Pt. 1: Am I Really Indian?
This poem is about an eye-opening moment I had as a twelve-year-old about my identity and privilege.
On our way to Kerala with endless plowed green fields I mean, it is the tea state of India— blue lagoons with bent trees populated the coast houseboats planted on water We followed a narrow road driving on the side of the cliff overlooking miles of tea fields and tiny community temples sustenance on a bed of hope and prayer To get from one place to another we drove for years sipping tea winding roads dangerous enough — for our blind-in-one-eye taxi driver added another element of fear And I observed their villages, their beige with gold-accents mundus, brick houses with straw roofs before falling asleep on the worn-out tea stained leather seats — in the car when I opened my eyes, I was still a stranger in the region the temples worshiped different deities mundus turned into sarees, and the movement of peoples’ tongues altered On a day like this, we even visited the Padmanabhaswamy Temple only Hindus can enter, but my Jain dad looked Hindu enough I remember looking straight forward thousands of legs marching the line in anticipation to pray to the deities, seconds before being shuttled out and recite mantras that I recognized from back home I saw men a few years older than me with devotion in their eyes and ragged feet these men prepared for this moment their whole lives but the temple workers swept them out in mere seconds with their jhadus and here our American accents intruding whisked away to see the deities with more than a few minutes to pray a few feet away from the gods Once we left as a twelve-year-old tourist realizing her privilege I didn't hesitate and bargained outside the temple with a man who looked just like my uncle standing in the middle of the dirt-stained road with sandals barely covering the bottom of his toes for tiny, colorful trinkets until he asked for my shoes in return
The poem started off as a response to the prompt “write about a memory in detail.” Once my mentor and I talked about the meaning of my response, we started creating a project surrounding my identity. This poem is part one of the project, as I also wrote a short essay about my journey in navigating my identity and interviewed my grandfather.
Shivani Shah is a high school student from New York City. She enjoys playing volleyball, cooking, creating music and writing poetry.