By Tara Boggaram, Varthana Fellow, School Transformation Program
Editor’s Note: The IdEA team had the privilege of meeting Tara Boggaram during our recent trip to India to visit India Investment Initiative (III) borrowers. Tara currently works for III borrower Varthana, a company that provides loans and support to affordable private schools in India.
Both of my parents grew up in Bangalore, India only a few neighborhoods away from each other. Although they never met as children, they somehow managed to find each other 10,000 miles away, as post-doctoral students in Dallas, Texas. They eventually moved to Tyler, my childhood home. Even though Tyler was a small, conservative, racially homogenous (mostly white) town embodying Texan stereotypes, my parents created an Indian oasis in the middle of the Texan desert. Growing up, my mother taught me mantras I couldn’t understand, insisted that we speak only Kannada at the dinner table, and, to my dismay, sometimes packed Indian food in my lunchbox. She, of course, could not understand the unique torture of having to explain the pungent, exotic aromas of dal chawal to my grade school peers.
As a child, I always felt as though my Indian heritage made me different. And I grew to despise it. I led two carefully separated lives: American at school, I ate hamburgers and dated boys in secret; Indian at home, I went to the temple on weekends and watched Shahrukh Khan movies. In my parents’ well-intentioned attempts to familiarize me with my heritage, I was sent to India for months at a time during summer vacation. This experience was marked by unbearably hot summers and forcibly intimate relationships with family members trying to make up for lost time. As I grew up, I distanced myself from India. I finally felt free to be myself when I reached university, where my group of bright, quirky friends offered a breath of fresh air from small town Texas. Yet even with this new-found freedom, I couldn’t own my Indian-ness.
My junior year of college, I studied abroad in Tanzania. This experience sparked my interest in development, which eventually led me to apply for Teach for India. Considering that I had spent most of my life running from my Indian-ness, I surprised everyone (including myself) when I packed my bags and moved to Pune two weeks after graduating.
While the transition from liberal Austin to the outskirts of Pune wasn’t easy, I quickly realized that my previous impression of India was stale. The India my parents had left more than thirty years ago no longer existed. Sure, India still had many of the problems I grew up learning about—some areas were dirty and overcrowded, there was poor infrastructure, I worked in a slum with conservative mindsets and violence, and I could see occurrences of corruption.
Amidst all these problems, however, I began to see evidence of a completely different India–innovative, dynamic, and open. This New India brought a sense of possibility, leaving me full of awe and wonder at how the melding of so many cultures, languages, and perspectives was creating something fluid and unique. Whether it was last Friday’s Carnatic fusion rock show or seeing my students’ die-hard enthusiasm for Manchester United, it was apparent that India was so much more than my previous conceptions.
“Reverse immigrating” allowed me to, for the first time, feel unapologetically Indian. Growing up, my mother lamented that she felt “neither here nor there”. Though this didn’t make sense to me as an adolescent, twenty-something years later, I can empathize. I frequently get asked, “Do you identify with being Indian or American?” It’s a bit of both, depending on the day. While writing this, I struggled to articulate the complexity of my experience as a member of the Indian diaspora. Though the cultural confusion often felt isolating during my childhood, the Non-resident Indian experience is being discussed more and more. I see diasporic cultural commentary in art, music, fashion and writing.
After finishing my two year fellowship with TFI, I tried moving back to Texas but was completely underwhelmed with my career options. I found much less opportunity and more red tape, especially in the development space. I returned to India and now work for Varthana, a borrower under Calvert Foundation’s India Investment Initiative, which provides loans to affordable private schools and offers capacity-building support.
While I don’t see myself permanently settling down in India, the opportunities to grow professionally and personally keep me here. As India continues to expand and open itself to the global market–culturally, economically, and politically–I’m glad to be a part of writing this New India’s narrative.