Grateful for the bitterness and gloom Through bright days and dark nights When leaves fall and trees are bare Remembrances of despair and venom Knowing that cynicism is painful Hurt that rekindling of bygone brings How would I appreciate the goodness If I didn’t know the bad in life The good things that are in store And the treasure that lies in hope Where the future is like the sunrise That burns all the disgrace amassed There would never be the best of me Had I not known the demons I overcome
To that friend who I asked about their caste in 2003, not knowing any better, I am so sorry. To all the people who continue ask me what my caste is in various ways, I am sorry that I don’t know what to say. I am yet to understand myself where I truly belong having been exposed to a conglomerate of regions and religions. And to all those who’ve watched me be the rebel and somehow ended up emulating me without realizing, thank you! It sure gets better from here.
Over the last decade and half, I have impacted my kith and kin and the poor things are yet to let that sink in. I’ve developed such deep admiration for most of them although I haven’t made any particular effort to reach out individually to commend them for their growth. There will be one or two in the family that will always be uncomfortable around me but someday soon, I’m sure they’d fall in love with me. Who cares if they didn’t walk next to me when I most needed but I’m so ecstatic to celebrate their heightened tolerance when it has come to their own brood.
This write-up is particularly a tribute to my friends and acquaintances whose never ending support has been pivotal in my own nirvana, my ability to see beyond barriers, religions, caste, and regional stratification. It is because of them that I dare to give back to the community, language, and roots. There has not been a single moment in these 21 years in the US that were cringe-worthy compared to the many embarassments that I faced in India due to my lack of importance to the whole caste system. I was almost thinking it is obsolete here in the US until it crept back into use cases and universities.
When I was a kid and till I was eligible to get married, I lacked the basic understanding of the c-word. That ignorance became worse when I started to acquire the qualities of ‘when in Rome, be a Roman’ after coming to the US. Not everyone is blessed with such stupor. As the years went by, I seemed to have no recollection of the instances where I was castigated for stepping out of the acceptable norms and achieving the ‘sadhguru’ state of social enlightenment. To the point that my parents, despite few exceptions here and there had begun to accept that humanity was indeed a better caste than those that created prejudice.
I didn’t realize how contemptuous the most educated become when it comes to marrying someone outside the caste and even worse region or religion. That was exactly the case when I was looking to find a husband after few confusing relationships that sank without trace because of my caste. It was not because I was of a higher or lower caste; I was just not their caste. I’ve been chuckling more lately as generations began to quest outside of their menage, diversifying into other sects, regions, religions, race, and even queer.
When I was in pursuit of my forever bliss, there were more taunts than praise. But I’m not complaining because progress is progress no matter when it manifests. The true privilege of being alive now, is to curtail all things that didn’t work in the archaic systems. Some of us continue to annihilate those evils to create an heirloom. And follow the path where, “There is only one caste… the caste of humanity. There is only one religion… the religion of love. There is only one language… the language of the heart.”
It was first day of school after second grade summer holidays. Late Mrs. Anthony was our class teacher. I knew that I had to get her attention to let her know my intent to become the yellow house leader. We didn’t have class leader back then to oversee the red, green, blue and yellow house leaders. At an opportune moment in between two classes, I went up to her desk hurriedly and asked her if I could be the yellow house leader. And that I’d make everyone proud if I were elected. Yes! I said exactly that.
She laughed. I could see all her pearl like teeth with a light stain of lipstick and the big red bindi on her forehead become wide enough to scare me. I looked at her wondering if she was going to shut me down but she didn’t and asked me to go back to my bench that I shared with three others. I still remember many glittering eyes of my classmates staring at me while I tumbled through the school bags double our size blocking the narrow pathway to my bench.
At the beginning of the next period she announced that we will need to elect our house leaders and she started with the yellow house. And very softly asked the housemates if they’d like me to be their leader. I vividly remember that I couldn’t breathe for few seconds anticipating opposition from my housemates. All that one of them had to say was, “Miss, I don’t like her.” That would have been the end of my leadership pursuit even before it began. To my pleasant surprise, all my housemates nodded in agreement that they’d be just fine tolerating me as their house leader for an entire academic year.
I don’t remember how the other house leaders were elected because I was too happy to even listen or be part of those conversations. There was a certain sense of gratitude and responsibility that soon overcame my little mind. All I wanted, was to ensure that my house mates and class teacher never regretted their decision of electing me. Within a week, the badge ceremony took place and below the round yellow school badge, I had another round yellow badge that said ‘Leader’. It was the first time I had executed on a development plan, marketed myself and explained my ROI successfully. And it was a fantastic year with no trouble in my little paradise.
As I grew older, somewhere, somehow, I forgot those tenets of being the leader I was. Success meant different things at different times. Especially, after becoming a working woman I struggled few years feeling stuck, not being able to market myself, in establishing my brand, and simply being able to move my needle. Then one day, a mentor told me that I have to ask to receive. I was reminded of who I was in third grade and what I was truly capable of. Since, I have not looked back. Besides building an amazing support system not just in my personal and professional life, I was able to work towards my aspirations. Each time I invoked my third grade self, I realized my full potential.
If there is anything that I share with those who are willing to listen to my story is to never forget to go back to basics. If you feel you deserve something, prepare a business case, present the facts and explain the benefits of investing in you. At the end of the day, all we need is a Mrs. Anthony to believe you are ready for the next level. That sponsor or group of sponsors like my housemates who took the leap of faith. After nine glorious years as senior manager across various business units in the organization, I became my third grade self again recently. And I got promoted! Oprah Winfrey once said, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” That’s my truth.
I vividly remember this life transforming moment. It was just another afternoon in Junior College (equivalent to senior year of high school) when I was walking down to the bus stop with three girls who were my only friends. They were eerily walking faster than me so I couldn’t catch up to them but stopped to turn around at one point in a very cinematic manner to imperiously tell me that they will never talk to me again. And they didn’t. The next few hours that followed that rejection were turbulent, filled with self-doubt, as if someone had pushed me into an emotional chasm.
After I came home that day, I shared what happened with my mother who was my confidant and guide. Instead of empathizing about my situation, preaching me to stay away from my friends, she simply shared some of her own stories as a young adult. Growing up, she had no friends, most of her siblings couldn’t support, her parents didn’t know how to help her, and she had to build herself up. In my case, I was not alone. I had her, my first mentor. And that was my first mentoring session. She remains one of the few mentors that I haven’t outgrown.
Through meaningful lessons while still young, I had some early wins in life that many others at that age didn’t. I knew how to be my own cheerleader, build a support system with available and willing people, being impervious to negativity, and knowing how to be authentic despite adversity. By the time I was studying and living in a new country, I was sorted. Somewhere along the way, even though I missed childhood and adolescence, my advancement, both emotional and behavioral, was unparalleled. While I appreciated the tribe that backed me, I was not afraid to walk alone.
Since, I have been looking for those three friends to thank them for evoking me understand that I am more powerful than I’d known, for teaching me to “never dim my light for anyone,” for preparing me to stand alone, to write my own story, and keep those that chose me closest to my heart. Who knows what I’d have become if they didn’t spurn. This is just one example that helped me rise like the Phoenix that rose from ashes. I often remind myself in dismal situations, “Sometimes you just have to die a little inside in order to be reborn and rise again as a stronger and wiser version of you.”
Vinayaka Chaviti or Ganesh Chaturthi has been more significant this year than previous for a few reasons. My mother made ‘undrallu’, steamed, coarsely ground rice-flour balls for the first time in the United States and I made a nearly healthy version of ‘payasam’ with coconut sugar to enable guilt free food festivities. And felt countless instilled moments of veneration, honor and devoutness for being a Hindu. My parents raised me inclusive of other religions and inculcated tolerance, the ability to never discriminate customs, and be a good human being.
After twinning with my mom, the customary puja, I stepped and in all my excitement ended up doing what has been a mythical offense. I never knew the anecdote but was always told not to look at the moon on this exact night. And not only did I glance at the moon but I must have done it several times although inadvertently. Much to my horror, my over-educated mom only reminded me of the consequences instead of telling me it is useless sentiment. Regardless, I was able to take some remedial action.
Ganesha was returning rather late one night, after a mighty feast. He had eaten too many of his much loved sweet dumplings and his ride, the mouse, was carrying his master in the air in a gamely routine. It was a full moon night and the moon was out in all his magnificence. Suddenly a snake traversed their trail and startled by it the mouse made a dash, displacing Ganesha. Ganesha fell to the ground, his belly broke open, and all the ‘modakas’ he ate rolled on to the ground.
He hastily stuffed all the ‘modakas’ back, grabbed the snake and tied it round his tummy to keep the ‘modakas’ in. When he looked around to see if he could spot his mouse when he heard a silvery laugh. The moon, having seen him fall, was laughing at him. In a fit of fury, Ganesha broke off one of his tusks and flung it at the moon, making a direct hit, and cursed that the moon would never be as glorious again.
Which is why the moon has a crater which we can see from the Earth. Hence, according to this, it is believed that one should not sight the moon on Ganesh Chaturthi. If a person sees the moon on Ganesh Chaturthi, they’ll be cursed. I was amazed how progressive the faith itself is for its teachings where someone who was made fun of was empowered to curse so the one making it would never repeat it on anyone one. I am sure if we use our powers right, we have the ability to teach anyone that intimidates, body shames and abuses, a mighty good lesson.
September 11th, the day after the festival, carries a deep significance in my heart. I was the happiest to see some people walk in the door that morning. Being new to the United States, I didn’t grasp very quickly that it was a terrorist attack. I thought it was a shoot for the ‘Pearl Harbor’ sequel until it really hit me what was happening. To this day, I am indebted for being protected by many from the hate crimes that followed, although some industries completely shut down the sponsorship program for international work visas. Getting jobs was so hard that many of my peers ended up getting multiple graduate degrees until they got a decent job. Perhaps, it was destiny that 9/11 compelled me into technology.
Both these days, I went from being the eternal optimist to feeling lost on why certain things happen just to me. But as the saying goes, “The world is so unpredictable. Things happen suddenly, unexpectedly. We want to feel we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we’re not. We are ruled by the forces of chance and coincidence,” I’ve learned to maneuver to the best I can, enjoy the opportunities, respect failures, enable myself to stand for the right thing, and do good by those around me. Such is life and I am grateful for it.
My dad was my first teacher. He spent all his life helping his extended family members. I don’t resent it. Perhaps, that was what contributed to my mother and I become the women we are. I don’t ever wish the troubles my dad went through in his life on any one. Even more I don’t wish the abuse of his corpse even for my enemies. The same people who he supported betrayed him in his after life. Nevertheless, I am grateful for my existence because of him (and my mom), the wonderful times, the emotional rollercoasters, our disagreements and debates, and the legacy he passed down to me.
Commemorating Teachers’ Day on September 5th (in India) and his 12th death anniversary, I want to share 12 things he taught me. 1. Never regret making decisions 2. Diplomacy should be one’s middle name 3. Confrontational skills are key for survival 4. Never discredit your instinct 5. Don’t hurt others and don’t let others hurt you 6. Money can ruin relationships 7. Health is wealth 8. Focus on character not reputation 9. Practice what you preach 10. Silence is the best weapon with fools 11. Make sensible boundaries in relationships 12. Secrets must die with us
Few words to all those who go through a lot in life and fail to overcome or sublimate — I hope you try and find your calling. Those who worry about perceptions, trust me when I say, they don’t matter. And for those who have no problem writing regardless of what people might think, more power to you. I got my poetic fervour from my mom but the writing is my dad. And, because of him I’ll never stop doing what I do best. Rest is in your mind.
Today and every year on August 29th, Telugu Language Day memorializing a “Day of the Telugu Language” is celebrated across the world amongst those that speak Telugu and that are of Telugu origin. This date was picked to correspond with the birthday of a Telugu poet Gidugu Venkata Ramamurthy. And despite the multiple dialects, this is one of the rare occasions where Telugu societies are wishing each other in harmony despite their innermost inconsistencies. As always, there were conjectural deliberations in our household because of the subconscious hurt and antipathy that spans eight decades for my mother and half for me. Just because we disagreed on the polar opposite sentiments that we share.
When my husband and a best friend sent ‘Happy Telugu Language Day’ wishes, ‘Amma’ (mother) started her early morning ‘suprabhatam’ (literally auspicious dawn hymn) on how ill-informed and unqualified Telugus are, in trying to reform it under the excuse of modernization of spoken dialects, and how the current leaderships (Telangana and Andhra Pradesh) are promoting a pseudo-culture that antagonizes printed etymological cohesion. And shame on me for not respecting her thoughts. I believe that before we attempt social service, our homes must be in order. Which in this case, I awkwardly pointed out how worthless it truly was that we want to do big. It was a war of words after that.
Almost in the middle of our duel we recognized that her focus was on the future of the language, mine was on the support she and I never received being Telugu women from within our families, barring the few compliments here and there, which we are very grateful. She had moved on to superior ethos while I willinglylurched in mistreatment of language towards us. No matter how much I try, my moral compass continuously seems to stop at one thought. How is one supposed to fabricate admiration and regard towards a language or its folks when experiences contradict every occurrence in life. One might say, the language should not be blamed for its misappropriation by those speaking it.
My mother’s sting is unparalleled these days as she grasps the pitiful condition of Telugu textbooks in both the Telugu speaking states. After having worked 40+ years for quality education and preservation of the language, she is now witness to moronic schemes to remove alphabets, emphatic symbols, changing inscriptions based on colloquial semantics, and founding of proceeds centered organizations whose only agenda is personal. Despite being thousands of miles away, she writes relentlessly to whoever is able to gloss her writing or hear her out. She knows too that her yeoman service will be unreservedly squandered for the two faced conducts of contemporary community.
Divergent to hers, my predispositions are my own. I admit that I have a long way to go to be enlightened like her and the rest of you who are on the path of transcendence or have achieved it already. Telugu could be called the “Italian of the East” for virtue of being mellifluous, or “Desa bhashalandu Telugu Lessa” which means “Among the nation’s languages, Telugu is the best,” by even non-Telugu poets such as Rabindranath Tagore but if the native speakers continue to abuse, bully, shame, stimulate bigotry, and making it defunct by rebuking each other’s tongues, proliferating amoeba of disparate social group based coalitions, and allowing sophisticated expatriate lingos creep into our intimacies, but if we don’t indoctrinate shared wisdom to care for it, one of world’s ancient vernaculars will end up being a fossil in our memory.
As the saying goes, “charity begins at home,” both of us have vowed to make deliberate amends in our lives. To practice the spoken language without using English words for support, nurture the art of writing and reading, and overlook the targeted hurls. My dedication towards it has lessened over the years due to infrequent use, and guzzling of my Telangana pride to radiate incredulous sophistication. “Language is the roadmap of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” At this time, it is of paramount significance to stay course to honor Telugu forefathers and leave a legacy of this golden language for our descendants.