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(Memoir) The taste of freedom

Memoir (September 21, 2014)

Back when I was a student, I discovered this small restaurant in Chinatown where I could find $5 or less lunch that was filling. On a student budget, finding something that fit the bill was really a blessing.  A Hong Kong milk tea, and an egg sandwich. A Mandarin soap opera was usually playing on TV in the afternoon, and most other customers in the restaurant were old Asian men. Something about the ambience made me homesick, and watching a soap in another language was hilarious, because even if I did not understand the language, I could recognize the 'Ekta Kapoor' soap expressions from India. 

In those years the tea and sandwich were a reminder that I owe it to my parents and the bank, for sponsoring my education. At one point I was 100% broke, and for about a week I had survived on home cooked rice with salt - simply because I had no money to buy any groceries, and I was too proud to ask my family to send money more often than they did already. Sometimes when you move to a new country, it's hard to predict all the expenses that you will come across. One day during that week I picked up some stuff from Walgreens and when I approached the counter, I realized I had no money. That was the first time I felt what it's like to be broke. I realized that my family is super-awesome, because never before that day, had I needed to see the price-tag on something and think twice, nor did I ever needed to eat a tasteless bowl of rice. Mom hosted a 24x7 kitchen for us, and there were always options. 

As a student, the tea and sandwich lunch was also a time for me to pursue a bad habit - comparison. I was often thinking about how the rest of my friends are better at their skills, getting awesome internships, look like models even with 8+ hours in the animation lab and no rigorous gym routines. I compared myself with celebrities of my age and younger, who had achieved so much by now - and here I was, still finding it hard to understand maps and get to places, counting my bills, hating the body shape I saw in the mirror. I was hard on myself because of this ugly habit, and the lunch was just a time to sit alone, reflect and feel pathetic. Everyone's story is different, and comparisons are for losers. I knew it, yet I did it. 

5 years later, things look entirely different. I used to hate self help books or TV shows. It was just too ridiculous and stupid. My mom had me watch Sister Shivani's TV show (Awakening with Brahmakumaris), and I read a few books on Buddhism that I found quite helpful. My uncle and dad sat down with me one day and shared their life story, what they had learned, their failures and successes, how comparisons were destructive. My sister told me some great things about myself, that I had been ignoring. She made me feel like a celebrity, even when there was nothing special I could find in myself. I have some amazing friends - who all helped me build my confidence and gave me the right mindset to get going. 

Today I went to the same restaurant in Chinatown again - and had my usual HK milk tea and egg sandwich.
Today it tasted different.
Today it tasted like freedom. 

My student loan is paid off. I have decent savings. I know what my personal and career goals are, and I am working towards them. I no longer compare myself with anyone. I no longer crave for everyone's approval. I understand that I will be judged and people will form whatever opinion of me whether I speak up or stay quiet. That it's ok to be disliked. And it's ok to fail. I still love myself and I know a few people who love me unconditionally. I am grateful to be independent, to be able to buy a thing or two for all my friends and family with 'my' income. Money cannot buy happiness, but the lack of it or earning it, teaches many life lessons. It teaches who is what in crisis and in abundance. 

This Milk Tea and Sandwich tastes better. It tastes like freedom.