Sumant's Kahaani

Sumant's Kahaani

I was an introverted kid in high school who grew up in Maryland for most of my life. Like many of my peers, I was at times picked on at school for my culture. Anything ranging from the Indian food I ate to using references from Slumdog Millionaire. “Did your parents live in slums?” The worst one for me was when pictures of me wearing Indian attire with a red turban were uploaded to facebook. I later came to find out that my fellow classmates ended up making a facebook group called ‘Turbans are too cute’ with its main group picture including me with a turban captioned “Swervin my turban”. Initially, I went along with it at school, I thought it was kind of funny and frankly speaking, I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of students who knew about it. But, at the same time I was hoping kids would just forget about it. However, things later got out of hand where edited pictures of me were uploaded in black and white with a message saying ‘wanted for 10,000’. At this point, I was just annoyed. I didn’t know how to deal with others in school. And the worst part was, I was too afraid to seek help for fear of losing my classmates. Eventually, a confrontation led the principal to getting the facebook group taken down and things settled down.  I ended up taking down any pictures of me on social media that showed anything remotely Desi. I was too afraid to showing anything Indian. However, my view totally changed when I ended up attending school in Philly. I found myself not only surrounded in an inclusive, multicultural community but by individuals who were more mature and open to other backgrounds. Was it just kids being immature? Maybe. But, I choose to move past that now.

 

After graduating college, I started working as a developer on a team with older Indian immigrants. They expected I didn’t know much about Desi culture. “Usko kuch nahi aata”  was a term I heard too often. I didn't think much of it at first. But I would hear them say things in Hindi but little did they know I was able to understand their jokes.  Soon they found out as I started to reply to them in Hindi. I figured I would try to spend some of my time to prove them wrong. I already knew marathi. But, I always had issues with speaking Hindi. I could always understand it growing up, from the movies and music, but I wasn’t able to hold a conversation. So, I tried talking a bit in hindi everyday. From asking about cultural norms to sharing my opinions of Bollywood movies and cricket teams, I felt I was able to understand them and in return they were able to understand me a little better as well. It wasn’t just about me talking about being an Indian American but it also about building a bridge between myself and immigrants who just came from India who initially thought of me so differently. Through these experiences, I began to grasp there was a lot I had to learn about my peers. And most of all, I felt like I made the biggest impact when they would approach me for advice about raising their own kids in America.

 

My parents got me involved into Indian classical music at a very young age. I began learning to play tabla when I was 7 years old. At the beginning, I struggled to produce any sound let alone understand the beats. Ironically, while I did gain an interest in tabla, I would find myself getting annoyed when my parents would play Indian classical music in the car. I preferred listening to Backstreet Boys, Britney spears at that time instead. A feeling which I am sure many of you can relate to. And  I didn’t really understand the importance of this music as I was still a bit young at this point.

When I was 11, I had an opportunity to perform at an asian pacific show. My hands were raised over the drums as I took a deep breath and I tried playing what I knew, piecing together what I had recently learned. It lasted for a few minutes and to my delight, I heard that satisfying applause.  I think what I came to understand from this performance was not what I was playing, but the purpose of why I was playing tabla at this event. I had a platform where I could share some elements of my culture to others who were not familiar with tabla as there were none South Asian people there as well.

I continued learning tabla till my senior year of high school and it wasn’t until I had attended college where it became difficult for me to practice. Although I took a break from tabla, I did end up being associated with other Desi Americans in college  like me who have had similar experiences. Whether it was learning to sing Indian music or dance to traditional forms like Bharatnatyam, it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one. And most of all, it gave me encouragement I needed to get back into playing tabla. It brought back the memories I had as a kid and made me feel closer to my roots.  


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