mix with song and dance? Hinduism is a religion where we parade for our Gods, beat the drums and dance till we’re exhausted, just so we know we’ve given all of ourselves in religious pursuit.

[Hindu festival depicted in a popular Hindi movie – the video is obviously dramatized, but the first few minutes provide a good glimpse into how religious celebrations are held in some parts of India]

So in India, maybe cleanliness doesn’t have to be Godliness: maybe there’s a certain beauty in making a mess. This is not an excuse for us to be lazy in the upkeep of our temples, but rather a perspective for understanding the way we pray. The mess that results from religious fervor is entirely different than the one that results from negligence – i.e., I can’t exactly say my room is dirty because of religious fervor. As India’s infrastructure and education improves, I still hope that cities like Varanasi will provide a more welcoming and clean front for its many visitors by cleaning up the negligent messes. But in the future, I’ll accept that my fellow pilgrims shower temple idols with their offerings because that’s just one way of showing devotion.

What are your thoughts on the phrase “Cleanliness is next to godliness”? Does it apply to Hinduism or does the religion approach “godliness” differently? Please comment!

1 – The nearby town of Sarnath is the site of Buddha’s first sermon

2 – As usual, not a reliable source, but good for basic info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva

3- http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/india-million-litres-untreated-sewage-polluting-holy-river-ganga-says-report-1491715

An Undelivered Eulogy

Tags

, , , , , ,

In September, I learned that my best friend from childhood passed away while in India. Writing about this has helped me understand and internalize it. The post below is what I would say if I had the chance to speak at my friend’s funeral. 

Harish was my best friend. He was my best friend in that loyal, dedicated way in which children without siblings make best friends. We immigrated to the US in the same year, lived in the same crappy apartment complex and watched our parents struggle for the same American dream. It was only natural for us to come together.

It was Harish who showed me Pokemon for the first time, effectively guaranteeing that my brain would think of nothing else for the next few years. We would find ourselves rushing home from elementary school, making it to his home just in time to see Ash win another battle.

It was Harish who showed me how to roller-skate, to zip through our apartment complex making friends with the other tenants. We did our best to emulate the scenes from our favorite video games, assigning each other secret agent numbers and playing advanced hide-and-seek. We’d go to the temple with our families, and Harish would teach me the art of passing temple time. Of course, temple time passes much slower than any other time you spend waiting for your parents, like Dillard’s time and Home Depot time (just to give a few particularly boring examples). We grew up together in those days, and always closer, despite him being four years older than me in age.

As the years went by and we changed schools and addresses, we always kept in touch. I would look forward to the weekends when I could sleepover at Harish’s apartment, learning about cool video games, good movies, and bad words. My early taste in Quentin Tarantino movies and Weezer songs both came from Harish. Of course, our favorite pastime was going to CiCi’s Pizza for any special occasion or excuse that we could think of. I guess you could say we made sure to grow fat together, just as we grew up together.

Eventually, Harish moved on to college at UT Austin, the same year that I started high school. And for the first time, we were cities apart. Left on our own, we made new friends and grew busy, but I still looked up to Harish and hoped to follow in his footsteps to UT.

But in my junior year of high school, Harish first started showing signs of a confusion that would come to consume him. I remember the night too vividly when his parents called us in agony, dumbfounded by Harish’s behavior. He had come home from college for summer break and acted like a different person altogether. His grades had dropped and he suffered from the guilt and pressure that all Indian children know when it comes to academics. My parents brought him to our house and tried to set him straight. Harish eventually did pull himself together, and his parents, who had become like a second family to me, thanked us and took him back to Austin.

I would eventually join him there and restart our friendship during my freshman year at UT. It was time again to learn from Harish – this time about the best tofu places on campus, and where to find the free t-shirts.

Yet, Harish again showed signs of a deeper problem. Just before winter break of my sophomore year, I called Harish to ask for a ride home for the holidays. He agreed, but fabricated stories about my roommate and caused drama that drove a rift in our friendship. When I rode with Harish to Dallas for the 2010 winter break, it would be one of the last days I spent quality time with him.

At the time, I didn’t know he was fighting with mental illness. He would be diagnosed years later. Since that car ride, I’ve thought often about reconnecting with Harish. Whenever I saw his mother in Dallas, I would ask if I could meet him again. But when she went home and asked Harish, his answer was always no.

So, the days would pass by and I would move on in my life, graduating from UT Austin and starting my first job. Harish would end up moving out of his parents’ apartment, working intermittently, and finally moving to India for steady work earlier this year. It was in India that his life was taken on August 31st, but we learned of his death on September 7th. Just the night before, I had stayed up late catching up with my close friend about our times with Harish, and how we hoped to reconnect with him sometime soon.

I wonder what went through Harish’s head in the past few years. Maybe he had forgotten our times together, the laughs we shared and all that he had taught me. If that’s what his illness could do, then I hate it. I hate that Harish had to go through such an internal battle. I hate that he couldn’t be the jovial, brilliant kid I had always known. I hate that he died without being my friend again, without letting me share one more slice of pizza with him or lecturing me on his opinions about the latest internet craze.

So much of who I am today and the interests or passions that I have are a direct result of growing up with Harish. He taught me more than I can say about American culture, Indian families, and the world in general. In the coming years, I’ll be sure to remember him, the way he laughed and told stories and argued with his mom. I want to cherish the parents he left behind, and all the funny memories that still make me smile.

I hope that if you’re hearing this or reading this, you’ll remember your own best friends from childhood. Maybe you’ll recognize the impact they ‘ve had on you. And if you’re lucky enough to still be friends, I hope that you hug them a little tighter the next time.

Harish was my best friend. And he will always be my best friend. May he rest in peace.

Harish and I passing temple time

Harish and I passing temple time