So how’ve you been lately? How’s everything going with senior year?
My senior year has been interesting because I think for a lot of people, when they think of senior year, they think that, “oh! It’s going to be the most fun year, and it’s going to be exciting and all that.” Honestly, it’s been one of my header years at this school. Part of that is because, academically speaking, even if you’re taking classes that you enjoy they get more difficult in level. You have more work in them. Your involvements have grown and you have a lot of people you want to spend time with, too. It ends up adding up to be a lot. But, I think that on the other hand, it’s been steadily bringing me to a point of feeling more okay with the idea of leaving. I feel that I’ve gotten the value that I would have by being in this place. At the same time, I will for sure miss the people that I’ve interacted with. In that sense, it’s a freeing feeling.
Did you come into senior year with any expectations, and how they did go?
I thought that I would be better balancing my own mental health and my social interactions with the work that I had to do. That didn’t really end up panning out the way that I expected it to. But at the same time, on the other hand, the types of bonds and close relationships that I wanted to have at this point, I feel like I’ve been able to get them. With everything, there are things that turn out the way you want them to and some that don’t, but you learn to adapt. My plan for after college was going to grad school but then I got rejected from the grad schools that I applied to so I had to rethink what I wanted to do after I left. What I have now for after graduation is a really cool job and I think it will help me out of my academic burn out more than going straight to a PhD program would have. Sometimes the path forward isn’t the path you envisioned first, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad path.
Where there a specific instance(s) that made you realize you had to reconsider certain choices?
I don’t think there was a specific instance, but something that I notice in myself is that when I feel overburdened by life, I tend to retreat inwards. I would start to isolate myself from the activities and the people that I generally enjoy being around. Something that is or was a warning sign for me is when I find myself spending a lot of time by myself. I am an introvert and I enjoy having time for myself, but I think there’s a difference between using that to recharge and actually using that to avoid everything.
How do you feel during those times? Is there something that helps you through them?
One of my hobbies is music. This year I actually started learning the guitar and before that I had played the piano since the fifth grade. I’ve been singing for a while, too, and I didn’t formal start doing voice until college. This last year, I was like, “yeah! I want to pick up a new instrument. I might as well.” So I picked up the guitar, and the nice thing about it is that unlike a piano, I don’t have to worry about portability as much because it’s easy to take anywhere! I really connect with music so I really enjoy being able to play. That sometimes helps me work through times where I’m not feeling that great. I also like writing a lot, fictions specifically. I think it’s interesting sometimes to be able to tackle problems I’m experiencing in real life, but to put them onto a character in a different setting, and write them working through it. It ends up informing my own thoughts about how I can deal with whatever is happening to me. It’s also really nice because, academically speaking, the geology department is very supportive. I feel very connected to it. It’s nice that I can just walk in there and talk to some of my peers and professors. That also tends to help me feel better. There’s also friends, and spirituality, and all that.
Have you been doing music and writing for a while or was that something you picked up in college?
I’ve been doing both for a bit. I’ve always been connected with music because my parents have always been so that was just a part of growing up. My dad knows how to play six different instruments and my mom sings. He knows how to play the harmonica, the harmonium, there are also classical Indian instruments, like the bulbultarang (which means “song of a nightingale” and kind of a like a banjo but different because it has keys), there are also these drums, called the tabla, and then the wooden bamboo flute called a basuri.
In what way did your dad and all his instruments influence you to pursue music?
In general, his appreciation for music, aside from playing, but to listening and all that, has been an influence on me. I didn’t start playing an instrument until fifth grade, which was when I started piano and that was a really nice journey for me. I was doing lessons regularly until I graduated from high school. It’s been nice while I’ve been at college because Ewell has the practice rooms. Sometimes I go in there and practice for a bit. And like I’ve said, recently I’ve acquired a new instrument.
Has your relationship with music or the way you perceive music grown or changed over the years?
Yeah, I think so. When I was really young I just wanted to do things by the rules that my teacher was giving and I didn’t experiment as much. As I got older, I experimented more by putting the melodies I heard around me into piano outside of lesson time. That was all very intuitive. It wasn’t something I was doing formally necessarily. When I came to college, I was thinking about what I would minor in. And I chose to minor in music, which was an interesting dimension to add because I hadn’t ever really thought about things like theory, ethnomusicology, where you study the different relationships music has with cultures. I hadn’t thought of those things as much. When you look at old composers like Beethoven and Mozart, you don’t just look at their music but also their lives and what was happening in their lives that influenced their writing. You kind of get to their emotional state. I hadn’t even considered any of those dimensions until I came to college and started studying it. I think that overall, I have more of a comprehension and appreciation for it than I had previously. And it’s nice because music is one of those things I want to hold onto, at least as a hobby, for the rest of my life.
That’s awesome! Besides music, have there been other things that have been constant throughout your life or your college experience?
I did mention writing – that’s something since seventh grade, so it’s something more recent thing but still something I’ve been doing for a long time and I enjoy that a lot. I write all sorts of things—poems, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, novels. Well, I haven’t finished a novel yet but we’re working on that. It’s hard to write a novel when you’re a full-time college student.
Do you hope that one day you will finish a novel?
Yeah I think it would be nice. It’s hard because when you’re a writer you have so many ideas. For me, I sometimes get to five or ten pages in a concept and then I’m like “okay, now how do I move forward from this?” There are some people who spend a lot of time outlining and all that, but I’ve never liked outlines. [laughs] But then I just end up sputtering words sometimes.
I would also say that something that has always been a constant for me has been religion and spirituality. My parents are both really religious and spiritual people but I’ve never felt forced. It has just come naturally to me as I’ve grown. When I came to college, the first organization I joined was the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh Organization here. I spent the last two years as President of the club. That is definitely something I’ve been very invested in as I’ve been in school, too. It’s been interesting because when I was at home and surrounded by my spiritual community, I don’t think I ever appreciated the extent to which it was important to me. I was around it all the time and it was something that people talked about. When I came to college there was not that many people that practice Hinduism and there are even less that are Jain or Sikh, so our school hasn’t been the most diverse in that sense. You really have to fight for the representation and to even be able to have enough of a following to put on events. At the same time, it’s also inspiring because our events like Diwali and Holi end up bringing these huge crowds, like 100-200 people, when there was like five people that made the event happen. There are people that are connecting and enjoying, and that has been very rewarding. I also think that some of my best conversations at the College have been through interfaith dialogues. And that’s something I didn’t really do much of before I came to college because I had my community around me and it was easier to just stick with them. But when you’re in a new environment, you have to branch out and try to understand other people’s perspectives more. I’ve really enjoyed any part that I’ve had in both one-on-one conversations and at interfaith events at our school because I think that’s really important. At the core, a lot of religions have the same beliefs, and obviously the way they go about them is different. Instead of focusing on those differences, but focusing on the similarities, there are a lot of opportunities for growth.
Was there anything that really struck out during these interactions?
I was always very accepting of other people’s religions but until it was actually explained to me and laid out, I didn’t know that there were that many similarities. I thought that was really cool, actually. That means you can have conversations with people around the same framework even if you’re not doing everything the same way. There are the rituals and all that that people do, but then there’s the philosophy at the core of the religion. I think if you talk about those similarities more, it leads to more interesting conversations.
Was there a conversation that really resonated with you?
Yeah, so there’s this guy that graduated last year, his name is Akbar. He’s Muslim but there was this time that we were having a conversation in Jamestown, I mean, Hardy. And we were actually talking about specific verses from the Bhagavad Gita, which is a prominent Hindu text and the Qaran. It was really interesting to see the way those ideas lined up. There was this time he was talking about the idea of idol worship and how Abrahamic religions don’t like the idea of idol worship. People look at Hinduism, especially people who look at it from a Western perspective, as worshipping the idol itself. That’s not actually what’s happening—it’s a symbol meant to symbolize God’s presence. But we think that God is everywhere and in everything, every atom and all. It’s like, he used a metaphor in that when you’re trying to describe a feeling, that you can’t get that abstract, just intuitively. That’s why we use things like poems and art forms to conceptualize the vastness of the universe into something we can all visualize and comprehend. That’s kind of the way I see having idols in Hinduism, we could not imagine that on our own, so we are using that symbol to connect that energy. I just thought that that was an interesting way of thinking about it.
Having been the president of your organization for two years and also being able to meet people of differing religions, has your personal relationship with religion changed?
I was more regular of a practicer at home than I have been in college, and I think that tends to happen to a lot of people because it’s hard when the schedule picks up. It’s also hard because Williamsburg doesn’t have a place of worship for Hinduism. If you want a temple you have to go to Richmond. Especially in Hinduism when you conceptualize God as being everywhere, you don’t have to go to a temple. But just in general, the lack of support from adult figures has been difficult to an extent. I guess a good example of that was in sophomore year, there was a panel on interfaith, and I was asked to be the panelist representing Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and every other person on that panel was either a professor, a reverent, or some other kind of religious figure. It was a huge honor to be on that panel and represent my religion, and I appreciated it a lot, but it also hurt on another level because I’m like, a kid! Not like actually a kid, but you know, I guess I could speak to Hinduism, but Sikhism and Jainism aren’t even my religion so I felt weird about that. Another thing about that is activism, like religious activism. I didn’t encounter much of that when I was at home. I would get bullied about my religion at school sometimes but I was generally in a comfortable setting. Then when I came to school here, the administration hasn’t necessarily been supportive to the greatest extent. We are a minority group and our voice hasn’t been the loudest. There aren’t that many students on this campus interested in being involved in an organization like HSJA and a lot of the responsibilities have fallen on me. Taking that all on me has been challenging at sometimes but I don’t think that’s turned me off from my religion. It’s just been difficult that it’s something that I would want to love and freely practice but I have to be caught up in the administrative aspect of all that. That’s not my tendency so it becomes difficult.
So to end, what do you hope to see for William & Mary and the incoming freshmen in terms of the space we have for minority religions?
I think that the school has been getting better over the years that I’ve been here in supporting religions. I think the school has a lot of work to do, definitely. But it is also difficult if you don’t have the resources to support people of diverse backgrounds because they won’t want to come to the school. But if they don’t want to come to the school, then the school doesn’t have an incentive to make those resources, then it ends up being a bad example of a Catch-22. Something has to start somewhere though, so that burden should fall on the school because at the end of the day, the student has the right to choose a school they feel they will be most supported in. I also think the generations following in our organizations are getting more interested and are collaborating more with other organizations and having a more formal prayer space instead of a classroom. So I think if we’re able to implement things like that, then it will be easier to get more people more motivated to participate in that. It’s hard because when the organization is small, there’s only so much you can do yourself so you have to work hard to attract people to come. Like I said, I think the school has gotten better so hopefully things can continue on that trajectory.