The Odyssey
Base Camp
Trek Connect
Time Machine
Multimedia and Special Guests

India and China
Kavitha Dispatch

You Had to Ask: Kavitha and Pramila Ponder Their Roots In India
May 24, 2000

Click image for larger view
My sister and I relax with some family members!
Yay!!!!! What a great joy it is to be back in India, sharing some of this beautiful country with all of you!

I have to admit, I've visited some incredible places over the past year-and-a-half on this world trek, but the whole time I've been counting down the months until we finally reached India. And to make my time here even better, my older sister, Pramila, is here too, so, for the first time in our lives, we're getting a chance to explore together this country that our ancestors came from!

Sure, I was born in America, but my roots are 100% Indian. My parents always tried to raise me and my sister with a great deal of respect for India and the large family traditions we come from. Every time I get a chance to visit India, I gain a whole new appreciation for the rich culture of this diverse and beautiful country.

Click image for larger view
Even when I'm wearing Indian clothes, everyone seems to know I'm not from here!
And this time is proving to be no different! Traveling in India as a wide-eyed foreigner masked in an Indian body results in an experience entirely different from the ones my fellow trekkers must be having. My Indian background often allows me to see an India not always accessible to most travelers. I have family to stay with in many cities all over the country, and in places that I don't, Indians often invite me to stay in their homes, since they see me as a daughter, and couldn't imagine their own daughter staying in a hostel by herself.

There are also some beautiful temples that are restricted to foreign tourists, but which I can get in to with no problem. I can usually manage to save a lot of money, since shop vendors and rickshaw drivers often hike up their prices a great deal to try to cheat foreign tourists. As long as I don't say too much, they usually will give me the local price before they realize that I don't talk or act like a local!

But there are disadvantages to being a foreigner of Indian origin traveling in India. For example, even when we wear Indian clothes, my sister and I don't exactly blend into a crowd. Instead, we elicit a more penetrating stare, full of more curiosity than other westerners get. People look at us and get confused! I can just imagine what's going through their heads: "They look Indian, but have such funny habits," or, "They act just as the foreigners do."


elicit - to draw forth or bring out
caste - social class

The simple question, "Where are you from?" takes on a whole new level for us here. I could say, "America," but that never seems to be the answer they want to hear. I could say, "Andrah Pradesh," the state in southern India where my family is from, but that doesn't seem to work either. Even when I'm wearing Indian clothes, everyone seems to know I'm not from here! We're not really Indian, yet not really foreigners. It's a question that has challenged both me and Pramila to really think about where we are from. While we always felt a little different growing up in America-eating vegetarian Indian food for dinner with our fingers while watching "Wheel of Fortune" on TV-we feel even more out of place here.

We have come to realize that indeed we are American, whatever that means. America is a relatively young country compared to India, with thousands and thousands of years of history. And because it is so relatively new and made up of people from all over the world, it does not have the firm traditions and culture India has. In India, there are certain ways one is expected to act or live, and it is very rare for someone to act outside of this norm. In America on the other hand, you can find people of all types living in very different ways.

Here are some questions to ponder: What does it mean to be American?
Where are YOU from?
Is there a 'typical' American?
Share your thoughts!

For example, if I had grown up here, by now I probably would be married to a Hindu boy from a good family in my caste, chosen by my parents. I would either be working in addition to being a housewife, or I would just be a housewife. That would be the extent of my choices. Instead, I'm traveling around the world volunteering for a non-profit website that teaches students about different cultures through the computer! And if I wasn't doing this, there are hundreds of other options I could pursue.

My sister and I discovered early in our lives that, when we come to India, we can either dress Indian and try to act just like our cousins do, or we can live with all the gawking stares and be ourselves. We opted to be ourselves…which isn't always the easiest choice. But hey, at least we're thankful to have a choice!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Jasmine - Cow-Hippie-Gypsy Market
Jasmine - Caving into History
Jasmine - Oooooomm...Meeting Sai Baba

Meet Kavitha | Kavitha's Archive

Base Camp | Trek Connect
Time Machine | Multimedia and Special Guests

Home | Search | Teacher Zone | Odyssey Info

Meet Kavitha