New Year and the World at Large

Happy New Year, all! If 2015 is anything like its predecessor, then I look forward to a year of growth and discovery.

2014 was a big year for me. Yes, it was the year that I turned twenty-one years old; yes, it was the year that I ventured off to INDIA; but more importantly, it was the year when I really saw myself start to blossom as a human being. I’m starting to sound all fluffy and gushy like my mother, but I can’t help it. 2014 was just that.

So, let me proceed in chronological order. My new year’s resolution January 1, 2014 has been my most realistic thus far. I set a goal that was permanent, not a fad. As echoed through my post ” ‘Growing Up Is Hard To Do…’ But It’s Doable,” I had always been dependent on others’ opinions, their judgement. The best thing in the world could happen to me, but I would only truly feel, or allow myself to feel, happiness if someone else approved of me. Big deal about the A- in Chem;  the popular girl likes my shoes! I often thought. My insecurities were my ultimate weakness. I felt a bit empty inside, since I didn’t truly appreciate, didn’t truly love, myself. Therefore, others were able to walk in and assume dominion over me. Strong language, but yes, dominion. There’s an old adage that states, “If you live off a man’s compliments, you’ll die from his criticism.” I have amended that to, “If you live off  compliments, you’ll die of criticism.” It was as though my existence were validated through others’ compliments and recognition, that their criticism or even their silence meant that I meant nothing. Yes, teenage Jessica was very dramatic, but not surprisingly so. We live in a day and age where the prized epithets are superficial, merely speaking to our anatomy: beautiful, hot, pretty, sexy, gorgeous, big-boobed, etc.

In 2014, i vowed to be self-reliant, self-dependent. I’d be my motivation, my encouragement, my own validation. I’d be the foundation on which I would stand. After all, caskets don’t have room for bunkbeds, i.e., we face our own fates so we must form our own lives. This is not to say that I will instantly ward off compliments or critiques. We don’t live in isolation, and must deal with people. However, there is an important caveat: we must consult others for support, not for establishment. All relationships–familial, corporate, romantic–are additions to our beings, not the creation of our beings. You can help and guide me, but you won’t make me. This was my resolution made on January 1, and this was the cheer on my 21st birthday.

Also in January 2014, I took a huge leap in applying to a study-abroad program in Mussoorie, an Indian city located in the lower Himalayas. I’d always wanted to visit India, seriously. British comedy-drama Bend It Like Beckham, which tells the tale of a British-Indian girl who defies convention in pursuit of her dreams, is basically my bible. I loved reading-and still do–as a child, and the Indian receptionist at my local library always pointed me towards new genres and authors, always reminding me to follow what I love. Reading became my husband, but writing became my paramour. Putting words to paper, communicating, and dissecting meaning, are my ideas of a good time. Well, the English department sent out emails about a creative writing class in India. I felt like this was heaven-sent. A chance to follow my dream in the country of my dreams. Now, while I had embarked on a journey to self-assurance and self-confidence, I was often plagued by bouts of insecurity. Therefore, I was somewhat hesitant to apply to the program, as I was doubtful that I’d be accepted. However, I wasn’t going to punk-out on my resolution, so I applied. Thankfully,  I did, as I was accepted.

India both confirmed and disproved my ideas.  Naively, I felt that watching an Indian family as shown through Bend It Like Beckham and reading books penned by South Asian authors such as India CallingThe God of Small Things, The Tree Bride, The Namesake, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia had equipped with all the knowledge necessary.You can find out more about that in my essay, “The Girl Who Shot God.” Provocative title, I know.  Ultimately, India was symbolic for life, for the world at large. When we put ourselves out there, our ideas are both proven and disproven, but in either case, we learn. We learn how to think, how to act, and how to be. We learn about ourselves. Dhanyavad, India. I thank you immensely.

July 2014 was not only the best month of the year–it’s the perfect summer month–, but also my birth month. I turned twenty-one. I always celebrate a birthday, because it marks another year lived. However, twenty-one marked a year really live. Though it hadn’t been exactly three hundred sixty-five or sixty-six days, by my twenty-first birthday, I had taken baby steps toward being the woman I truly want to be: confident, curious, and charismatic.

Now, heere’s to 2015 and the world at large

cheers

Cheers. I’ll drink to that.

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Taking the “African” out of “American”: Raven-Symone and Political Correctness

Although Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network (pretty redundant since the “N” in the acronym stands for “network”) is not as wildly popular as her self-named talk show, at least she has this going for her: numerous interviews that she airs on OWN are hot topics in popular culture. Incendiary, they definitely are. There’s the Rihanna interview, in which the singer states that Chris Brown–her ex-boyfriend who physically assaulted her in 2009–is the love of her life. There’s the Lance Armstrong interview, in which the cyclist confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs will competing. Never falling short of delivering, Oprah recently sat down with former child-star Raven-Symone of The Cosby Show and That’s So Raven fame. Now twenty-eight years old (and looking good!) Raven sat down with the matriarch of talk shows and discussed many things: how she didn’t become an out-of control, statistical child-star; how she is in a same-sex relationship; and, oh, how she doesn’t want to be called African-American.

The whole “I’m American; not African-American” claim originated from the discussion of Raven’s sexual orientation. In the summer of 2013, Raven tweeted in support of the government’s decision to allow same-sex marriage. While not saying that she’s gay per se, Raven did say that she is now able to get married. When pressed by Oprah, Raven admits that she is, in fact, in a happy relationship with another woman, but does not label herself as “gay.” She doesn’t need a categorizing term, she feels, as she is just a human who loves other humans. Aren’t we all? On the topic of labels, Raven states that she doesn’t want to be labeled. And then, labels herself as “American” as opposed to “African-American.” Ms. Winfrey warned her against that, as she’d set Twitter ablaze with a comment that many have found self-hating. Raven responded with a statement in which she says the following:
“I never said I wasn’t black … I want to make that very clear. I said, I am not African-American. I never expected my personal beliefs and comments to spark such emotion in people. I think it is only positive when we can openly discuss race and being labeled in America.” I, for one, completely agree.

Raven has African ancestry. That’s indisputable, and she does not contest that. However, Raven is right in claiming that her roots are in the state of Louisiana. She is American. Labeling her “African-American,” whereas Tom Cruise, for example, is just “American” is really counterproductive for social progression. The modifier, the prefix, “African” sets her apart as “other.” “She’s not a regular American. No, she’s an African-American,” it essentially says. What is a regular American, you might wonder? One who is born here. I’m not saying that naturalized citizens have no claim on American identity, but just as Tom Cruise and Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise (born in California and New York, respectively) are Americans, what makes Raven different? Her ancestry should not factor into this. She is an American of African and possible Caucasian and Native American ancestry, most likely (products of colonialism). By constantly using these racial and ethnic modifiers before “American,” the people at whom they are aimed are just set up as “others.”

My parents are from the Caribbean and are now naturalized citizens. I was born in Boston, MA. No, I am not Caribbean-American, Black American, Haitian American, or whatever other modifiers could be used to describe me as someone whose ancestors originated in Africa and ended up in the Caribbean. I am an American of Haitian descent. That’s it. As someone who has lived in this country all her life thus far,and who seeks to work to make this country a better place, I do not need to be set up as an “other.” I was born here, love this country, and aim to improve. I am American. Come at me, bro. rave

Are You Catholic, Or Nah?

Seriously, I’m getting into way too many Facebook fights lately.
While that’s laughable (a bunch of keyboard warriors engaging in what appears to be a ceaseless back-and-forth dispute, my most recent one was very enlightening.
I identify generally as Christian and specifically as Catholic. No, I do not worship saints. No, I do not believe that Pope Francis, while I love the man dearly, is Christ on Earth. I believe in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the honorable examples that Christ has left. That’s what Christianity, at its core, is all about. So, a fan-page called “Catholic and Proud” is not where I’d expect to wage a fight.
On Monday, September 22, 2014, I was in my apartment, perusing my Facebook new feed, when I saw that “Catholic and Proud” made a post titled “Endless Jihad: The Truth about Islam and Violence.” I’ll admit, I did not read the article or watch the video, whatever form of media this message is. I did not and still do not need to. The title alone is worn, abasing, and going against one of the main points of Christianity, and, if I’m not mistaken, our monotheistic brethren as well: judgement.

“Jihad” is a religious holy war, many believe. Fundamentally, it comes from the Arabic word for “struggle,” and perhaps even “self-struggle,” à la “mien kampf.” Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS/ISL/whatever name they’re using now, are all jihadist groups. They, ISIS especially, hope for utopian world: one in which sharia law reigns supreme.
To see the jihadists, or “mujahideen,” as they’re known in Arabic, as representative of the entire Muslim faith is to say that all Christian figureheads—pastors, deacons, priests, the whole lot–are pedophiles because some priests were. All Christians then must be as mean-spirited as the Westboro Baptist Church. I struck a nerve there, didn’t I? Good, because I intended to.

This is real life, not a passage from some Roman or Greek epic poem. Synecdoches have no place here. Seeing the mujahideen as representative of everyone who identifies as Muslim is ignorance. SO, I let the people at “Catholic and Proud” know. I commented the following:

” We can’t judge an entire religion based off some of its adherents.
Does the word ‘Crusades’ ring a bell for anyone? How about the
Spanish Inquisition? I’m Catholic, but I don’t agree with this post.
I have a Muslim friend who is as sweet as pie. Doesn’t mean that all
Muslims are like this, or that they’re all bad. You can’t judge the
whole based off a few. Recall the Gospel: you who are without sin may
cast the first stone.”
To that, some girl responded:

“Yes Jessica as the article clearly states not every Muslim is violent!
But a 15 to 25% of these Muslims jihadists would happily cut your head
off for being a Christian. Islam is a huge threat to the western world.”

SO, this girl went from saying that 15% to 25% of these Muslim jihadists (which is somewhat redundant, no? Jihadists are Radical Muslims) would happily cut off my head, and thereby pose a threat, to saying that Islam itself is a threat to the Western world. We went from 25 to 100 “real quick,” as Drake would say. I do not agree with any jihadist, especially since the Quran itself, the Holy Book of Islam, decries coercion as having no place in it. Secondly, no religion that worships a peace-loving God, who is heralded as the ultimate judge, has any right to sentence anyone to death. However, this girl needs to realize that 15% to 25% of the population is not the same as the whole. Sorry, synecdoche, but
no

Let’s be clear: Islam is not a threat to the Western world. Jihad is a threat to all the world!
ISIS, on its mission of jihad, has slaughtered numerous Christians, Yazidis, and even Muslims who don’t follow Islam as they see fit. Do the deaths of the aforementioned casualties have no validity because of their location in the East? Of course not.

I decry the mujahideen, not the peace-loving Muslims who live their lives hurting no one. I proudly identify as Catholic, but I would hate to have someone assume that I’m going to force my Christianity on him because that’s what the Crusades were al about. Just because some men, under the guise of clerical authority, abused some children does not mean that I am a pedophile ( I like full-grown men at least three years older than I, thank you very much).

I have my faults, but I consider myself a good person, a good Catholic. I am kind and loving. I stand up to injustice in the manners possible to me. I don’t agree with ISIS, but I won’t think that Mesut Ozil, for example, is bad just because he is Muslim. That is stupid. Again, this isn’t an epic poem; synecdoches can get you in trouble. I am proud of myself as a Catholic, especially because I do not judge. Perhaps, this is a lesson. Over the summer, I had encountered a Muslim woman who informed me that I, a Catholic, would go to hell for not being Muslim. Following that incident, I tried to avoid Muslim people at all costs. One of my elementary-school friends converted to Islam a while back, and it pained me deeply to shun her. To this day, I am ashamed of myself for that. I am an American, but I am not like the Unabomber. Synecdoches: uggh, I detested them in A.P. Latin, and I detest them more in actual life.

The Fappening: The War on Women and Why You Shouldn’t Look at the Pictures

Unless you have been living under a rock (which, I might add, isn’t comfortable; see a chiropractor a.s.a.p.) and away from social media, then let me enlighten you: towards the beginning of September, nude photos of Kate Upton and the chosen Jennifer Lawrence hit the internet. Dubbed “The Fappening,” (after the fap , or male manual stimulation), it serves as a glaring reminder that in the world of technology, there really is no such thing as privacy. Numerous female celebrities have been hit: Hayden Panetierre, Kim kardashian, Gabrielle Union, Kaley Cuoco, Vanessa Hudgens, Amber Heard, and Rihanna. These are just a few, the tip of the perverted iceberg. Some might disagree that the hacker/s is/are perverted, for the woman whose pictures have been published v “should have known better” than to take nude photos of themselves. This victim-blaming is despicable because it further emphasizes the notion that women have no right over their bodies. THAT, my readers, is a problem.

I absolutely adore Jennifer Lawrence. While I am not the biggest fan of the Hunger Games franchise (dystopian novels just aren’t my thing), I love what she stands for. She doesn’t believe that one has to fit a certain physical mold in order to be successful, and (cue the cliche) that it’s one’s internal content that counts: courage and valor supersede superficiality. It recently came to light that she has a no-nudity clause in all her contracts, and refuses to ever bare it all for the camera. I applaud her for that. Now, that is not to say that females who do bear themselves before the camera are not as virtuous or noble. There is no correlation here between external appearance and internal character. Lawrence does not need to provide any further explanation aside from “I choose not to,” just as Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, whose nude pictorials are public knowledge, have every right to bare themselves as they so choose. The point here is choice. It’s about hegemony. When it comes to the world and any social interactions, these women have the choice as to how they want themselves to be portrayed. Wanna show your areola? Go ahead. Want to not show them? Go ahead. Whatever you want to do with your body.
So, when Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos were leaked, I could hear the utterance of “Hypocrite!” and “That’s what she gets” from miles away. Ummm, semantics lesson. Hypocrisy is turning the other cheek, when one does not practice what one preaches. How is Lawrence hypocritical in taking these in pictures? She chooses not to appear naked on-screen. Nudity, she feels, has no place in her professional life. Whether these photos were taken for a lover, for fun, or even to document some physical journey (weight loss, for example), she did these personally. There is a separate of spheres here, people. Please acknowledge that. Jennifer’s actions were in no way hypocritical. Her body is hers for the using, and what she chooses to do with it is her choice. More importantly, she chooses to whom it is revealed. Whether the iCloud system is faulty or not, the real breach here is both a breach of privacy as well as of ethics.
Now, let’s move on to Kim Kardashian . I’m not the biggest Kim Kardashian fan, just because I don’t like the whole playing-dumb thing. That’s my choice. I don’t agree with her on that, but one, here life is not for me to approve or disapprove. Her life, her choices. She has shown her naked body in magazines, and some of her Instagram shots aren’t exactly G-rated either. Kim Kardashian is her body, as far as her career (TV shows, endorsements, magazine covers) is concerned. Yet, just as the publishing of Jennifer Lawrence’s hacked photos is despicable, so is that of Kim Kardashian’s. A media-loving Instagram junkie, if Kim Kardashian wanted these photos to be public, she would have publicized them long ago. These photos were private, and she had the final say-so as to their distribution. No matter what you think about Kardashian, and whether or not you agree with her choices, she is still a human being with the fundamental right to privacy.

This scandal is an invasion. Gabrielle Union has gone as far as to label this a “hate crime.” I agree completely. If you disagree with that label, consider the following story. Emma Watson, beloved actress and new ambassador to the United Nations, gave a moving speech about gender equality. Quickly thereafter, Business Insider reports that a user on 4chan, the site responsible for the hacking, published a countdown until Watson’s personal photos would be published. Coincidence? Definitely not. It’s as if those behind this countdown thought to themselves, How dare this woman speak out about gender equality? Does she not know that she has no rights? Hmmm, well, she’ll learn pretty soon.

Is this a new war on women? I don’t think so, because I don’t believe that there was a ever an end to the war. perhaps some cease-fires, but that’s about it. This scandal is just reminding us that many in society do not believe that we have the rights to our own bodies. Saying that the aforementioned women should have known better than to take pictures is truly analogous to saying that I shouldn’t use my Macbook Pro in the library–a public space–because someone may want to steal it. If it is stolen and I am physically injured in the process, it is, ultimately, my fault. Yes, we should proceed with caution in all aspects of life, because the hunter-hunted dynamic is always there; however, those who get off on taking away basic human rights are the real despicable ones.

The Girl Who Shot God

Based off a chance encounter.

Namaste! Namaste! Please take some flowers!” As the assailant approached me, I could not help but marvel at the innocence of her youth. It is quite scandalous, really—not to mention ironic and unsettling—that hallowed grounds often provide the stage for ungodly activity, such as assault, theft, and murder. Under the gleam of Hindu holiness, Rishikesh was a sociological battlefield onto which I unknowingly stepped foot. As I, the American, sauntered into the shrine with a sense of assurance, an adolescent, flower-bearing femme fatale found her target. Draped in my sense of Western imperialism and superiority, I exchanged pleasantries with her. The guru gently grazed the gong, signaling the night’s religious ceremonies. The sound assumed a foreboding rhythm. Save yourself, it seemed to warn me. Then it happened: her comrades swarmed in, and I was surrounded. The struck cymbal and my hastening heart scored my impending peril. This is Uttarakhand, battleground of a new holy war. Swagat. Welcome.

The shrine of Krishna, the Hindu god of love and divine joy, crowns Rishikesh in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Tourists and Hindu adherents—Indians and non-Indians alike—flock like brokers around this Columbia-blue gem. It salutes the Ganges River, an alluring, aquatic diamond emblematic of purity and regeneration. These precious stones of landmarks exude the majesty and resplendence of Hindu India. So who would have foreseen that this holy Hindu ground would serve as the frontline for my sociological annihilation? I sure as nirvana did not.

“I’m Padma.” She approaches me first. She wears a wrinkled, black-and-white striped shirt paired with tattered yellow pants, and her feet are painted with sand. An alluring amulet—Ohm—anoints her dirt-poor décolleté, but in India, peace and serenity seem to only associate with the affluent. The U.S. battlegrounds in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the explosive Middle East are within an airplane wing’s reach, but I unknowingly stare terror in the eye. She moves closer to me, and I become comfortable. I, an experienced introvert—tenured in the art of shyness, with a PhD. in Avoiding Social Situations Altogether—am in INDIA socializing. Look at me, mom! Perusing my facial expression and demeanor, she reads my résumé:  First-time visitor, surely; American, most likely; Perfect target, definitely. At this, it seems, her allies come and surround me. Vultures around a carcass.

As Hindu incantations orchestrate around us, Padma and associates, in retrospect, seem to telepathically discuss their battle strategy. They offer me diyas, clay oil lamps that hold marigolds and a candle. Hindus ceremoniously set them afloat down the Ganges as an offering to Ganga, the resident goddess. Here I am, the non-Indian, the non-Hindu, and these Indian kids embrace me. I become one inclusive thread in this sacred fabric. Through these diyas, I feel that these kids are symbolically offering themselves to me: they are like the flowers, budding, captivating, and inviting. With my brown skin, black hair, and sixty-three-inch frame, you would not think it, but in accepting the diyas, I was Sally Field winning the Academy Award for Norma Rae: Those kids, they liked me. They really, really liked me. I was so taken aback by this act of kindness that I practically fell into the Ganges.

She is a stunner, this Padma. Naturally endowed with the fair skin, contoured face, esthetic nose, and cascading, raven hair that Photoshop, cosmetic surgeons, and L’Oreal Paris® futilely strive to replicate, she is a sure contender for Aishwarya Rai’s and Priyanka Chopra’s Miss World titles. Eye-balling it, she appears to stand at four feet and nine inches tall. One look into her café-au-lait eyes, however, suggests to me that she has witnessed more than her halted height would seem to permit. This beauty queen seemed out of place in her dirty, probably one-size-too-small clothes. Such a contrast. I felt that she held an untold story, that many a moment had left this breath-taker breathless.

She bears the embellishment of a crescent moon above her right cheekbone, mute testimony, I felt, to some tragedy.  My senses had only been privy to her name and her beauty, but that was enough for me to construct her life story.  She was a blank slate that I painted. “How close will you be to Pakistan?” a classmate’s panicking mother asked upon learning that we would be venturing this far eastward. If danger was perceived for us foreigners, then, I assumed, that the desis themselves—natives of the Indian sub-continent—must be living a constant reality of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

I pieced together some of the free-floating, South Asian fragments in my mind. I had taken a post-colonial literature class in the fall, after all, so I felt equipped to “re-create” the puzzle of her life. Pakistani jihadists. The answer was simple.  I reasoned that those martyrs—fighting in the name of Allāhu Akbar—must have waged war on her homeland, and that the moon must be her battle scar. Oh yeah, Kashmir is always in the news, I remembered. In fact, during its four-century-long rule by Muslims, Kashmir was at one point ruled by Rajit Singh from Lahore. And what do you know, Lahore is in Pakistan. That’s it. She must be a Kashmiri displaced by some fundamental Pakistani Islamists. That was how she got the moon.

My (re-) creation of Padma’s history segued into Punjab. Bend It Like Beckham (2003) introduced me to this northern Indian state, and this Parminder Nagra- and Keira Knightley-led flick just so happens to be my favorite movie ever. So, Punjab earned a comfortable, sequential place in Padma’s story. I saw Padma and her father—named “Mrinal,” like my ex-boyfriend who now attends the University of Southern California—staying with family there, still in harm’s way, however, since this breadbasket of a state is split between India and Pakistan.

Padma and Mrinal were staying with her aunt Kalpana (à la my academic advisor) and her uncle Jamal (the protagonist from Slumdog Millionaire). Uncle Jamal was like a vicarious version of me, for he had scrutinized her moon-shaped scar in the same way that I was beginning to: mythologically, portentously. The creation—err, conversation—went as follows one night over a feast of delectable, desi cuisine:  “It is a gift from Diana,” Jamal said, and I was thinking. “Who?”  Padma questioned, scrunching up her eyebrows in confusion the same way that I did when a Delhi hotel clerk joked that even the water is spiced here in India.  “Diana, the Greek goddess of the moon.” Uncle Jamal and I had both taken courses in Classical Mythology during our undergraduate years—he at the University of Pennsylvania, and I with the Jesuits at Boston College.

“We read a lot of my good friend Homer,” I pictured him elaborating, speaking as though Homer were a long-time friend, and not an eighth-century Greek who might not have even existed.  Though Western, Diana made perfect sense in my construction of an Eastern narrative. The Greeks believed —as did the Romans, who named her “Artemis,”—that Diana protected her people. “Your scar,” I saw Uncle Jamal pointing with a folded chapatti, garnished with dal, “is a gift from her.” This made perfect sense. My dad was wrong. My Classical Studies training did come in handy.

And yet, religion did initially seem like an odd cast member to my story. Okay, so maybe Padma and her family had not gotten into a standoff with some radical Pakistani Muslims. Maybe. I was willing to budge on that. However, it was definite—as her beggar status and clothes communicated—that she was working because she did not have sufficient, life-sustaining money. So, how could she believe in any god, Hindu, Muslim, Zoroastrian, or whatever? one might wonder. I took creative license anyway, and welcomed aboard my new cast member, for I felt that since I am American, American, and God shed his grace on me, whatever I mixed together in the potluck of my mind would produce an edible, logical stew.

“Fifty rupees, madam! Fifty rupees!” the kids demanded. What?. I looked at them, and no longer had that innocent representation in my mind. My mom had always pointed out—in both French and English—my character flaw.  Apparently, I reside in the land of the figurative, not of the literal. Suddenly, Julia Roberts came to mind. Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias. You know the expression: soft on the outside, tough-as-nails on the inside. So were these kids. So was Padma. Here was I in the low-budget, indie flick Steel Marigolds. I was surrounded by about six kids all less than my twenty years of age, and adrenaline went on a rollercoaster ride in my veins. I was in the middle of heavy fire, and had left my right to bear arms back in Massachusetts. I wonder what Ebert & Roper would say about this one.

“Fifty rupees!” When I looked down, and saw Padma’s outstretched palm, demanding payment, I was shocked. I realized that I was really looking at a stranger, one who appeared to be holding me for ransom. I, the ever-so-sure American, was dumbfounded, had no idea what to do. Thankfully, Joanne, one of the adults accompanying me to Rishikesh, came to my rescue. I had probably stumbled over my draping sense of superiority and imperialism that I had missed her command to evacuate the premise. She haggled with these kids, giving about ten rupees each, as opposed to the insisted fifty. The kids looked defeated. They were not the only ones who felt that way.

Ever the melodramatic, I walked away feeling betrayed. That night, we sat by the banks of the Ganges honoring Mother Ganga for…I don’t remember. I really wasn’t concentrating on the ceremony. Heck, a little boy, barely ambulatory, was waving around fire close to me, and I didn’t even know until classmates informed me later on. A little girl with the moon on her face had taken my mind hostage. All she wanted was my money. We had no friendship. I was just a business transaction. I found it ironic that in this holy place especially, a rupee note, graced by the face of Mahatma Gandhi—peace and harmony personified—proves divisive, able to generate both socio-economic comfort and calamity. With the thought of fifty rupees—less than 1 USD, no skin off my nose—Padma took away my assurance and certainty.

My visa application lists “tourism” for my purpose of travel, but I entered India as Christopher Columbus. I had not only gone to discover, but, in a way, to conquer. That night claimed many casualties. My ignorance.  The right that I felt to impose my beliefs on others and to construct their lives based on nothing but some aspects of my own life. Forget the Great Ganga. I was God. I had breathed life into this inanimate object and personalized her. Made her real. Who was Padma without me? Then it hit me. Somebody. She was somebody. She was somebody before she met me. She would always be a somebody.  I did not really know this girl. I felt uneasy. Padma had shot me in the chest—figuratively speaking, of course—where my major symbolic organs—omniscience, omnipotence, and superiority—were situated. It was like a National Geographic special, Indian edition. The arrogant, know-it-all leopard encounters an elephant and realized that he is not sovereign after all. Through Padma, I was confronted by the grave realization that I don’t know everything, and that presuming to can get me into trouble.

I know what you are probably thinking—how could someone possibly create a story like that and actually believe it? This story is somewhat symbolic, metaphorical. Now, if I had discovered that Padma did not, in fact, have an uncle named Jamal who attended the University of Pennsylvania, for example, I would not have been so shocked. It is not the specificity of assumptions that matters, but rather, the act of assuming itself. I entered a situation and assumed this sense of pride due to my assumptions, and walked away ever the ignorant.

I left India with luggage that thankfully did not exceed the fifty-pound limit for a free checked bag. I took back some stunning jewelry, flavorful tea, and let’s not forget hair products. Indians have the best hair. My inner deity, however, was interred in India. The God inside me died, but there is no void—either literally or figuratively. A person is now growing in Her place, one who is imperfect and learning not to judge.