Evolution of Identity

Towards the end of my freshman year, a graduate student at Cornell, also from India, asked me how my identity as an Indian had evolved since moving to the United States for college. At that point, I was barely 18, newly independent and looking forward to my first slope day. I certainly did not have any profound insight/reflection to share. So I quickly responded with something superficial and that was the end of that conversation. It’s been two years since that incident and I feel ready to answer that question now.

When I came to college, my thoughts were like those of any other Indian teenager from a large Indian city. I was quick to criticize all things Indian. There was much to complain about the social systems in place. I was frustrated with all the neighbors and acquaintances who were too curious about my life and wished for a more individualistic society. I tried hard to avoid the terms “conservative” and “traditional”. During my first year in college, I was busy trying to break the norms I grew up with and was very willing to embrace the “Western”, “progressive” and “modern” lifestyle and mindset I can find here in the United States. At the end of freshman year, I was more aware of being Indian than I’d been all my life and was perhaps semi-intentionally trying to move away from it.

I’m not sure what triggered the change that has followed. Sometime in the past year, I began to think more critically about why I believed the things I did. What makes one way of life more progressive than other? A newly developed idea may be chronologically progressive, but is it necessarily better? If yes, what is so wrong with the conservative notions? Is an individualistic culture better than a collectivist one for everyone? Why not keep some tradition around? To my own surprise, I’ve left behind many of the modern/western/liberal ideologies that I was trying to adopt. I’m not advocating for either side; I’m just approaching notions of progress and modernity with the same critical eyes that I had previously reserved for tradition and conservative thought.

Where does that leave my evolution of as an Indian, or even as a human being? It’s a constant process of questioning, examining alternatives and making conscious decisions. How have I evolved? I can’t say, because no snapshot I can provide is representative of the evolution.

A Chat in The Stacks: Talk by Kaushik Basu

Yesterday, I attended a book talk by Professor Kaushik Basu. He served as the Chief Economic Advisor of the Government of India from 2009-2012 and is currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Economic Advisor of the World Bank. He was back at Cornell to talk about his new book “An Economist in the Real World: The Art of Policymaking in India”, in which he discusses the complexity of applying economic models to the real world, along with giving us a sense of the culture and personalities at North Block in Delhi.

I’m not an economics major; I haven’t even taken any economics classes. But Professor Basu presented the economics problems he tackled in a fairly accessible way and shared several anecdotes. He acknowledged some of the problems that exist in Indian bureaucracy, but he also imparted a great sense of hope. He shared an anecdote which implied that despite all, there was scope for discussing new ideas which stir conversation and perhaps even controversy.

I’m glad I was able to attend the talk. But I always find it strange that I’ve had more opportunity to think/learn about India analytically (both its current affairs and its history) here at Cornell than at home.