Growing up, I was seen as the girl always doing dance and music. Aunties and Uncles would refer to me as the kid learning from so-and-so and then point me out to their kids saying “look how Indian she is! You guys should be like her!” From the way I saw it, those other kids hated me for being the “perfect Indian kid” (I promise I wasn’t trying to be) and I started disliking being associated as the girl trained in Indian classical art forms when every other kid would be associated with their academic achievements.
As an elementary and middle schooler, the idea of becoming a full-time Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer was easily the most appealing thing to me. Time and time again, I was lucky enough to meet incredible experts in both the dance styles when they visited our town for shows. When I expressed my interests to them, they would tell my parents to just send me to India and that I would be taken care of at their dance schools. Unfortunately, as soon as they got onto their flight, my parents would stop my dance conversations with something on the lines of “we don’t come from a family that has all those connections and we’re all academics. You should focus on studying and then once you get a job, etc., you can go to India whenever you want and learn at their dance schools.” As this cycle of excitement and getting pulled back into “reality” progressed over the years, I started internalizing that dance and music (arts) aren’t true or viable career options and that they would always be my side hobby to pursue when I had the time to.
But things are changing and the Kalaakriti series has a huge part to play in that. Over the past few years, I’ve seen more and more of my peers breaking past the stigmas and taboos of choosing non-academic and/or non-traditional careers. So many amazing musicians, dancers, artists, content creators, and other creatives come from South Asian backgrounds and each of them have such a unique story to tell.
When I first pitched the idea of Kalaakriti to the rest of the Pardesi team, I honestly felt like it was a self-fulfilling idea— one where I’d get to interview different individuals living the life that I would have loved to. But each enthusiastic reply to my messages and detailed response to my questions made me realize that maybe this is something we’re all struggling with just a little bit. Whether the passion is in arts or something else, the idea of breaking free and doing something that nobody else has done, or even simply doing something that nobody in our families have done before is incredibly daunting. Every person I got to interview for the Kalaakriti series echoed this sentiment loud and clear, but what really stood out to me was their drive to follow their hearts, no matter what the challenge.
As I close off this series here, I have to thank each and every individual who bravely told me their story, their challenges, and what their hopes for the future generations are. Without all of you, I wouldn’t have been able to find a few more reasons to keep pursuing my passions for dance and music and to stop feeling hurt when someone calls me a “dancer” or “singer” instead of associating me by my academic accomplishments.
The conversation can’t stop here though. Whether we want to accept it or not, it’s our generation’s responsibility to break down some of the roadblocks that stopped us, so that nobody else is told that they can’t choose to do what they love.
Thanks for all the love and support of this amazing series!
Keerti Tadimeti is one of the Senior Content Coordinators for Pardesi. As a first-generation Indian-American, Keerti is incredibly passionate about connecting with her Indian roots through dance and music while helping others through the struggles & challenges of a dual identity through her blog, Filter the Chai.