Identity crisis, phrase which made me make snarky and sarcastic remarks before. Some psycho babble used to describe something which is of no importance and at one time I believed it to be just plain false. How can one have crises with who they are? It is just coddling and over analyzing done by overpaid psychoanalysts. All these opinions were in for a shock, as I faced an identity crisis myself and came out with a better understanding of who I am. However we might claim to know ourselves, trust me there is always some part of you that will surprise you.
This all began with my leaving India for higher studies in US. Unlike most people who are in total awe of US and its culture when they get there, I was not at all impressed and wished to go back for the first few months. Most of the Indians do not feel homesick as soon as they land. The land is new, people are new, and there are many things to get done and many things to enjoy. The realization that they are very far away from home and comfort creeps in after a few months and then they get extremely homesick. Start waking their family members up at 5AM IST just to have a chat, spend long weekends with Skype constantly on etc. They initially love US and then as time goes by, start seeing its fallacies and start missing India. For me it was exact opposite. For the first few months all I saw was how wrong this country is, how everything is skewed and how misfit this is for me. Within 6 months things had changed, with all its fallacies USA had grown on me. When the average Indian expat starts hating USA I was falling in love. It was never love at first sight but after a long fight I had finally relented and let the country grow on me.
My reasons for loving US are completely and drastically different from the general Indian population. I was not here for money, or comfort. I was fortunate enough to have enough of it back home. So what brought me to this land? It was a search, a search to find a society and people that were congenial to my thought process. I am an extremely open minded person who can go to lengths that can shock the bleeping daylights of average Indian person. What I realized early on was that, I was different. Indian society for all its virtues still tries to normalize and box a person up for the collective good. At a certain age, a person should have passed his 12th standard exam, at a certain age his first degree, at certain age a job, then marriage, then kids and so it goes. While I understand that it is a very helpful anthropological means to normalize and sustain a society, there are many personal casualties and a much bigger price is paid for this normalization. Most of these sacrifices are easily tolerable to most people and hence the cart keeps on rolling. Unfortunately for me it is not so. I cannot possibly conform to a timeframe for everything and frankly I am not even sure of the event frame either.
What follows is a very honest description of a time in my life which I am not very proud of. With this hatred of boxing and normalization in mind, I set out differentiating myself from the other Indians here. My only mission was to be “as not Indian” as possible. Many a times (and I am ashamed of this now) I was mistaken for being someone else (Spanish, Latino, Brazilian, Arabic) and I didn’t correct the person. I avoided the Indian community and my fellow students. I hung out exclusively with other Indians who were trying to do the same, other International students and Americans. In lieu of being “anti Indian” I started doing things which were stereotypical of western culture. As this article is going to be on the Internet I would rather not disclose the details but let’s say that the average Indian student here doesn’t do all that and to be honest it was fun. I will not say that it was wrong or immoral because for me it was not and is still not. Most of it was something very good. I was working out, eating healthy, engaged in University things, and became part of student government, part of numerous committees/organizations. For that time my identity was that I was no longer an “Indian” Indian. With all the partying and fun on the outside, inside was forming a giant storm of confused feelings which will soon explode into an identity crisis. I was about to experience the first hand what I thought was psycho babble.
One fine day, things changed. Due to financial reason (Another thing America taught me; Personal financial responsibility) I had to move in with a group of Indians. The world had collapsed around me. I was part of the crowd I hated, part of crowd I made fun of. While in my mind I was “anti Indian” Indian, by association I was as Indian as it can get. Everything was different now. The food (I had actually quit eating Indian food daily), the behavior, and the methods everything was different. As I started observing my Indian roommates I realized that I am like them. If I am “not Indian” because I made myself out to be and then if I am intrinsically like the other Indians, what exactly is my identity? Then I asked myself the dreaded question “Who am I?” opening up a floodgate of Identity problems.
One thing that has helped me immensely through this confusing identity problem was my open mind. The same open mind that drove me to do crazy things without inhibition also opened up the possibility that maybe this is not me. Maybe I am not meant to be “not Indian”. The more I thought about the two extremes, more I found myself adjusting to the current situation. After initial few months of total chaos, I finally managed to find equilibrium. I had already realized that I am not meant to be the total “software job and a minivan with two kids” Indian a long time ago, now was the time to realize that I am not mean to be an American either. I was between the two somewhere. Pointing it out and calling it a name is very difficult and most people won’t understand the concept but for me it is a place which I identify with.
I still retain many aspects of my previous lifestyle. I still workout, eat healthy, follow American news, politics, and sports and engage in the community. Do a lot of things average Indian would never do. What has gone is the desire to separate myself from my brethren. While I realize I am not like them in some aspects I realized that I am like them in many others. Looking back now, all the crazy things I did for standing out seem stupid but they were my stupid mistakes and I own them and carry them around without shame. As a professional, living independently, I have come to a perfect synergy with myself. After a long search I can say that I found myself, my identity within.