Graduating in India

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Akhil with his grandparents in Hyderabad, India.

The morning Salah (Muslim prayer) is my natural alarm clock in India. As it echoes from the local mosque every morning, I know that the day has started. What’s unique about the city of Hyderabad is that although it is a prominently Hindu city, it is home to the greatest population of Muslims of any major metro in India. In fact, the city was founded by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, a Muslim emperor during the 15th century.

Spring can be a stressful time for seniors. Many of us are choosing where we want to be and what we want to do for the next four years of our lives. In the midst of this transition between high school and adulthood, seniors may find themselves stuck in a position where they don’t yet fully understand their own identity but are pushed to make significant life decisions. I struggled with this dilemma throughout the first semester of senior year, and without my experiences in India, I wouldn’t have been able to find purpose in my education and life.  

The last time I visited India was in seventh grade and was too young to understand these kinds of intricacies of Indian society. Instead of going out, I enjoyed my mornings being pampered by Ammamma (grandmother) while watching television. Going outside meant 90 degree heat, mosquitoes, dirty streets, and cars constantly honking at you.

This past January I visited India again, and it completely changed my perspective on the country I had formerly seen simply as a developing nation. I happened to have my 18th birthday in India, and it was as if I was coming full circle with my high school experience. I did not know what to expect when I arrived, but it definitely wasn’t my whole family waiting to surprise me at 2 AM in the morning.

“Family is a large part of our culture” my grandmother said. “No matter how far you travel or how much time goes by, we always take care of each other.”

After all the hugs, kisses, and tears of joy, I realized nothing had changed since I last came. Baby pictures of me and my cousin still covered the wall and there sat the same television set I used to watch Power Rangers on when I was younger.

Life in India is simple and modest; most people go to work early in the morning to beat the traffic and come home late in the evening in time for dinner. People work six day weeks with Sunday as their only day off. Their isn’t much time or energy for “going out”, and since most of the local markets are within walking distance, it would make sense for people to spend their Sundays at home.

“While growing up I used to go to school, come home, play cricket with friends, eat dinner, and go to bed,” my father said.“Life was a lot simpler back then.”

But the culture is changing. As the younger generation starts to enter the workforce, there are more and more signs of urbanization starting to occur. Technology has become the center of the job market while old buildings are being replaced by multi-story shopping complexes. An example of this is the new HITEC (Hyderabad Information Technology and Engineering Consultancy) City. When I drove by I immediately noticed the change in lifestyle from my parents modest flat in a suburb of Motinagar. It was much cleaner, and many of the buildings had been recently built or renovated. If this was the future of India, I wanted to get an idea of who would be leading it.

While visiting, I got to meet one of my Dad’s college mate’s son, Manu. Although Manu had lived in Boston for the first 6 years of his life, he had grown accustomed to life in India. He was a junior in high school and was studying to attend the Indian Institute of Technology in one of the major cities.

“The education system in India is much different from that in America,” Manu explained. “We don’t have the same freedom to explore different interests, and most of my friends are either going into engineering or the sciences.”

Most government schools are extremely underfunded and are virtually untouched by the middle class. Manu goes to one of the top engineering preparatory schools in his area, where students go to school from 7 AM to 5 PM, six days week.

“The curriculum is centered around preparing you to take one test that determines your rank. That test is your ticket into IIT.” Manu said.

Manu explains that if he had the freedom to choose his career he would go into film production. Much of his free time is spent making short films with friends and watching anime. Talking to Manu made me realize how many educational opportunities students have in America with regards to majors and college choices. In a way, I see myself in Manu; a young student transitioning  

Apart from Hyderabad, I visited Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad lies in the state of Gujrat, known for being the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. In Ahmedabad I attended a traditional Gujarati wedding, visited ancient temples, and traveled to the remote village of Junagarh. Being able to experience over 1000 years of culture allowed me to have a deeper reverence for my heritage.

India couldn’t have been a more perfect destination for my senior year. I got the chance to reflect on not only high school but the last eighteen years of my life. Most importantly, it challenged me to ask myself why I wake up every morning. For me, going to India was my first step in recognizing my identity and larger purpose, and for that, I am thankful.