नमस्ते, or "nāmastē," translates to mean "Hello!" in Hindi. It's kind of formal. Typically, when addressing a friend in India, many just say "Hai!" which is universal in most cultures to mean "I see you and am acknowledging your existence." However, I love using nāmastē despite its misleading usage in western culture simply because it is the difference between those who speak Hindi and those who do not, which makes it unique.
I need to start off this post, and this blog, by saying that I am your average 19-year-old white college student from midwest United States. Although my appearance makes this somewhat obvious, my words may not. My brain is a confrontation between who I want to be and who I inevitably am, and this blog will hopefully be a reflection of both.
Growing up, these two descriptions did not overlap. I have often described my childhood as "generic." This is not to say my parents did not expose me to my heritage, but we definitely did not celebrate it. I am Slovak, Norwegian, and German (I think), but grew up speaking only English, eating low-fat turkey burgers for dinner, and celebrating Christmas every year. To defend that there is no such thing as "American culture" is inappropriate, but in my journey to be "different," I was kept in my white-picket place for about 18 years.
Something changed when I was around 14, however. I made a friend. Her name is Sonia, and she quickly became one of my closest allies that I held close throughout high school. We both liked reading and listening to Taylor Swift and making weird movies with our webcams and video chatting until the late hours of the night, but there was something different about her that I had never experienced before in a friendship-she was different. She was exactly what I wanted to be, but she did not even have to try.
Sonia is north Indian. Her family speaks Marathi around the house, watch the newest Bollywood movies, have naan on the side of every meal, light incense all over their kitchen, wear henna to huge weddings, read books on meditation, spend late nights at the local Hindu temple... and they did not even have to try. It was simply their lives.
In the little American story book I was living in, her differences were refreshing. It was an entire world that I had never been exposed to, and I would be lying if I said it did not draw me in. Quickly, I was enthralled to come over to her house and ask questions to her family for hours:
"Do you really understand all the words in this movie? Can you read that strange Indian-looking script? Have you ever eaten meat? Really though, have you EVER eaten meat, even a little? Why do you light these sticks, and why do they smell like that? Who is Priyanka Chopra? Shah Rukh Kahn? How long does the henna last? If I rub it really hard, will it come off faster? What is the difference between Mumbai and Bombay? Why is everyone British in these movies? How far away is India? Where is Sri Lanka? What is Sri Lanka? Have you ever seen the Dalai Lama? Who even is the Dalai Lama?
As I kept asking, I kept learning. Asia turned from this strange, foreign place to a place I wish I could call home. How exciting it would be to have such a deep culture and be able to call it mine! But, as I discovered, I am expected to keep existing in my cookie-cutter American life. I will get a degree, invent something, make a lot of money, and remain ignorant of the cultures that exist out of my comfort zone that are just too "different."
I apologize if this is controversial, but I would rather be the "different" than be scared by the "different." As I continue my second year at university, the two descriptions finally are beginning to overlap. I have no rules that I need to follow on what I am supposed to celebrate and how I am supposed to live my life except one: to enjoy whatever life I end up with. I will enjoy my life. I will enjoy my life maybe a little too much, and I will do anything to get myself to that point.
So नमस्ते, nāmastē, and welcome to my head. Get comfortable, and get ready, because this should be interesting.