Mosquito nets enclose me as I lay on my hard bed with a firm pillow beneath my head and I cannot help but appreciate the simplicity of it all. We only have what we need. There is something beautiful about living a life without luxury. It is so gratifying to wake up with the sun and take bucket showers with frogs of every color, to eat fresh vegetarian food every meal and to be in a constant state of reflection, soaking in our surroundings and trying to optimize everything from our time and talents to our resources and relationships. I feel as though this is a spiritual and mental cleanse for me. The only true stress I have here is making sure I am spending my time wisely and taking advantage of everything this opportunity has to offer.
I have noticed that many of my priorities and the lens in which I view them have started shifting. The simplicity cuts straight through the distractions and helps me to understand so much more about myself and the world around me. I try not to see life through just my own eyes here. I strive to see India through the eyes of those around me: my group, the Bajaj staff, the beneficiaries, our drivers, our cooks and the people we pass by on the streets. I feel as though my lead role in life is not cast as a consumer or as an individual like how it is in the States. My conventional divisions of labels like who can be a student and who can be a teacher have been completely challenged. I no longer just focus on my own future—a mindset that is easy to get lost in as a last-semester senior on the cusp of entering the real world. Rather, I endeavor to decipher the intricacies of the present, past and future of this country that is so rich in history and that provides such a different context of living.
In the process of viewing my surroundings from the eyes of others, I also am acquiring a better understanding of myself through their vision. It actually seems to be contributing to the identity crisis I seem to be having these days. I find this crisis more amusing than confusing. Being an Indian in America is a bubble I have grown up in and therefore I understand my place and my role in society. I know how to act around my family and other Indians and I know how my actions and thoughts contrast to when I am around my friends and other Americans. But here in India there exists a strange balancing act of my American self and my Indian self. It is not that these two selves are complete strangers to one another. That is not the case at all. I just realize that in the US there are many things that I understand as something I am doing that I can attribute to my Indian culture and other things I can attribute to my American culture. Being in this group here in India has made me conscious of the choices I make that make me lean more towards one culture or the other. I now question simple things like whether or not I should eat the food here with my hands or call Indian elders aunty or uncle regardless of their relationship to me—both things I would normally do both in India and the US but do not do here.
In America, I view myself as an Indian in America even though I was born and raised there. But here I feel like I am an American in India. Sometimes I feel like an outsider to both cultures. Most of the time I feel so lucky that I have two cultures to embrace and to choose from. One of the strangest sensations was after we first landed in India and we were driving through the streets of India. I got this sense of homesickness. However, it was not for my home back in the States rather I ached to be at my grandma’s house in Kerala with both her and my mom. I previously had such a different, intimate view of India through just the eyes of myself and my family. It has been an eye-opening experience to be able to see India from this different perspective—see the bigger context of where all of the little intricacies that I am familiar with fit in.