States of Mind This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

July 6, 2014
When you step off the airplane in Mumbai, Delhi, or Hyderabad, the first thing you’ll notice is not the distant honking of cars, the bustling of people, or the humidity of the air. The first thing you’ll notice is the pungent, acrid, smell. And it’s not just a simple unpleasant whiff in a passing breeze. The air itself is probably saturated with floating molecules of petroleum. It’ll hit you like an express train.

You wonder how you’ll be able to manage this sensory overload for the rest of your trip. But before your olfactory senses can cloud your thoughts, you are whisked away by a small bus and you and your luggage are deposited into a swarming sea of people, eager to take their things and arrive at their destination. You are greeted by at least 10 cab drivers ready to take your bags, suitcases, and even your hand into their cab, articulating the few English words they might know: “I help you.”

They’ll take you into an auto: a vehicle on three wheels with no doors. It’s a literal open door to the city; no barrier between you and everyone else. There’s no limit on interaction.

You started out wondering how you were going to be able to calm your senses, but as time moved on and you immersed yourself completely into the culture, you learned to stop holding your breath. The motorcycles, the pani puri, and the constant chatter around you affect you greater than your own sense of smell. Even though you might notice that scent every once in a while, you’ve already been accustomed.

It’s an acquired taste.

When I step into a classroom, a library, or a restaurant in the United States, the first things that are noticed are not my thoughts, feelings, or desires. The first thing that will probably be noticed is the color of my skin. It’s not exactly an easy thing to overlook at a first glance. Before talking to me, someone may wonder how to approach me, how to phrase a certain question, how to get past whatever stereotypes they might already have.

But I’ll take you through different peaks and valleys, each home to my distinct ideas and thoughts. I’ll show you that I still celebrate every Indian holiday that my family would celebrate in India. I’ll show you that my family has the same white-picket fence American dream. I’ll show you that I still light lamps and candles for every Diwali. I’ll show you that I still go to watch fireworks and rejoice on every 4th of July. I still bleed the colors of the Indian flag but I still carry the same amount of respect for the place I call home, the United States of America. I aim to do good things for both of my countries. I’ll show you that my dreams and aspirations are not much different from yours.

You may have started out wondering how you would be able to talk to me because of the color of my skin. But what with my all of my opinions, conceptions, and emotions, my complexion becomes a thing of the past. You’ve learned to stop holding your breath and inhale. My Indian culture is woven into my American living and over time, you simply become accustomed.

It’s a state of mind. It’s a taste of mind. But it’s really more of an acquired taste.

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