The Familiarity of Music
Mahi Nagar, Honorable Mention
I was lost in America. At the age of eleven, I had grown accustomed to the normalcy of India and struggled to transition into a culture so different from my own. Trying to maneuver my way through American tradition had left me baffled. The malls were too big, the food too bland, the weather too cold, and the people too foreign. I missed the familiarity of India and the intimidating blur of new faces and fast dialect made me terrified of America.
I persistently felt like an outsider in America. I tried to perfect the way I talked and walked to fit in with the blue eyed twins who giggled every time I sat beside them in biology. I was ashamed of my distinct upbringing, so I tried to emulate the personalities of my classmates. I traded spicy Indian food for a bland peanut butter sandwich instead. I mimicked the dialogues of countless Hollywood movies in order to rid myself of my prominent accent. I renounced all the culture and tradition that I once celebrated with pride. I was changing who I was in order to belong and I was willing to rebel against my character if it meant I could become a part of American society.
There were times when my eyes would well up with tears from the stress of having to constantly monitor my behavior. My unhappiness made me cold and distant, and my parents noticed the dark bubble that had engulfed my personality. My father believed I needed to reconnect with music to break out of my misery and insisted that I accompany him to his music school. I had always wrinkled my nose at his request, but he kept insisting until I reluctantly agreed. My distaste, however, turned into amazement as soon as the powerful ragas sang by my father’s students transformed the cold, white walls of the studio into an atmosphere that breathed pure energy. The windows shook as the energy of the room expanded and contracted to match the rhythmical tune of the raga. My feet felt the the ground rumble with each musical note sung and for the first time in months, I felt like I belonged.
Music returned to me what popularity or acceptance could not: my identity. Listening to those ragas destroyed all my previous attempts of trying to withdraw from India. They reminded me of my grandfather and his aged hands travelling across the keys of his harmonium. They were those hot Indian summer nights spent singing with my aunt on her roof. They made me nostalgic for the hours I spent as a child learning to sing the seven basic notes of music. Classical Indian music is my culture and I realized that renouncing it would mean erasing all those beautiful memories. How could I reject India when its music was the only thing that made me belong in a country thousands of miles away?