Apr 272010

I spent several hours last night reading my current novel, “Secret Daughter” by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, which I finished. It was compelling and easy to read, making the time fly by. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more. I kept wondering what was going to happen next. Some parts were difficult to read, particularly the specific references to incidents at the slum community called “Dharavi” in Mumbai.

It was also difficult to read the beginning reference to female infanticide and later blatant promotion in a village of gender selection ultrasounds. The references were made more difficult as a new mother to a daughter. I pushed through the challenging and moving descriptions to discover a story about family connections, love, overcoming obstacles, and hope.

Gowda’s debut novel is impressive in its descriptions, imagery, and character development. You begin to feel you personally know the characters, sympathize with them, and rejoice with them. The novel made difficult and endearing statements about South Asian culture.

Above all, “Secret Daughter” is about the love and connection between a mother and her daughter, making it a perfect novel to read in commemoration of Mother’s Day.


A Married Freshman

 Cultural Confusion, Transition  Comments Off on A Married Freshman
Dec 162009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is
In one of the three meetings with my fiance, he informed me about an Indian ex-girlfriend from graduate school he had wanted to marry, but she wasn’t of the Brahmin caste, so his parents had not approved. I encouraged him to see that route through and tried to be a friend. It turned out that she was brought up for the entire 5 years I was with him, with her living in the same state and his calling her whenever there was a conflict with me and called her from work. He had even disappeared one night. He later found out, as we were divorcing, that she had been with all his friends in graduate school, yet he still hoped to be with her. I determined that he was looking for a green card through me.

I was legally married 1/30/87, while still 18, with my mother and sister as witnesses. My mother wanted to make sure I didn’t back out. I was to have a regular Indian ceremony in June. I was in the middle of school and my fiance had even come to a class with me. I think I even told a teacher we were getting married later that day. Immediately after the court wedding, my new husband went back to Pittsburgh and I continued my classes at UNC-Charlotte. Shortly after, my new father-in-law in India was ill and I thought it was my duty to accompany my husband to India and try to help out. Wrong!


Tensions Erupt

 Cultural Confusion, Transition  Comments Off on Tensions Erupt
Dec 102009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is
Shortly before expecting to go away to college, pressures and conflicts at home got to be too much and after a violent triggering event at home and then not sleeping for three days and much public drama, I ended up in the hospital for three weeks. Part of the time was to put weight on me, as I had lost about 40 lbs (from 95lbs).

What was also traumatic was the response from the Indian community. Meetings were held about me, led it seemed by my best friend’s mother. It was assumed drugs were behind what happened to me, which was completely false (I was never around them). During this time, my admission to Carolina was apparently canceled by my family, along with my dreams of my future. I went from being considered a star in the community to being maligned. At a gathering, I overheard a man say that they didn’t bring their kids to Charlotte because of me. A friend asked why I was smiling at another gathering.

My mother decided that a solution to this problem (and disgrace) would be to get me married. A 24 year-old software engineer in Pittsburgh was chosen. I saw him three times and after reviewing his resume that showed a 4.0, I tried to speak up for my life and stated I didn’t want to marry him. I was not his employer and his GPA was irrelevant. He began to cry. My mother told me to not be rude to him. So this meant I was supposed to marry him? My father stated that they would take my car away and not let me go to the local university. I was further told that they were planning to move to India and they needed to sell the house. So I was supposed to get married to accommodate their desire to move to another country, away from all 4 kids. This was 1986 and they did not actually move until 1992, two years after I graduated from college and a year after my arranged marriage ended (after 5 years).

I started to see that the only way to leave my family and the trapped environment would be to marry this man and move to another city. This would lead me to transfer from UNC-Charlotte to The University of Pittsburgh, eventually, as that would be near my future husband’s home. I lost my scholarships and aid from Carolina and still carry student loan debt for U-Pitt.


Almost to College

 Transition  Comments Off on Almost to College
Dec 022009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is
By the summer of 1985, my remaining two older siblings at home got married to individuals in India who moved into our home. Tensions were thick. By the end of my junior year of high school that year, my social life had revolved around the Indian community outside of school and a close-knit group of peers from India in School. We referred to ourselves as the “Breakfast Club.” There was one of us that represented every character in the movie. I did not fit in school the older I got, as I was not allowed to participate in the activities the others did, such as spending the night, going to parties, concerts, sports, or other school functions.

By the Spring of ’86, I had been directing a community Indian radio program for at least the past year for free. I considered it an opportunity for preteens and teens to gain self-confidence through announcing on the radio. Creating radio ads with my Breakfast Club was fun. I was also working at 2 part-time jobs and started college before finishing high school. I wanted to get ahead. I was ambitious and looked forward to graduation and beginning my life on my own. I participated in extra-curricular activities such as the Debate Team and managed to keep my grades up. I was accepted to UNC-Chapel Hill as I hoped and looked forward to getting to know myself and all I could do. In June I graduated from high school with honors and turned 18 June 9. I was getting A’s in my college classes.

At orientation at Carolina, I met up with some of my friends that were already there. I took my tests and learned which my dorm room would be. It happened to be one of the most coveted. There were some people I recognized who would also be in the dorm that I looked forward to getting to know. I came across debate club, theater, and social activist groups I wanted to take part of. My heart seemed to connect to so much. I enjoyed my debate club experiences and succeeding at original oratory which I wanted to continue. I was still uncertain as to whether to pursue international studies, journalism, or consider psychology. I couldn’t wait to be involved in the different extra-curricular activities, to have the freedom to become who I wanted to be, and freedom from the stress at home.
I had no idea that I would never make it there.


Formative Years

 Adaptation, Transition  Comments Off on Formative Years
Nov 192009

Being South Asian in the South is an intriguing concept. This is is
We moved to Charlotte, NC around ’83 when I entered the eighth grade in Jr. High School, when I was about 12. I experienced my formative years there felt that I was setting some roots.

I was busy as a babysitter at 12 and then started selling Avon at 13, becoming one of the top 20 sellers in my area. My customers wanted to know how I looked so young and bought products from me to look as young. This successful experience instilled a permanent sense of being an entrepreneur in my psyche.

One of the women I babysat for in the neighborhood was a nurse and writer for a parenting magazine. She told me that if you want to be a writer, become an expert in something else, so you can write about that. I kept that in mind and my fascination with being a writer settled somewhere in my mind. It turned out that the topic I most wanted to write about was life, feeling I had lived enough to have many thoughts and questions. I seemed to always have an essay going on in my head. Was everyone else like this? Did everyone else analyze and question life as I did? At 12, I had a health exam while on a trip to India. The female doctor only stated to my mom, “she thinks too much.”

As a preteen, I won an essay contest, further encouraging my interest and confidence in writing. English had become easier and easier and I found comfort and release in expressing myself through writing. I continued to have an essay brewing in my head. When speaking with friends, the conversation seemed to always veer towards the topic of life. So much so that when there was a game of charades, one of my peers pretended to call someone and started talking about life. Everyone immediately knew it was me who was being impersonated.


Moving and School Life

 Adaptation, Transition  Comments Off on Moving and School Life
Nov 142009

My fate improved greatly when I moved from Winchester, MA to Commack, Long Island, NY at the age of 9. I missed the hills in the back of the duplex where we used to go sledding and my friend Magda. Long Island was much more liberal, I found, than Winchester—even with 9-year-olds. I was fortunate to experience a much more open culture where I was accepted, could fit in and blossomed more. I went from being the unpopular odd-ball who wore a “bindi” (dot on the forehead) and who didn’t eat meat to being the class president of my fourth grade. There was of course one incident when I ended up wrestling someone to the ground (she attacked me), because I was eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich and wouldn’t eat her chicken.

Other than that, Old Farms elementary school in Long Island seemed quite liberal to me. Kids were now fighting at lunch to be able to sit next to me. I didn’t know what to think of it. You can see the wide smile on my face in my third-grade picture. By the fourth grade, I consistently scored higher in vocabulary than my classmates. My teacher would remark to the others how despite just having learned the language, I was doing better than them and that they should work harder. I enjoyed being compared to in a positive light. I was finally getting some approval.

Before long (within two years), my family was moving to Tennessee. I was now a 5th grader and adjusting to differences in the people around me. I was lucky to have a 25-year-old teacher by the name of Ms. Sams, who forever helped me to believe in myself. Ms. Sams seemed to take a special interest in helping my reading and writing to improve. Initially, I was in the lowest reading/writing group, until getting to the highest, partly with the encouragement provided by Ms. Sams through words and even little prizes for progress. This instilled confidence in me. She also taught me about American culture. When I received a heart-shaped box full of chocolates from a male classmate who stated that he wanted “to go out with me,” I asked “where?” Ms. Sams explained his romantic interest in me.

School started to become the structured place I could count on to balance the kind of upbringing I was getting at home. It was reliable and predictable, starkly different from my home life. This gap began to increase and become more prominent as I grew older—through college. It was my safety zone. It was a world where I learned about the world beyond my home. I loved to learn new things. During the summers, my favorite activity had become to play “school.”

We moved every two years, from the north to the South. I did not fit in school the older I got, as I was not allowed to participate in the activities the others did, such as spending the night, going to parties, concerts, sports, or other school functions. Finally, we settled in NC for some of my formative years. I went to Junior High, High School and one year of college there.

High School Mascot

High School Mascot


A New Life and an Unexpected Visit

 Adaptation, Transition  Comments Off on A New Life and an Unexpected Visit
Nov 132009

In Winchester, MA, I had been the oddball kid who didn’t know the language. Therefore I was stupid. I must have believed it. I remembered crying under a tree during recess because no one would play with me. I progressed to not being included on any athletic teams in gym class. I did not look forward to the assigning of teams: one individual for both sides would be picked. Those individuals would pick the rest of their team. It was a horrible feeling being the only one left and ending up on the team that had to take me. I recall the team captain’s face as if he was just handed chopped liver.

Within two years after moving to the states, my maternal grandmother in Pakistan passed away. I had never met her, my maternal grandfather, or my paternal grandmother, all whom lived in a small village in the Eastern part of Pakistan. I had met my paternal grandfather when he visited us in India. My parents’ ancestral homes were somewhat close to each other in the desert town. Their marriage was arranged when they were in their teens and my oldest two siblings, a sister, and then a brother, were born in the village, in my mother’s home. Another sister and I were born in Bengal, India, after my parents, along with many other Hindus, moved to India. Since I had never been to Pakistan before, I had the privilege of accompanying my mother on the trip for her mother’s funeral. I guided my mother on the international flight, showing her which gate we needed to take, as she could not read English.

I spent most of my time in Pakistan with two maternal cousins, particularly the older one, closest to my age. We had fun camping out with cows and staying up to make cow patties for fuel. My grandfather would just shake his head at me and exclaim at what a girl from America was doing. He was the kindest, most gentle man I have ever known. He was a judge in his town and very religious. He spent much of his time while I was there meditating and praying at the temple in the house. He taught me how to make chai from scratch. Before we returned to the states, he informed me that he wanted to join his deceased wife and could not come to the US as I wanted. The connection and respect I felt for him enabled me to accept his desire and say goodbye. When we heard the news of his passing once we were the in the US, I did not cry. I did not feel that he was gone, but perhaps transcended to be my guardian angel. India07, KSB, family 150a


Leaving my Village

 Adaptation, Transition  Comments Off on Leaving my Village
Oct 282009

JaipurLooking back on my life in the village until I was 7, I feel that it was over-all positive. It was the third home I had by the age of 7, that I was aware of. My parents had already moved a few times in India after moving from Pakistan, their ancestral home. The frequent moves would continue for a significant part of my life.

One late evening, my mother had us prepare for a trip. My sisters and brother, along with my mother and a family friend, sneaked out in the middle of the night for what was to be the next chapter in my life. I recall the trip vividly. I remember the sound of the train as night turned to dusk, the dull echo as it crossed a gorge. I remember looking out and being afraid of the height and the expanse of space in front of me. I had not been on a train prior to this experience that I could recall. I vaguely recalled hearing about the distant city of Jaipur and how I wanted to travel there.

On what turned out to be my last night in the village in October of 1974, I reached home to find my mother hurrying me inside. I saw about 10 bags packed and I was urged to hurry up and eat as we were about to leave to see “papa” – who lived across the oceans in a land they called America. We were sneaking away in the middle of the night and were eventually on a plane bound for the US to join my father in Winchester, MA.

My father had gone to Northeastern University in MA, US when I was about 5 to get a Master’s in Engineering. Eventually, he was able to save enough money after a few years to bring his wife and 4 kids to the US. He wanted to secure a stable future for his family of 4 – 3 girls and 1 boy.

I remember the train ride away from our village and towards Delhi. The hollow sound of going over a river sounded a little scary and I looked over in the window to see the height I was at. We were leaving our home and way of life for good. I had not had the chance to say goodbye to Pinky or any of my other friends. It seemed for the rest of my life since then, I have been on the “run.”

My first plane ride at the age of 7 on Air India was an experience I could not compare to anything else. I had been excited about the prospect of just riding a train to Jaipur! This experience, flying in the sky in a bus, I could not compare with anything in my life till then. My vivid memory is that of tasting vanilla ice cream for the first time aboard the flight. My family handed it to me one by one. I’ll never forget that first taste; it was unlike anything I had ever had. It was a taste I could not place, but it started to become appealing. To this day, I love good quality, plain vanilla ice cream.

There were also tastes in the village that I have not quite experienced since such as spiced sugar can juice. The big black manual juicing machine that is outdoors naturally attracted flies. You could normally count on some being in the juice. There was also a delicious slushy that had all sorts of syrups and noodle-like additions. When I see the slushies here, I wince at the comparison I have in my head.

Get Adobe Flash player