Hard work and heartbreak
Learning lessons that teach us
Growing up is real
The sharp prick broke the tension created by the thin film
Dividing her reality from the blurry sublime,
It was invisible; tangibility having no definition in this
Marriage of different universes.
Her frail toes enveloped in the satin of Legnani’s soul,
Itched as she finally danced upon the humming orchids,
Laughing with the cloudy wrinkles
Hidden in pockets of the final sleepy sunrise.
Only a pinch would be deemed necessary
To revive her, flood her scope with normalcy
She won’t know until the after, but they were right
Wasting away is for the weak; preserve the untainted
Just let go.
An uninterrupted string of redundancies,
The apathy resulting from rushed unions
With the consequence of settling,
An ultimate hollowness of the heart;
Keep your innocence, fragile daisy,
They whisper in her ear: Say goodbye
As you’re shot upon the tail of a star;
Dizzying jumps further away from this cruel world.
A spurt of growth in the fleshy drawer of memories
But the ironic decaying nature of an interior so youthful,
She was told it would be better this way;
Cool metallic avalanches molding themselves
To the confines of the blue branches underneath supple skin.
A wilted flower being laid to rest,
She let out a sigh of something peaceful, something hopeful.
As she slipped away into an everlasting limbo
Of dancing upon humming orchids and laughing with cloudy wrinkles
That shied away from an awakening Earth, she found herself
Glittering eternally in youthful purity.
Written by: Kinnary Shah
December 31st not only marks the closing of the year, it also symbolizes the strength my parents’ relationship has had to fulfill yet another anniversary. This year, my parents have accomplished staying together and committed for a full 25 years. The idea of such feat not only amazes me, but inspires me as well. Their ability to face sacrifice, failure, and sadness together, as a family is a tiny yet dazzling diamond wedged into this society of breakups and loneliness. I am so proud of them; the feeling is almost indescribable.
I was labeled a hopeless romantic back in high school, when I dreamt of living in ecstasy with the person who enabled this drug-induced lust for life. Falling in love so freely is definitely my parents’ fault; their capacity for turbulence of varying types that had shaken up their relationship is immense and still growing. If Rajiv and Sujaini can do it so well, so can we, my friends. These two completely opposite individuals came together, meshed their separate lives together, to form a union abundant with warm memories and a myriad of lessons about love. They have taught each other how to effectively deal with my shopaholic tendencies, my sister’s intolerance to stupidity, and the many serious tragedies that naturally accompany life. I want what my parents have: maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. I want a love that is fueled with passion and adoration. I want a love that is worth every struggle, every tear, and every drop of blood. Thank you, Dad and Mom, for solidifying my previously idealistic vision of love into a realistic one.
Instead of taking them out to a steak dinner (Mom has been a vegetarian all her life, so this would have sucked for her, regardless) or purchasing overpriced accessories they will rarely use, I decided to write a letter as an anniversary gift to my parents. Side note, I don’t think anyone is really surprised that I wrote my parents a letter, right? When AREN’T I writing extremely emotional letters to people I have grown fond of, to be honest? Anyway… I wrote Dad and Mom a letter. I can’t disclose all the topics that I discussed within the faded blue lines of my notebook paper, but I can say that I meant every word of it. They have only asked one thing of me: to be the best person I am capable of being. Year after year, I have practiced acts of delinquency and have remained a juvenile in their eyes. This upcoming year, I will practice acts of maturity and become the respectable daughter they believe I can be. I vowed to never disappoint them but to forever take care of them; but I can only hope to provide them with a fraction of the love they have provided me.
I know you all love your parents, and that is truly beautiful. Nothing is more important than the people who know you more than you know yourself. They have given you more than just life; parents dole out unconditional love. Love the people who deserve love the most. These people are usually right down the hall from you, or in my case, a quick plane ride away. Their love is permanent, but they’re not, so don’t hold back on frequent hugging and expressing care and warmth. One day we will be in their position, and only then will we have the experience to fully appreciate every single thing our parents excitedly do for us. This one is a big Thank You to every Dad and every Mom who have dedicated their lives to perfecting ours. You all will forever be wanted, needed, and appreciated, we promise.
Much to my astonishment, not everyone enjoys to read. Ria, one of my four beautiful roommates, sported a blank yet apathetic stare as I raved on and on about Salman Rushdie and the authentic sense of culture he births between the pages of his novels. “You like to read?” Ria scoffed after I breathlessly wrapped up my verbal admiration for Rushie’s, “Haroun and The Sea of Stories”; I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. In the midst of this overly chaotic world, doesn’t everyone find solace, simplicity, within tales of wonderment? If I were to ever perish alone on a deserted island…
And would be allowed to bring only three nonliving items with me, what choice do I have but to bring three books that complete the full horizon of genre, which literature has to offer? The thought gives me anxiety-induced vertigo. The decision making for this hypothetical situation is dizzying, I feel faint with apprehension, what if I choose the wrong books?
I probably will, but here is my list anyway:
- A Book That I Have Not Yet Read Or Heard Of (for my edgy adrenaline-junkie side, the badass side that seeks thrill and the fear of uncertainty. Will this book be good? Who cares if it isn’t, it’ll still teach me something my knowledge lacked prior to the read and that indescribable feeling of physically flipping through the pages of a book that has all the time in the world to be discovered is enchanting)
- A Book That Is Blank On The Outside And The In (I would never insult my already annotated books with even more chicken scratch; reading is my segue to writing; I’ll be bored as hell on a boring island, I need a diary to vent about it since I probably wouldn’t have access to my Twitter account anymore, SOS)
- Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (she’s so cool and witty, and she knows how to make fun of Gothic literature in such a relatable, humorous fashion. This isn’t my favorite book, but it’s like the 19th century novel version of Arrested Development and if you don’t enjoy the perfect amount of one-liners in that show, I don’t know who you are)
Luckily, I don’t plan on being stranded on a deserted island anytime soon, but if expectation doesn’t coincide with life so fluidly, I know I’ll be ready with a wealthy handful of magic. What do you like to read? Please don’t be shy, tell me! If you don’t like to read, what turns you off from good literature? I want to know. Well, ultimately, I want you to love reading the way I do, because reading makes our minds rich with knowledge, an untainted beauty that only the lovers of Times New Roman understand. Have a happy winter break, school-goers! Read exceedingly!
As the frigidity of November crystallizes in our wet hair and along the dormitory rooftops, we begin to layer upon our delicate bodies. The concealment normally begins with a thermal (I seriously have low blood circulation and don’t care if you’re making fun of me for wearing thermal onesies, whatever), an old sweatshirt from my high school volleyball team, a cookie-cutter black Northface jacket, and fuzzy earmuffs and gloves to cover the body’s extremities. Winter attire easily adds an extra five pounds; whilst my diet of ramen, peanut butter ice cream, and late-night pizza finally relaxes within the loosened seams of the dozens of sweaters cluttering my closet. In order to survive the array of winter temperaments, we mask our bodies, our identities, and the unique persons we have molded into.
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, an experimental biography that flirts with modernity, forces readers to ask questions such as, “do our skin colors wear us, or do we wear them?” In an ideal reality, our differing colors all hold equal merit and relay similar undertones of confidence, power, and intellect. In our actual reality, the gallons of color splashed onto our skin have been seen as a method of racial branding. The dark and light pigments of dye stained so deeply that we are blinded to everything but the whites, browns, reds, oranges, blacks canvassed onto our bodies. Before continuing your read and interpretation of this post, please expel as much judgment as possible. There may be a couple of political inaccuracies throughout; however, it is the opposite of my intentions to offend any readers. My views do not necessarily reflect the views of every American-born Indian girl, nor do they hold more significance than anyone else’s beliefs.
Growing up near the nation’s capital allowed me to experience abask attitudes from citizens of every nationality. Race, in the suburbs of Washington D.C., subtly blended into the school systems, and it was rarely uncommon to graduate high school with 46 students who proudly boasted the last name “Nguyen”. Regardless of the diversity at Chantilly High School, I found comfort and commonality when I clothed myself with “white people” experiences. The group of 10 Caucasian girls and 1 Asian girl I spent virtually every minute with never—not even unintentionally—ostracized me because of my different background. Actually, they never ostracized me because of my different race. My background, like theirs, consisted of a supportive family, financial stability, and opportunities to enroll in college and after-school clubs alike, and an invested wealth in friendships. Being the only non-Christian in my closely-knit circle was never an issue; I diligently went to the temple when my mom pleaded and rather than deeming me an alien or a racial outlier, my friends were intrigued. They asked questions, which were mostly unanswered due to my ignorant attitude towards my parents’ religion; however, they were intrigued, and that made the difference. My race, until college, had never interfered with my biographical identity, an upper-middle class American-born female. To many Indians who also attended Chantilly High School, I was the “black sheep” of our kind. I refused to listen to Bollywood music, I strayed away from gold bangles and earrings, I never had the opportunity to flaunt my skill of speaking my mom’s native tongue. On extremely sporadic occasions, my “white person” life would acquaint itself with my “brown person” life, however the occurrence was rare and usually preceded with apprehension. I was unable to relate to the Indian students at Chantilly because I did not want to be mercilessly teased for smelling like curry powder by Caucasian students outside of my social circle. Along with constantly seeking the “superior” race’s approval, being incapable of finding enjoyment through relishing in the Indian culture distanced me from the “brown clique” in my high school. I would shudder at the thought of performing at International Night, I rolled my eyes when two Punjabi students conversed in their native tongue among non-Indian students, and I feared being permanently sucked into a sea of South Asian if I did eventually expose a slight interest in my culture. This disgusting dismissing of a rich, beautiful, intelligent culture was entirely my fault. My friends had already accepted the person I was, so there was no valid reason to turn my back against my own. Abandoning my cultural identity hurt my family, the few Indian friends who were also racial stragglers, and most importantly, myself. I ostracized myself from who I have been since birth.
The humid summer heralding my freshman year of college changed my view on my culture permanently. I unexpectedly fell in love with a curly-haired Indian boy and found myself creating an emotional connection as deeply rooted as the ones I shared with my family; him and I innately bonded over similar familial traditions, authentic Indian dishes we would willingly eat, and contextual teasing. His South Indian origins and my Gujarati family’s stereotypical careers were often brought up in lighthearted, joking conversation, and surprisingly I was thrilled to have an outlet for this sudden rush of Indian blood that swam through my veins. This new, unpredictable friendship eventually led to networking with several other Indians, many whose feelings towards a lack of cultural identity coincided with mine. This gang of “brown” people comprised of a few amazing people whom, over a short span of time, have become some of my closest friends. Unlike my hyperactive imagination led me to believe, we rarely discussed Bollywood actresses or what chaniya choli we would wear to the Diwali Garba-Raas. My mom’s eyes swelled with shorelines of happiness; her cheeks stained with only remnants of fear that I would forever shun her and my dad’s culture. I bought my first pair of gold earrings that summer.
Venturing to the Midwestern unknown didn’t seem horribly daunting until after I unpacked my (don’t hate, it was cool back then) Vera Bradley luggage set. Bloomington is said to be a “diverse” town, but the moment after cushioning my foot against Indiana soil, I realized I was in the middle of Race Conscious, Intimidated Citizens Town. The magnetic force emanating from my outwardly normal-teenage-girl outfit was shocking and almost embarrassing; the disgusting truth is, my black floor length skirt, black shoulder covering top, and accompanying scarf stuck over my hair clung on to me in the most wrong, and almost inappropriate sense. These sheltered mall-goers assumed me to be of Islamic faith because of the color and types of fabric I carefully outfitted together the night before. Their stares became lasers of judgment, and a lot of question. Scalding hot and burning right through my skin, their acidic looks of “you don’t belong here” made me regress almost immediately; I was extremely race conscious again. A pale, blonde high school student strutted past all of us as she sported a similar outfit, however these townies’ glances became relaxed, and almost sexual. Do I want their attention? No, but if they’re going to give me attention, they should not be allowed to make me feel out of place in my own home, The United States. Often times, cold stares from the local folk were accompany by condescending, slightly rhetorical questions such as, “ARE YOU LOST?” and “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” in a tastelessly loud tone; a sticky, false sense of superiority slowly dripping off of their every word. Does my natural tan dominate what I am made of in the eyes of my fellow citizens? I became isolated from both, the “white” and the “brown”. The other Indians, having been accommodated to their sheltered environment since young ages, were not able to empathize with me and my Caucasian friends awkwardly fidgeted with their split ends and pen-caps, they were technically the peoples I was attacking so their words of advice remained extremely limited. Who could blame them though? A year prior to being on the receiving side of ignorance and hurt, I maliciously scoffed at a younger girl wearing her traditional outfit in a popular promenade in Fairfax, Virginia. She looked too ethnic, I felt embarrassed for her. But that was long ago and I was young; that was my justification for so long. Why, at one point, did I think it so horrible to wear saris in a non-Indian population? Have I ever condemned a “white” person for pulling on a pair of jeans before going to school? It was so horrible because I let a deluded, insecure voice in my head say it is not okay to be anything other than “white” unless you want to feel lesser than the next person. I have never looked at my friends with facial features resembling criticality or judgment; to me, they were already cool for being able to pull off hoop earrings without someone shouting, “Muy caliente Latina!” I was so unfair to the young girl; what if her mother had dressed her up for a special religious function at their temple? She must have slaved over pinning the safety needles so precisely in order to maintain the styled creases in the garb, afterwards, she would have been so proud of her daughter for looking beautiful. I judged so quickly and in turn, the townies judged me right back. It was time to shed my layers of ignorant opinion, shallowness, and shame from my Indian heritage. It was time to tell the others around me to follow suit.
I’ve found solace in the wedge of cultural stability I’ve nourished to life since moving to the Midwest. The harmonious equilibriums I’ve reached by strategically balancing my American and my Indian weights are still perfecting themselves; however, I’ve already learned a lot. To stop judging others, we must stop judging ourselves. The only faults we find in people outwardly different from us are the faults we choose to bury deep within us. I feel vulnerable, low, and alone every time the creeping stares become overwhelmingly powerful and begin to provoke my defensive side. I caused that girl to feel vulnerable, low, and alone every time I viciously laughed at how odd she looked in the swarm of Anglo-Saxon middle schoolers. Basically, every time someone says they see everyone “as the same color” I am offended. Collectively, we are an oil painting of nude rainbows. Our streaks of color and individuality bring us together while simultaneously causing us to be distinct from one another. My streaks of caramel are beautiful just as my best friend’s streaks of honey and eggshell are beautiful. Whether I choose to embrace my culture or not, I am Indian and I want you to look at me like I am one; in return, I will treat you and your culture with unequivocal respect.
I find it difficult articulating my feelings. I’ve been finding solace through pens and scraps of paper since an impressionable age, but I have yet to master the art of relaying any sort of sincerity unless it’s in “love letter” form.
Let’s talk about that for JUST a moment.
I have found a treasure so rare, so precious, it cannot be shared with others. I revel in my discovery, even three and a half years later. Prior to hitting this metaphorical jackpot, which is my most sacred possession, I expressed nothing towards it. Nothing compelled me to desire such an abstract idea only fools sang about. And then, because I thought I was possessed by rejected mythical creatures, I wrote my first love letter.
It was sloppy, tangential, and reserved.
The ballpoint pen quivered as it attempted painting reasonable alphabets of passion on loose leaf I had hastily pulled out of my Calculus notebook. Love letter writing was the most tedious thing I had ever thought I wanted to do. I could not stop, though. I already wrote multiple drafts and gushed to Cat about the “philosophical”, “romantic” allusions I not-so-cleverly embedded into the otherwise perfect letter. And then, because some unknown force of nature obligated my feet to do so, I walked over to the post office and sealed the letter to your address.
I literally felt the pity you awkwardly placed upon me as you read my lines of confession.
It took a year for me to get a real love letter back. A letter that has browned around the edges because I unfold it and allow the warm undertones to carry me back to a time of skipped heart beats. And then, because a flesh-eating virus consumed all of your sanity along with your chocolate skin, we fell in love together. In and out of letters. Elation was a platform of heaven I could call home, finally. I wrote you poetry and we talked about Venus.
You are now the muse to every grandeur oil painting I dream of perfecting for you.
You envelope me in thick, nebulous clouds. Some brimming with heavy drops of emotion, while others lightly weave themselves into the contours of our arms, forming embraces that promise lifetimes of unconditional care. Your contagious happiness and sincerity gave me the most thrilling fever. When you gifted a homeless woman with your watch, you expected nothing in return but a glimpse of hope in the tortured soul’s eye. And then, because you are flawed in a most trivial fashion, you were gifted with a second watch; brownie points, if I may. But truly, you are a saint in not only her vision.
You have me always. If (completely hypothetically speaking), one day, it becomes too much, I will only think lovingly of the memories we spent beside one another. You really have me always.
This declaration of unconditional love is only for you, so please keep it safe within the creases of your pocket. If your pants accidentally went through the wash, the ink may bleed and stain, but the meanings behind my respectively crafted words are permanent. Paper cannot withstand the tides of bleach. I will recite every line of string around my heart from memory if that is what you want.
Falling for you happened in an untimely manner in a psychological limbo of naivety and maturity.
Like a child taking her first breath of air, I was blinded by a beautiful light, a journey of risks so severe, we often shy away at first. As you unlocked the calcified chamber, you trembled. I finally saw you flinch. Gently, nervously, you guided my hand into and out of our silhouettes. We cautiously held out our palms, afraid to move too fast. Don’t let this fall, don’t let us fall.
Until this point, neither of us could look down.
But, before letting moments slip by, we poured leagues of expectation, adoration, and patience into the black pools within each other’s eyes. I held out my arms, you held out yours. Our palms collided with only a flutter of apprehension. Inhale. Keep your eyes open. Watch this. The half of my heart fit the half of your heart harmoniously. No wonder I hurt when you hurt. No wonder I cannot hurt you; I have never been the masochist sort.
You filled my void of indifference and skepticism.
Some say their love stole their heart. You, My One, completed the fraction of life I had once believed would suffice. The better half of my newly composed heart has given me the power to put in effort. Your love brought out a voice confined beneath layers of doubt and ignorance. Thank you indefinitely, admiringly.
This letter, I hope, speaks volumes. Finding voice, finding love, and finding the person who gives you a piece of themselves against all rational thought are reasons to never stop expressing feeling. Sorry to all of those who are currently rolling their eyes and/or gagging; I hope you find your happiness regardless.
For you, My One, I give everything back to you, because I have found myself with you. I love you.
I wish I could believe in heaven.
Actually, I take that back. I don’t wish I could believe in heaven. I have tried long and hard to do that, and the rebellious, blazing fire in me keeps burning any creeping thought of the kingdom of daylight. The fire doesn’t die, either. Through the darkest phases of life, the fire fumes, grows, empowers itself. My soul grows wary as the embers of the black light swallow any sense of belief I have ever possessed.
I wish heaven were real. That’s really what I wish for. Sometimes, when words on a paper are my only source of comfort, I hide myself in T.S. Eliot’s works. He scares me though. He scares me because he lays Death out right on the table, a skewered pig with an apple in its mouth, waiting to be devoured by the hungry families surrounding it. What are the proper table manners for this type of situation? Do we look this pineapple and honey-glazed pig in its eyes, as it lies there motionless? Is Death something we dodge with the glimmering hope of eternity with the grand Dauphin?
I don’t really know because I still spill spaghetti all over my lap, even when I try to shield my white pants with thick cloth napkins. I like to think I give off a pretty mean stare when deserved, but Death is too passive-aggressive for me. She kisses the ones we love then leaves. She embraces the young, old, sick, healthy, guilty, innocent, poor, and rich alike with her dark hug. The lucky ones retain strong faith in heaven and although a little scared, die with a dignified sense of the afterwards. I ache to be one of the lucky ones.
My feelings towards heaven have been ambiguous since my mom explained religion to me. So many questions. Lots of skepticism. Why do I get to go to heaven over the illiterate, homeless man who doesn’t have enough resources to dedicate himself to god? Do good people who don’t believe in god also go to heaven, or is this mystical myriad of platforms, clouds, and angels only for the religious-bound? I could not accept the black pockets of question. Despite my mom’s urging, despite my friends’ pure faiths, and despite my ultimate fear of death, I cannot visualize heaven. I cannot believe in it.
So, what happens post-life? These accumulated memories, the unconditional love we share with the ones dearest to our hearts, my minor achievements in math class—does it vanish once I do? I cannot imagine that, either. There is so much I have to learn about who I am before I die. Being a microscopic piece of the cosmos for hopefully 70 years will be worth it if I truly seize my moment; if there is no eternal happiness, if there’s no part two, I want to be able to fully accept that fact and not just live, but be alive for this one and only opportunity.