Hello APC! My name is Anushka and I’m an Indian-American 16-year-old grinding her way through high school. I reside in the DMV and I’m passionate about changing the world for the better in any way I can. My Instagram handle is @anuushkabd. This piece, titled “Days in Heat” explores my inner necessity to conform, and the psychological effect it had on me. However, I would like to say that now, more than ever, I am blooming into the person that I would like to be.
Days in Heat
Waking up, drenched in sweat, under the slow fan of my bedroom, I smiled. I relished those days. Those days: so sweet they ended up tasting like mangoes, filling my words with a tangy aftertaste. I miss those days. My sudden move to New Delhi, India, when I was 9 years old culminated in those days of hot sweetness yet effervescent lightness. It was when I finally had to move away, come back to the states, when I realized I had taken my days in the beating sun for granted.
Walking out of Dulles Airport, I felt the intense realities of my world caving back in again. I was home, yes, but at what cost? A hollow feeling rose inside of me: loneliness. How could it be that the place I had called home for years before would treat me like this? I realized that, though I was a citizen, though I had been born there: I was displaced. I was lost, I was scared, and I was alone.
I was a foreigner in my own country. I spoke english with the taste of mangoes in my mouth. And not in the sweet, delicious way: in the way in which people around me looked at me and could not understand what I was saying. I realized, right then, stepping onto the hard concrete of Dulles Airport, that I was not like them, and I had to change. To conform.
Stepping into the majority-white private school I was set to attend, I could not help but realize my faults amongst the individuals around me. Their blonde hair that ran past their shoulders. Their blue eyes gleaming. Their skin color: they blended in. My dull brown hair, my eyes, and my discolored cappuccino skin felt as if it was burning. Pressure filled my head while my heart raced. Words could not escape my mouth. My speech felt bitter to my tongue. Understanding that I could not continue like this, I rushed to the nearest bathroom and began practicing my fake-American accent. I pulled my skirt up a little bit. I took my hair out of the braid my mother put it in and watched as it fell to the bottom of my jaw. I was going to fit in.
Over the course of the following years, I forgot words in Hindi. I started weaning myself off of Bollywood music. I simply did not have time to embrace the part of me I liked most: the side of the hot, summer days filled with laughter. The side of playing Anarkali until my grandmother yelled at me to come upstairs. The side of going to the vegetable market with my grandfather and hearing him bargain with every seller he came into contact with. The side of nauseating car rides to beautiful locations.
I had lost myself, my true self, the self that I had only discovered with my arrival in India. The Anushka that had been forged from the timid girl I had once been. I had become myself through my years in India, yet the devastating effects of conformity had caused my true self to cave in. Who was I really? Who had I become?
My American peers began to accept me, the new me, with the loss of the old me. I see photos from years before and I laugh, as we all do, at our younger selves. Yet I tend to notice that the girl in photos smiles a little wider, has a little more love in her heart, and cares a little more. And I miss her.
But I don’t want to end this essay on a pessimistic note. Years passed and I found individuals that made me happy to embrace my culture. That made me feel comfortable enough to speak in my mother tongue. That talked to me about Bollywood movies and asked me to be myself. That made me whole again. That took me in their arms and embraced the person that I used to be. That allowed me to relive my days of heat.
And whenever I go back, I relive these days. I become those days. A light in me reignites, and for a brief moment, I remember who I am.