A Cultural Encounter

A Cultural Encounter

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A Cultural Encounter


I met this "different person" at the periodical section of the Good Library of State College. After asking the person for my article that I had requested I ask his name, he answers with his Indian accent, "Ajai Ahulalia." I say, "What?s that?" "Ajai Sanhi," he responds back. "What?" I say, being embarrassed because I cannot understand his name. "Ajai Ahulalia" he tries for the third time. "Oh Ajai," finally I understand. I ask, "Were do you live?" "Yoder First" he answers, then I fell a fool again, "Really, me too." What has happened to Ajai?s life when he lived in India and now here in the U.S.?

Ajai lived in the same floor as I did but I did not notice him. I knew that there were some Indians on my floor but I had a hard time knowing Americans names, since I grew up in Israel, so I could not even pronounce Indian names. For example, the name BJ, what is BJ for? It stands for Bijayendra, how about Rishi, and Kashif? At least now after a year I know their names and can pronounce them correctly. Since then I have joined Ajai, Business double major of State College, for an Indian meal at Chicago, which was five guys into this little car of Ajai?s going to Chicago for Indian meal then a walk on the beach. I have joined their conversations even when I just understand ratarata lara a shara and put some more of this ai;u,mnbaiuet;lkmv; into the conversation. Currently I would see Ajai as a person that can be found mostly in the computer lab making money, since I would say he is a money machine or known as the varsitybooks.com. Maybe he can make our bookstore go bankrupt or at least force the prices down.

Ajai has not been always the person described. According to friends Ajai has changed his physical looks since the first time he came to State College; an Indian with very long hair, and a beard, but now with short hair and no beard. These physical characteristics were part of his Sikh religion. To be a Sikh it is not necessary to have long hair, a beard and wear traditional forms according to him. The needs of such differences are just to distinguish a Sikh from others. Ajai has dropped his costumes of his religion for the lack of time to maintain his hair and beard and the need to keep explaining why he is different from others.

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He does not consider himself a fanatic Sikh religious person; he is a Sikh but does not devote too much time to the religion even though he knows what he believes in. A Sikh is a follower of the Gurus as the word Sikh says. He never felt discriminated here in the U.S., he says, because maybe he does not care much about discrimination issues. In India a person can do a racist comment, and such a comment will not be offensive as it is here. People there do not care what you say about them.

Ajai is the only Sikh in the State and Elkhart region. There are two in South Bend and an Organization in Valparaiso, IN. However, in California and Canada the concentration of Sikhs is much greater. The lack of people of the same religion does not bother Ajai since he is not a devoted follower of his religion. Around 1984 in India there was an Operation Tiger in Mrs. Gandhi government, which killed militants in the most secret Sikh temple in India. This caused Mrs. Gandhi bodyguards (Sikhs) to kill her, which generated a massacre against the Sikh people. Ajai was just a little kid at that time and his family lived in a small town and the Sikhs were persecuted only in the larger cities, so he did not feel persecution back home.

As I have experienced, it is different to go back to a country that I have grown up when I have been far from it for a while, a "Been-to" experience. The same has happened to Ajai when he returned to India. "It was difficult to adapt again," he says. To make it easier he spent more time with his parents, who knew that Ajai would be a different person because his brother, Uncle and Mother (reason for coming to the U.S) had come to the U.S. and had noticed the difference between cultures. But Ajai said that if the extended relatives spent time with him they would be shocked with his change. The experience of coming to the U.S. also involved the need to adapt. The way that he spoke English was not the common American way, but beside the language, his adapting to the U.S. was easy because even back home he needed to adapt when moving from a small town to a big city.

A question is asked to a "Been-to," "Where are you going after College?" Ajai says that he will stay here for two more years, and then he does not know. If he goes back to India there will be some adjusting and adapting again. It is hard to work in India; there is not much organization, laws and ethics he says. He hopes that he can open a business in computer software, hardware and programming commerce. Seeing Ajai as a person that works a lot and takes a full time school load I notice in a broader range too, how international students work much more than Americans. His explanation is that students? parents could help with college but students would rather not ask for money because they do not want to worry their parents and people in India work a lot for the little money that they get compared to the U.S. "International students want to be responsible," he says. This is a perfect lesson to Americans to learn when mammy and daddy gave you a car when you are sixteen and said "do not worry we will help you to pay for college"; look at international students that work sometimes at least twenty hours a week, are full time student and do surprisingly better in academics than American students do. Is the difference in what Ajai said? "They prefer to be responsible."

What should you do when you see an Indian next time? Talk to them and try to understand where they are coming from, but if you are totally ignorant to the point of making the remark that in India the streets are full of elephants instead of cars you have a lot of catching up to do. We have a lot to learn from foreign people. They have way much more experience in life than we do, but do not say ignorant remarks about their country, this will result in the lost of respect and interest in you.

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