in my first semester here,
i sat in bed, clutching a journal,
feeling the way you do
in a supermarket that’s not your usual –
you don’t know where to find
what you need,
and you don’t know if what you
think you need is what you need
and you sure as hell don’t feel
like you should be there.
i asked myself and i asked
the twinkling stars up in the sky,
what are you? what are you?
do shooting stars leave the sky
that they call home,
and leave everything that reminds them
of the sky?
do you drop it all, part by part?
why am i so much?
so much, so much brown,
so much of what i was and
what my home was.
why am i so loud when i say ugh
this is too bland and
why is that word so d i f f e r e n t?
is it bl-ay-nd or bla-ah-nd or b-land?
what are you? what are you?
we are not the same.
during orientation week,
people asked you for your snapchat
and asked where you were from.
people asked me where
i was from and told me they
Ate Indian Once.
we are really not the same.
when someone meets me,
they lean over to talk to
the pretty white girl
next to me and honestly
thank god because i hate small talk
with a passion, but no, you see.
people here are polite and
make a living out of talking because
networking is important and talking
to different people is good experience.
so this non-fictional person nods
and asks me my name and i say it out loud,
because i will always be proud,
but they glare and ask why i
didn’t use Even More Letters,
and i wish i said
because that would leave none for you,
Ben? Tom? (a one syllable name,
but still too much of a dead weight
to carry it around.)
but you see,
my mouth was frozen
and my voice, ah, it’s always too
different (read: weird) for some.
we are different.
we are different because in interviews
you frown because my language
because in popcorn introductions
and when answering questions,
it’s better to skip some of us
because our names are hard,
and i agree.
i don’t know how to say schakowsky,
and i know some of us say content and
academics and gauge wrong
so we rehearse saying them to seem
right but no, i understand.
my name is hard for Indians too,
it isn’t 27 letters long for nothing,
but it’s different.
it’s just different.
you ask for my mother tongue
but you call it
first language here because you see,
it’s not your fault, but
we are different. i read
marwa helal and felt something
shift. we call it
mother tongue and not
first language because
“i learned my first language
for fitting in,
into a new group or a new
world it is generally prescribed
to Fit In and Be Cool.
look, i’m that anomaly
that doesn’t know what to say
when people ask what my favourite
show is because
i don’t watch any, and
my best friends grin and nod but i know
that the people before and some after,
think that it’s uncool.
i know they’d also think it’s uncool to
throw jargon into this – no wait, it’s uncool
to write poetry itself – but
even when colonizers left,
we hung onto dominant cultural
values so young kids look into
the mirror and rub Fair and Lovely
so vigorously their faces might
and everyone talks English,
walks English – literally, look at those
branded shoes and pardesi shows –
so we say it’s cool but really,
it’s just a miserly word for privilege.
and i am privileged as hell
to even be writing this,
this content in this language.
and there are thousands of people
that need to be heard better
and to see it better but
all i want to say is that what’s
actually cool and badass
is to be who you are when it’s
not what the world suggests,
it’s letting yourself just breathe
in the way you’ve always known and
really want to, and
the way megha rao says it,
“being good in a place ruled by bad
is so damn badass, it feels like rebellion”,
so i listen and i hope you do too,
i listen and i look at the mirror.
we are different but if
we make this world okay
for different people
to be different together,
i think we will
let’s be rebellious
Yashmitha Sadasivuni grew up in Hyderabad, India. She’s an undergraduate student at the University of Miami majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Public Health and Chemistry. When she’s not reading, you’ll find her sitting outside in the sun talking to her friends or listening to music.