Bridging Two Homes at Starbucks: From Udaipur, India to San Francisco

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Syona Puliady

B.A., International Studies ’17

Syona traveled to India as a participant in the 2016 summer cohort of the Privett Global Scholars program.

It’s 2 a.m. and I am sitting in a 24 hour Starbucks writing a final paper on something I didn’t feel extremely passionate about. I have been awake for quite a few days now, and I don’t recall ever being so stressed in my life. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee and the last thing I want is to talk to anyone. But as always, whenever one asks life for something not to happen…it has to happen.

An elderly woman sits in the chair across from me. She eats a bagel while her eyes linger on me. I don’t want to be rude, but I am also so overwhelmed by my schoolwork that I don’t particularly want to engage in conversation with her either.

“Hello,” she says after exchanging a few minutes of silence. I mumble back “hi” and give her faint smile.

“Are you Indian?” she asks. I hesitated. This has always been a complicated question for me, and I generally have never enjoyed attempting to figure out an answer. Burdened by many negative stereotypes the West has constructed about India coupled with my family’s deepening resentment for it, my relationship with India has been slightly more than complicated. Having spent a majority of my life struggling with my ethnic identity, it has always felt strange trying to package all of these sentiments into a single, easy to digest sentence.

“Well…I guess so, yeah,” I started, “I was born in the States, but the rest of my entire family was born and raised in India. I suppose one could say I lived there a bit—but I’m not sure that I consider myself Indian.” This is my short, extremely rehearsed version of my complex ancestry and heritage.

“Oh me too! I lived there for a little bit, I think I was in…Bombay? I don’t remember now…I am actually from Ethiopia—but I loved India. Even though I don’t remember much of it, I will never forget all of its colors.”

I laugh. I begin to tell her more about my own personal loves for India. We both came alive in this conversation about our short lived experiences in a place on the opposite side of the globe. My schoolwork lay abandoned on the table between us as we both fondly recalled our favorite parts of India. My new friend was fixated on the colors.

“There are just so many colors! Everywhere you go, everything you see—it’s all so colorful!” she closes her eyes tightly, as if she is attempting to recreate her childhood’s imagination of what she had once seen. “Those colors…I think they are only so beautiful because they mimic the vibrancy of life in India,” she says to me. And I couldn’t agree more.

I bring this story to you because it was a moment in my life that really struck me—it was something so special to me that I carried the memory everywhere I went while traveling and working in India. It was only because of this conversation that I could finally see the beauty of my own motherland. Everywhere I looked and everything I felt was so full of color, full of vibrancy, full of life.

This conversation carried each and every memory I collected in India back with me to the U.S. It was so powerful to me that it could delicately bridge the gap between my two homes without causing more confusion within me. While this memory occurred before I started my journey back to India, it definitely set a precedent to how I would come to terms with going back to something that had always left a sour taste in my mouth.

I definitely tend to forget that there is still so much for me to learn, here in the United States. People seem so curious about life in other countries, that it seems as if we forget that many of our curiosities can be found here—right at home. But even on a more global scale, I’m always taken aback at how little I seem to appreciate the intimacy of human nature and companionship. I always feel so lost in the fast pace stresses of everyday life that I often forget that some of the best moments can be as simple as a conversation between two strangers at two in the morning.

 

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