By Isheeta Sanghi
College in India is something that would never enter the mind of an Indian American. Because really, that’s why our parents moved to the States, (besides the whole ‘chasing the American dream’, that is). My parents moved to California for that, well that and the great weather in Sunny San Diego. The thought of college in India sounded twisted to me; it was like some sort of joke that just wasn’t funny at all. When my Dad drove me out to the Integrated Institute of Learning Management in Delhi I remember just thinking about the my situation in total disillusionment and disbelief. I kept telling myself that it wasn’t happening, that I was going to go back to the States and finish my degree, that my parents were just tricking me trying to see how hard they could push me into saying that I wanted to stay.
First day at IILM was interesting. It was sweltering hot, but my Von Zippers made things a little easier. I was introduced to the practice of ‘ragging,’ a concept illegal in the United States of America, and other ‘developed’ nations. On day one a girl (aka sidey) and her sidekick (for my purposes, chokra) walked up and asked me to ask a guy to marry me. I did so, accommodatingly because really, what do I have to lose? I don’t know these people, I don’t want to know them, and I hopefully will never have to see them ever again in life.
On day two, this wannabe cool Delhi dude (we’ll call him Gunda da Delhi) started the interview process. First question: What are you? I’m sorry but when you say ‘what are you’ I usually say a girl, because that’s the most natural answer right? They’re actually referring to your ‘family’ to know your heritage and thus define you by something. Next: Your name, your address in America (?) your blood type (???) and then to top it all, sing a song – in Hindi. Being the Bollywood buff that I am, I envisioned an immortal scene from a monumental movie. Remember when Rani aka Tina sang ‘Om Jai Jagdish’ to SRK aka Rahul? Oh yeh, I totally did that, so really I like to think that I totally got him back by doing it because he didn’t even get it. I also remember getting picked up by my parents 5 minutes later and having tears in my eyes that my Von Zippers were hiding. That was hideous; I was not supposed to ever be subject to such humiliation, but the fact remains that it did happen- I never told my parents or anyone else what happened that day, they had enough to deal with thanks to my unbearable attitude.
From then on I treated IILM as a place that I went to in order to get my Dad’s money’s worth and get an education. I tried really hard to associate myself with the other kids that went there. But I couldn’t. They’d converse in Hindi, yet dress western. They didn’t understand the concept of plagiarism, and most couldn’t form a proper sentence on their own. These kids were the rich Delhi businessmen/politician kids, who, quite frankly, knew nothing about life or the real world. They got allowances, Dad bought them new cell phones monthly, and they were always taken care of. Dad and Mom gave them everything they want; they had their own cars, and treat life as a (always fun) game. They ‘bunked’ classes and did not get reprimanded. On final exam days I would see faces of people that had never come to a single class (this I know because I attended classes regularly- a little too regularly.)
I’ve come a long way from that time though. I think I was the female version of Amitabh Bachan’s ‘Angry Young Man.’ I hated the house help (primarily because there was another person IN OUR HOUSE- that’s a concept that is totally foreign to us Americans) I couldn’t stand the men staring and constantly resorted to wearing high neck, loose fitting tops and pants- even in the Delhi heat, refused to speak in Hindi (just to prove that I could speak English?) These are the things that happened, and at some point you realize how stupid you are being, and turn the attitude off.
At some point you realize that you’ve been given an opportunity to do a few things that not a lot of people get to do. I’ve been able to spend quality time with my grandparents- and look at them as more than just old people- I’ve learned about their likes and dislikes, which a few years down the line I know I’m going to appreciate. I’ve been able to visit some beautiful places in India like Coorg, whose beauty remains understated. I’ve learnt that if you’re given the opportunity to live here- you should embrace the situation whole heartedly- don’t try to convince yourself that you’re being punished, this is one of the greatest gifts you’re ever going to get, and it’s better to enjoy it and make the most of it, because in a few years from now you’ll regret not taking advantage of all that this beautiful place has to offer.
As you may have guessed, Isheeta Sanghi recently relocated from San Diego to New Delhi and writes for WNI about the challenges of transition.