When It Rains, Restless Heart Syndrome, World So Cold…I scrolled through my finished playlist with decided satisfaction, hitting the spacebar on my bulky hand-me-down Mac and turning up the volume in my headphones. The soft guitar and choir voices of Yellowcard’s Paper Walls title track played through the speakers in my ears, coming to a quiet stop right before the amps kicked in and began to dissolve the churning sensation in my gut.
Let’s take what hurts and write it all down on these paper walls in this empty house. The words echoed in my head alongside those whispered about me earlier that day at school. Gorilla, gorilla, gorilla. I wrote them all down in my current journal. I glanced at my violin sitting in its case at the foot of my bed, then at the computer’s clock. I’ll practice after a few more songs.
I was determined to be conventionally different.
When I was in elementary school, I avoided talent shows because my performing art needed to be explained. I, a rebellious ten-year-old, could not muster the interest to publicly share my culture’s music; as a result, I raised myself on rock, delving into a world of electric guitars to escape the scrutinizing eyes of my classmates.
I’ve been studying and playing Indian Classical–Carnatic–music throughout my entire life, with my primary instrument being the violin. I spent the majority of my free time going to classes, preparing for performances, and learning new pieces. For a long time, my music library consisted of varnams, kritis, and thillanas that I would listen to on repeat in order to learn them for myself; however, I quickly realized it was difficult to connect with fifth, sixth, and seventh graders who had interests of their own, especially when those interests lay within a realm familiar to the Western world…so just as quickly, my music library accumulated the pop punk that is so often associated with angsty, early teen years. My classmates sang along with the pop tunes on the radio, but I danced in my room to tracks from American Idiot and Ocean Avenue. I established myself as the girl with “different” taste–the kind of different that didn’t need any context to be understood.
As I listened through my playlists, I created worlds with pen and paper. I’d write stories, sketch characters, and build a universe I wished could become my reality. One of my friends’ dads shared a similar love for stories. He’d regularly encourage me to continue creating, asking me about my current projects. “Tell me a story,” he’d say as he, my friend, and I would go for weekly runs on various trails near our homes.
“So, the character’s name is Kat, and she loves to read and write, and one day this random typewriter shows up on her doorstep addressed to her, but she doesn’t know who sent it,” I explained, “and she suspects her best friend David but turns out it’s not actually him. She’s thirteen and going to be a freshman, her favorite food is peanut butter sandwiches, and she has two older brothers, one younger sister, and a dog named Moose.”
“I like it, Arya,” my friend’s dad smiled. “She sounds a lot like you. What if she grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha stories and her favorite food was any dish with paneer?”
I felt my head start to hurt. “I don’t know, maybe.” No, thanks. Kat had shiny, long, auburn hair and intelligent green eyes. Kat had cute freckles and cheeks that would flush slightly pink when she was at a loss for words. Kat looked like the characters I had read about in all my favorite books, and Kat was pretty. She didn’t need any frame of reference, and anything suited her.
There wasn’t a way I could maintain that if her background was that close to mine. Kat was supposed to be who I wanted to be, not who I was.
Read the full piece in Lithium Magazine.