“Bearing News” withheld this junior’s name because the student asked for anonymity.
Mostly, she remembers the sting in her nose from the incense her mom would light every time they had puja, a Hindu prayer to celebrate holidays and honor guests. She remembers constantly asking herself, “When will this end?” and “How much longer?”
Her parents taught her to pray but never how.“It was always a recital, head down – hands together – and ask,” she said.
Her parents regularly told her to pray for herself and to pray for others, but she grew up on TV shows and movies, and in those people only seemed to pray when there was a tragedy. So, often she prayed for her father’s job to improve.
Her dad was sort of known as a prodigy in India, published in the newspaper for earning a 99% on his college entrance exams. He completed med school and worked there for a bit but once the family moved to the US he had to work as a janitor before he could continue his practice because American guidelines invalidated his work as a doctor in India, and to continue his practice hospitals required work experience. To meet his requirements he worked in hospitals tying up loose ends. Her dad’s job forced them to move around a lot. Born in Baltimore she moved to New Orleans, then Boston, St. Louis, Bowling Green, and then finally here to Columbia Missouri.
Pleading with God for my family’s circumstances to improve was one of those things I was growing to be super angry about.”
Her mom made praying a daily event. She didn’t really believe in God and hated asking all the time without seeing improvement. She felt distasteful but pressed her hands together and bowed her head.
“Pleading with God for my family’s circumstances to improve was one of those things I was growing to be super angry about,” she said.
She really liked the incense box and really hated puja, so one time she stole and hid it, which her mother knew. Her mother noticed the box a little after it had gone “missing” and bought a new holder.
“I guess as a little kid I thought that if I took the box, I wouldn’t have to keep moving,” she said, “and my dad wouldn’t have to keep jumping around to gain back a job he was qualified for but couldn’t work in.”
Her sisters and she aren’t allowed to paint their nails or get their ears pierced or wear makeup. While sorting through boxes sophomore year, looking for a distraction from school, she found an anklet in a little cloth jewelry bag synched with golden string. Her mother said someone had given it to her when she was just a baby – something to wear later on when she had grown enough for it to fit.
“She never gave it to me because she wanted me to have that separation from being a girl: be a person first, then a girl,” she said. “It’s not ill intended.”
It’s an attempt at separation from vanity, every dress, lip gloss and earring is seen as a distraction.
A distraction from education.
“I’m not pretty, and I don’t have to try to be pretty.”“I’m not pretty, and I don’t have to try to be pretty,” the Rock Bridge junior said.
She describes her mother as an extremely conservative feminist, someone who empowers women by delegitimizing other women.
“Essentially, I’m only a feminist if I don’t convey feminine behaviors like painting my nails or curling my hair,” she said. “She has this whole ideology that you can be a girl, but if you act girly you’re a sad excuse of a girl.”
She doesn’t wear makeup or dresses, not because she doesn’t like them but because it seems wrong to wear them. It feels unnatural.
But her interactions with the box always feel safe. The strongest memory with her box is all the random trinkets she’s collected. In her moving she regularly tried to pick up novelties from around each house to keep.
“I don’t remember where many of these belongings came from, but it grounds me,” she said. “I would find little buttons, and suddenly they became special because they’d be mine.”
She believes people try to find a person as an anchor, someone to hold constant through our life, but that’s hard to do when one moves so much. A lot of these items are about a person rather than a specific memory.
“I just know I can put little random objects in this box, and it doesn’t matter,” she said. “It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone except me, which gives it more weight.”
At the bottom of the incense box there’s a handkerchief. It’s her grandma’s, who got it when she was young. In her youth, her grandmother was a powerhouse who ran a famous primary health clinic in the middle of Delhi, India, while caring for her three kids practically alone because her husband would often be gone for work.
“I don’t really have a strong relationship with my grandma, but I respect her a lot,” she said. “I would love to be as strong as her.”
Because of her grandma’s habits and influence, strong women surrounded her mom. At the time it was her dream to go into government to be an Indian administrative service officer (IAS) an official responsible for maintenance of law and order, someone the president of India appoints for a lifetime term. For her mom, achieving this exclusive position was more about being a woman in power than the actual job itself. In India some people go to medical school first and then go on to take the government IAS test, one so exclusive that the president only chooses the top 0.05%. But by the time the test came around, her mom had already married.
It was around then when her parents moved to America, not solely because of pressure to have her mother become a housewife and stop studying for the IAS test but the strain was a factor.
After getting married, her mother became “just a wife” in her husband’s family’s eyes, which may be why her mom rejects certain feminine stereotypes. While her marriage has offers a loving family, her mother preaches her sentiments to ensure the three daughters in the family don’t lose their potential for greatness because of their gender. Brains not limited by body, the intention is that if one focuses too much on looks one loses substance.
“I’m going to make sure they never feel ashamed for wanting to be who they are.”So the junior has always wanted a family, a house with a backyard and three kids, one just like she has had. She’s been collecting belongings to leave her kids a legacy, refusing to let her mom throw away baby clothes and accumulating so many books she practically has a library.
“Legacy is something I’ve always wanted from my parents,” she said, “but they moved from India, leaving their possessions behind.”
She keeps this anklet as a reminder that when she grows up, she’s going to let her kids do whatever they want. She’ll doll them up and expose them to nail polish and dresses and all the things she didn’t have growing up.
“I’m going to make sure they never feel ashamed for wanting to be who they are,” she said.
What objects are important in your life? Let us know in the comments below.