The last time I wrote a livid, heated article was at the end of senior year; a rant against the system, the country, and of course, high school. Most people told me that my writing was just a reflection of a phase I was going through, a phase of teenage rebellion, and well, I believed them. For a long time, I tried to convince myself that I was entirely content with the world I was living in and the person I was growing into. I enrolled myself into a great college, with an outstanding computer science program, joined an A Capella team, and discovered the power of jungle juice. I was content.
Then, Trump became president.
I was angry again. I pulled out my computer to type out a tirade of abuse targeted at the people of my country that voted for a misogynistic man who presumed that climate change was fake news. But then my fingers aggressively pressed the backspace button, as I told myself, "You're an adult now, you're happy, there is nothing for you to fight for". And so, like the hundreds and thousands of Americans that were coming to terms with this debacle, I had faith that we were stronger than one, xenophobic, orange haired man. It is the people that make up a nation, right? Maybe this would just make us stronger?
Then, a visiting scholar at our university was kidnapped, and murdered.
More specifically, it occurred right on the corner that I walk almost every day, near a bus stop that I've waited at a countless number of times. What could possibly justify a motive that took a girl's life away on soil that is not even what she calls home? For weeks, I was numb. Each time I saw a black car pull up next to the sidewalk, or I saw her face plastered on university walls, I trembled. I frantically searched up the killer's Facebook profile, swallowed vomit that made its way up my esophagus and prayed that whatever justice was left would be served. That's what humans tell each other when people die, right? That it's a much better world up there, with God?
In spite of how much it infuriated me, I didn't write about it either. I just buried it inside of me along with all of my buried insecurities, because I couldn't admit to myself that they were real. I blocked all of those feelings deep under my skin,
until one day, I was attacked.
It was on the way back from the grocery store, a route I took every three days, a route that I knew at the back of my mind. With two gallons of milk in one hand and a delicate carton of eggs and bread in another, the biggest fear in my mind was to get the eggs back in my apartment without them cracking open on the way there. Because that would mean that I would go home without eggs and that would make my roommates mad because we split the bill for groceries, even though I don't even eat half of------a silver sedan almost ran into me.
I tried to keep still, even though my pulse was racing. I look over my shoulder, and I see a light skinned man, thrusting his head out of his car window, yelling out obscene things like "put that fine a*s in my car", I cringed, and told myself to drain him out. But before I turn the curb, he circled back, speeded RIGHT past me, almost ran me over, and pulled up into my driveway, completely blocking my path.
I froze, my blood cold as ice.
I could see him smile - a condescending, entitling smile as he asked me things I wished I could un-hear. My entire existence crumbled, with every second he spent shooting verbal arrows at me. His ego grew larger as my presence turned bleaker.
What happened next was all a fuzzy memory of me frantically trying to dial 911, praying, and trying to run away all at the same time. The last thing I remember is sitting on the floor, behind my door, my groceries spilled on the floor next to me, shivering in shock. For almost a week, I was stuck in time. I shuddered each time I turned a corner, or I could felt a car slow down next to me, I was terrified. My life had come to a halt, a deafening stop, and our light skinned, silver sedan driving rogue, was still out there somewhere.
It was at this point in my life, that I realized that in case I was not angry at the world before, in case I convinced myself before, that because I moved back to America, because I was out of the dirty Indian streets, away from the conservative, narrow-minded Indian men, I would be happy, and finally free, I was wrong. Sitting there on the cold, hard ground of my apartment hallways, surrounded by cigarette butts and trapped smoke, I realized that this whole time, I had been in denial.
I thought about those few years I lived in India, and how I attributed everything to the society. When the man at my local Indian grocery store wrapped up my pads & tampons in an opaque, black bag, I thought that was my toughest battle. Or when my grandma told me not to forget my "dupatta" because my chest looked "too big" in that dress, I thought that would be my biggest fight. But in reality, those weren't fights. That was the effect, the aftermath of people responding to the actual problem. Those were people keeping their daughters safe, and their businesses from public shame.
I didn't realize, not until the light skinned man in the silver sedan looked at me like a starving hyena, that the problem transcended oceans, cultures, genders, races, and well, obviously, countries. It was a complex issue of superiority and a view that some lives mattered less than others.
I thought about how every second of my adult life in India, I thought that my troubles would be solved the second I left the country. But I look back now and realize that I was so, so naive.
I thought that if I just understood why it was okay to stare, and why it was so important to be an engineer or a doctor, I would understand what it was to be Indian. But I realize now, that being Indian is so much more than the over-glorified spicy curry and the bright "salwaars". It is about camaraderie and a sense of community. My dad once told me that he was never taught "manners" in his school the way I was taught to say an endless stream of "please" and "thank you" because they were always grateful to each other, beyond verbal communication.
I always identified myself as an American, so I never understood this. I always believed in the American system of being independent, really living up to what writer Charles F Brown once said, "finding that delicate balance between freedom ‘to’ and freedom ‘from’". Because of this, I found Indian aunties nosey, the lack of personal space quite outrageous, and the uptight private school rules choking. But it wasn't until I sat there, alone, shivering, that I wished that someone would stare. I wished that someone would interfere, and ask me why I was unable to move.
I think that as children of immigrants, we are born into to two beautifully intertwined cultures, that make us who we are. Today, in 2017, when we are made consciously aware of the color of our skin, our identity is all we have. As an Indian-American, and having lived in both of these magnificent countries, I realized that although some issues are society specific, most are universal. Today, even after everything that has happened, I cannot be arrogant enough to say that I have understood in entirety the essence of being both Indian, and American.
However, I can say with certainty that I understand what it means to be human. As people, we don't wake up one day thinking that our deepest fears and gut-wrenching insecurities will find their way to the surface and turn our world upside down. We don't plan for terrible things to happen and throw us off course. That's why, when they do, we need to fight like hell, for something past all of the fear, contempt, and anger. We need to wear what we want, act how we please, and walk the streets with confidence and courage. We need to live so fiercely, that EVERY person in a silver sedan making it hard for us to walk our own streets knows that we haven't given up. And probably never will.