When I first moved to Chicago, I had a lot of trouble finding positive outlets. I didn't know a lot of people and didn't know the area very well. The combination of spending a lot of time in my head and not having a place to release that energy was a really lonely feeling. I wouldn't want that feeling ever again but I ended up learning a lot about myself, those first few months out there. As self-defined as I feel sometimes, it's hard to go weeks without your regular outlets. I can't get in my car and go for a drive. I've spent the last four days looking for a basketball court and everyone one I find is either private or has no rims. (I actually went into a bar the other day that had one on their patio. I must have looked like a little kid because I was so excited). You can't run on the street because it's uneven and stray dogs would chase you. My computer and internet have not been working for the last few days. So I have felt a little trapped.
I've been having fun going out and exploring some of the nightlife here. When your outlets and your social scene become the same space though, it's usually not a good thing. So this lack of outlets at the moment got me thinking about the places in my life that help me release.
If you had to name 5 places that you consider your personal sanctuaries (places of peace, places of intense rest, places to refresh) , what would they be? What do they have in common?
I'm excited to ask people here this question because I have no idea what they're going to say. Older folks might say their temple or ashram but I don't understand yet where younger people go to recenter themselves. I'm kind of scared that they won't have an answer or that they're going to say something messed up.
I've been thinking about my list the last couple days. Here it is:
Two of my sanctuaries, interestingly enough, are temples. My family in India visits one of the temples every morning (as they've done for over a hundred years). It's quiet and people don't bother you to make donations. One corner of the temple is outside and surrounded by palm trees. I like to sit out there during the day and just take the day in. I've only been to the other temple a few times but it has the same intense quiet feel to it. You can hear yourself move around and if you sit still, you can hear yourself breath. Neither temple actively asks you to donate and the priests are super laid back.
I thought I would lead with the temples, since I'm in India. The rest of the locations on the list come from back home.
Two of the remaining three are taquerias (are you surprised?). Pollo Vagabundo (Elmhurst, Illinois) and Angela's Burrito Style (Chicago, Illinois). Carlos' food at Pollo has made me happy in my worst moods. I usually get up four or five times to hit the salsa bar. I believe in the healing properties of his salsa. After eating, I go to the counter and talk to him about life for a little bit and then head out totally refreshed. I've written about the other taqueria before. Guerzo, the owner of Angela's, became part of my family in Chicago. His taqueria was right down the street and we would talk about all sorts of stuff when I was in there. Both places were such escapes from my normal life.
The last sanctuary is a basketball court. There is one particular court in my hometown that I've spent years of my life on. My buddy David and I joke that no other humans have spent as much time on that court as us! (it's true!). I started playing ball on the court when I was 5 or 6 and it's still one of the first places I go to when I go home. So many conversations and memories about life have gone down there.
There's something about each place that quiets my mind and makes me feel free. I hope I find some new places in my journey out here. So, what are your sanctuaries?
I consider myself a very open-minded and accepting person. I love learning about other cultures and about other religions. There is one group though that I've been rather closed-minded about in the past. Growing up they were never around. I had only heard stories. I knew my first full-blown exposure to them would be in college. Before I left for school, I asked a few people I respected about them. "They're drama," they said, "be careful." Or, "the guys like to get in fights," said another person. "Fights?!" I asked. "Yeah, knife fights," they said (were the Indians at UT hella shady in the late 90s or something? did they like to get stabby?). I know some of you that know me well are laughing right now. I'm talking about Indian kids in America.
To be honest, I unfairly grouped them all together when I was younger. I decided they were all into bhangra and superficial Indian culture and didn't really have an interest in India itself. That was really unfair of me. I think a little part of me will always wonder what it would have been like to get involved with the community in college. For some reason though, I just never identified with them. I didn't understand that people were able to be outwardly Indian and still balance their non-Indian sides. I saw a few people wanting to be around people with whom they felt a common connection.
I still didn't get it. I never felt like a minority. Sure, there were times growing up here and there and being teased but it never registered with me. It's interesting because I've talked to people that have also grown up in towns where their ethnicity is the extreme minority and people seem to either feel very welcome or very alienated. Either way, outside my house, I was just another one of the guys and inside my house I was Konkani and wanted to marinate on all things Indian. I didn't think I could be very Indian and very American at the same time. I identified with my Konkani culture strongly at home and didn't think about it much outside our house. The three have always been separate in my head. (interesting side question for you: "If you had to choose between calling yourself American or whatever ethnicity, culture, etc you identify with, which would you choose?" Without hesitation, I am American. I'm very proud of that and I hate when my parents make a separation between me and "Americans."
So why am I bringing up my past reservations here? Because I know I have unfairly judged in the past and I've grown a lot since then. I've come to India with an entirely open-minded. (I've also pinpointed what it is that bugs me about those few that do actually suck. I'll get to that in a bit). I'm hoping to meet at least a few of the Indian-Americans out here and I've done my best to erase my reservations. I'm excited to meet the folks out here. Really excited! The idea of hanging out with mostly Indian people still really weirds me out but I'm getting more used to it. Interestingly, locals weird me out much less than people from the states.
So let's get back to those few that suck. The last few days, I've been thinking about what it is that annoys me about certain Indian people I know. Revelation. I realized that it's a trait common to most people I don't care for back home. They all seem to live life with a sense of entitlement.
In the states, I'd be in a bar or a club and the Indian people I'm with or another group of Indian people, more often than not, would get into an argument with a server or a bartender or a valet driver. Acting like they were better than the workers. Acting like the worker was extremely subordinate. I'm starting to notice it here too. There is a HUGE class distinction between customer and server here. It really fucking bothers me. It might be the thing that's the hardest for me to accept. I worked at Carl's Junior when I was younger and to know that some service workers support their families through that work has stuck with me. I think about that every time I go out. I think it's important to remember that people are people and to not wholeheartedly buy into the whole customer/server power relationship. (By the way, if you're taking notes at home, a huge turn on to me is when ladies are super loving and respectful to service people.)
A little while before I left Chicago, I ran into my buddy Vivek at a party. He's been living in Mumbai for the last few years and just came back to the states recently. He says, "Hey Vaman. Remember what you said about the Indian kids in college?" I laughed nervously and thought, "Good god, that could be anything." He said, "You said you felt like a rebel. Like an outsider." But it's true. That is how I felt. I know now that it was mostly my own fault. I never tried to connect with them. I totally judged them all based on the few wack people I knew.
The great thing about life is that you can have realizations and evolve as a person. I know you can outwardly celebrate multiple cultures. I plan on giving people a second chance and treating people as individuals instead of labeled members of a group. Oh wait, unless I meet you and you're wearing a very unbuttoned vertical stripe shirt with overly moussed hair. Vivek has assured me that those dudes do not decide to work in India. I'm kidding, you guys are cool too.