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.