I’m tired and a little bit desperate. My clock angrily glares at me through its neon green dial. It’s 11:24. The biology exam tomorrow will be murder. I resolutely pass over my textbook, and instead return to the screen where Pandit Jasraj stares back at me. I run through a quick checklist in my mind: I sent out the emails to the members, I typed up the biography for the program, I bought Styrofoam cups for refreshments. Homestretch. I tilt the graphic of the vocal maestro just enough to look funky next to the bold text, “Pandit Jasraj, Live In Concert!” O God, WHY am I doing this? All I want is some sleep.
Why am I the first person called to make flyers? Why do I even do it? It seems hopeless. Another event comes and goes in an auditorium we rent out for the night. Everyone listens to some music and discusses it over a samosa or two, but our goal is not furthered. India Center still does not have the funds it needs to buy itself an address, a place that all the varied and fragmented Indian communities can jointly call their “home.” Here they will cease to be Bengalis, Marathis, Tamilians, Gujarathis, or Punjabis. They will not identify themselves as Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Jewish, or Christian. Here the community will build its own little microcosm to fit into the majestic mosaic of New York.
My friends often ask me if I speak “Indian” at home. That would make it all so much easier, and sometimes I wish there were one such language. But then it is that very diversity which gives Indian culture its multilayered richness. And although it means working extra hours to rally the community together, to shake them up and remind them to vote, to wake them up to the truth of harmonizing all their regional tongues to sing in one unified voice, I am willing to put in that effort. I want that united Indian voice to speak to every name on the membership list, and reach out and address each one’s concerns. I want that voice to resonate in public parades and diversity shows, as well as reach into the corridors of Washington so that change can be brought about effectively. I want to strengthen and support the trembling immigrant voices with a vigorous chorus of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Yes, I am willing to make my flyers bright and flashy, and send my emails with capitalized entreaties, and look out on that auditorium to see if the seats are packed and the donation boxes are jammed full.
So I do not resent it when Mr. Ralph D’Souza calls me and asks me to pick up the famous Kathak dancer Rachnaji from the train station, or check the sound system on the stage. I put on my India Center volunteer badge, slip on a dark blue blazer, and go cheerfully on my way.
Though technically about an activity, this essay speaks most eloquently about the applicant’s ethnic identity and his dedication to it. There is both passion and precision in his description, and like many good essays about ethnicity, Romit Bhattacharya uses it to dispel stereotypes (e.g., “speaking Indian”) while showing, not telling, the importance to him of his Indian identity. The fact that the activity described in the essay occurs at 11:24 p.m. makes it all the more real. This version was the author’s fourth try at an activities essay. “I continued to write essays until I felt that what I wrote corresponded with what I truly felt,” says Bhattacharya. “I truly felt a sense of frustration and exasperation, but also a deep commitment to the cause.”