I spent this Fourth of July as I have been spending almost all my Fourth of July’s since I can remember: sleep-deprived and eating chutney sandwiches while surrounded by 600-plus Jain people, most of whom I am related to. This year’s Jain convention, "Young Jains of America: Agents of Change," was hosted in Los Angeles. And I’m not quite sure what the reason was, but I was more excited, yet anxious, about this convention compared to the other conventions I had been to. Maybe it was because my sister and I were put in different age groups so I couldn’t tag along with her. Maybe it was because half of the YJA board was comprised of some of my best friends, and I knew how much work had gone into this. Or maybe it was because there was some low-key pressure that I was expected to come out of this convention with a future husband. Who knows?
But in the end, it was an incredible weekend. I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends while making new ones. During the day, I sat in on lectures educating me on my religious and professional futures, while by night I was tearing up the dance floor during garba or the formal. Following the tradition, on the very last night of the convention, the attendees pulled an all-nighter (or at least until 6:30 a.m.) to spend time and play games with each other, making newfound friendships even stronger.
Around 7:30 a.m., my phone buzzed with a text from my mom: “Moni. R u up?”
Well, now I was.
I responded, “Yup Mom, just waking up. What’s the plan?”
My mom and I both had the same flight back to Houston around noon, and then she would go to Memphis from there. But my sister had left earlier that morning, and texted my mom a status update. Apparently, LAX had received a tip about a threat from ISIS and all security precautions were elevated. How ironic, since it was the Fourth of July — and even more ironic, it was the day that 600-plus brown people were flying out of that airport.
I rolled out of bed to quickly wash my face and pack up my bag before heading down to breakfast and meeting up with my mom. Because of the potential threat, security lines were most likely going to be a lot longer, so we needed to get to the airport earlier than originally planned.
I was a little nervous flying out that morning. It was paranoia and an irrational fear, but part of me felt like there was a high chance I would get stopped in the airport for a “random screening.” And my mom actually was stopped in security, but it was because the embellishments on her traditional Indian clothes made the monitor light up red like the “Operation” game.
One of the sessions I attended at YJA that weekend was about multiplicity of views, also known as “Anekantvad.” The essence of this Jain value is that no single viewpoint is the complete truth; it takes a diversity of perceptions to better understand the reality.
A classic example of Anekantvad is the story of the six blind men and the elephant. Each of the blind men feel a different part of the elephant, claiming their description to be the most accurate. For example, one man feels the elephant's leg and says the animal is like a pillar while another feels the ear and says the elephant is like a hand fan. While each individual observation is correct in its own way, one must encompass all the perspectives to get a full picture.
In the same way, I had put myself in a single viewpoint: I was defining myself by the color of my skin and assuming people were making a judgment about me based on that. In a society surrounded by so much violence, we can’t afford to be harmful toward ourselves as well. Just as we must keep an open mind about other people's values, we shouldn't limit our perception of how the world sees us. That sideways glance from the security officer could’ve been because of the bags under my eyes, or the limp in my stride from the blisters on my feet.
Whether it’s a post on Facebook, a story in the news, or even a personal encounter, take a second before jumping to a conclusion regarding the topic. Misunderstanding and lack of communication are some of the roots in the violence we are witnessing today. You can formulate your own opinion, but also acknowledge the other person’s perspective. You never know what you may learn.
And if you were wondering about the marital status mentioned above, I left the convention the same way I went in — empty-handed. So in case you are/you know an eligible Jain bachelor, I’m 5’3’’ and 110 pounds with a wheatish-brown complexion. I’m an aspiring doctor who can roll round rotis. HMU.