‘Black or pinto?’

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I am now next in line and my heart is in my mouth. In the last 10 minutes I have scrutinized the menu multiple times, and I am still in doubt. My previous three meals have been in mid-air and the nearly 30-hour excursion from Delhi to Berkeley has left me tired and hungry. The line behind me has extended to the footpath on Telegraph Avenue and I now have to make a quick decision.

“Could I get a chicken burrito, please?” I request involuntarily.

“Sure, brown or white rice?”

“Brown, please.”

“Black or pinto beans?”

I register the question and after waiting for a moment, I break out in a cold sweat. I do not recall having Mexican food before — especially not back home — where a majority of my food was basic Indian.

Silence reverberates. I do not know the difference between black and pinto and confusedly gaze at the server before stuttering.

“Any would be OK, actually.”

For the rest of the burrito I am anxious. I shake my head in affirmation to all of the ingredients and look to pay and leave as soon I can.

The burrito, although not by my own will, was  filled with ingredients that allowed me to savor new flavors, many of  which I had never tasted in my life.

Today, I know exactly how I want my burrito made, but if I was closed to exploring all my options then I would have never discovered what I truly like.

The lesson I imbibed from my first meal in Berkeley has allowed me to call this campus my second home.

I’ve cherished every moment since I stepped on campus in the fall of 2015, and it is here where I have truly found myself — personality, passions and ambitions — all of which have transpired only because of my desire to live without any inhibitions.

Two years ago, never in my wildest of dreams could I have imagined I would be writing for the student newspaper — let alone pursuing a career in the journalism field—nor could I have fathomed myself weeping on the floor at the death of my father in Henry Ⅵ Part 2 during a monologue presentation in a theater class focused on Shakespeare.

The two facets of my life that get my adrenaline going like no other are journalism and theater — both of which I started from scratch at UC Berkeley. It’s just the first step that gave me cold feet. After that, everything fell right into place. I always follow my calling, putting to rest speculations of the future, and it has given me immense joy.

Prior to coming to Berkeley, I lived in India for 18 years. My most formidable and impressionable years were spent in a small all-boys residential school in the foothills of the Himalayas. And with as few as 600 students, everyone knew one another.

It is not atypical to get lost in Berkeley, especially as an international student, and thus in my first semester I sought to join tight-knit communities that align with my interests.

Delta Phi Epsilon, the co-ed foreign service fraternity on campus, instantly became my family, and I have made some lifelong connections since I joined it in the fall of 2015.   

My interactions with the students on campus have been incredibly warm and welcoming and I truly believe that folks, international or not, will love you for how you make them feel.

Life at UC Berkeley is stressful, but I am content with the fact that I am living the life of my choice, so I embrace even all its hardships with gratitude.

I am proud of my “roots,” and those are things I will not be able to let go of. Fortunately, Berkeley has not forced me to whittle them away. In fact, on the contrary, it has given me the opportunities to hone some of my favorite habits more than ever before.

Berkeley has plenty of options to choose from for my customary Indian meal each week. And I see a Bollywood film religiously in a theater nearby in Fremont or San Francisco nearly once every month.

Even my room has no white spaces left on its wall, Bollywood film posters cover it in its entirety, and if you ever stop me on campus and pull out my earphones you would listen to a melodious voice and in the background would be a soothing melody created by sounds of the “Sitar” and “Tabla”—any song that is Indian Classical. Even for a scene I performed this semester from the “Tempest,” I sang a Bollywood Hindi track as part of the pre-beat before the dialogues.

As an international student, it is fascinating to share perspectives that are both similar and different with people from across the globe.

Language binds people together, and my bilinguality has given me the tool to make instant connections with native Hindu or Urdu speakers, many of them even off campus.

My accent, however, has frequently created predicaments for me at Berkeley.

My name is — more often than not — perceived as “Bart” due to my thick Indian accent and I periodically have to spell my name out for folks to pronounce it correctly.

I am now used to it and it amuses me more than anything else — especially at a coffee shops, where spelling my name often takes longer than the preparation of my coffee.

Next semester, I embark on another rewarding journey in the nation’s capital and will be representing UC Berkeley as a participant of the University of California Washington Program, or UCDC.  

Until then, I am embracing whatever Berkeley has to offer, and I thank it for who I am today and what I hope to become in the near future.