As I sat next to dad on our way to the Srinagar airport, I reflected on how this could be our last family vacation for a long time. The end of August was approaching and soon I would be in a far corner of the world at Harvard Business School (HBS), exactly 7,138 miles away from home. Within me there were so many mixed emotions: the excitement of exploring a new country, meeting new people and learning new things, but also sadness for all that I would miss: my family, the food, and the warm familiarity of home. Would everything change?

It was my first Diwali (festival of lights) away from my family and I was alone in my dorm room missing my mom’s dahi vada and the rangoli I used to create with my sister Pallavi. So, I decided to set up my own little puja in my room and as I chanted the prayers, I felt like a part of me was back. Donning the new salwar kameez my parents had gifted me for the occasion and inviting friends to share sweets made me feel like I was not only participating in but also carrying forward my family’s traditions. 

HBS gave me another family in the form of Section E and other friends on campus. We talked about India in the context of business and government in our classrooms, but those discussions failed to highlight the vibrant culture and the multitude of diverse subcultures that make India so special. As a result, I jumped at the first opportunity to share my culture with HBS. For the better part of my last semester, I worked with my partner in crime Saumya Singh on the South Asian Cultural Show: EKTA. 

I was extremely motivated for EKTA to become a legacy show at HBS that would inspire people to have more conversations about the diverse sub-continent. We worked hard to design, coordinate, direct and even perform in the show! The show ended up exceeding all my expectations – it had 21 dance and musical performances with 250+ student performers from 10 different sections. Countless others in the audience cheered and danced to the reverberating tunes in Klarman Hall. I can still hear the beats echo from the classical medley, the folk Bhangra and Garba dances, and the foot-tapping Bollywood numbers. It was a colorful and fun night, and I felt like I was back in Delhi watching a performance at school or on television. 

EKTA, however, held a deeper meaning for me. Ekta literally translates to “unity” in Hindi and was symbolic of the South Asian community coming together to showcase our unique cultures for friends, peers, and faculty at HBS. It was a gateway that opened many discussions. While practicing, performers learned about the different states and languages that were represented in the songs and dances. They learned new Hindi words from the lyrics of the songs and started using them. The large participation drew others who wanted to know where their classmates were from, and how they live in their home countries. Sections gathered to eat Indian food after practice and appreciated the nuances of the flavors of dishes from different places. 

The show was held in early March, but even now every mention of it puts a smile on my face as it reminds me a little of home! It starts conversations that take me down memory lane, and lets me share stories and anecdotes with my friends and classmates. 

This story is incomplete without the mention of food, especially my desire to recreate my mother’s most delicious recipes. My mouth is watering as I am writing this, thinking about all the different dishes I have tried to cook while at HBS from basics like daal all the way to fresh naan. Cooking my mother’s recipe for chicken curry and daal with my friends brought me the greatest joy as it is a very intimate experience for me to share the dishes I grew up eating. When we ate together, I shared stories of quarrels with my sister to pick the dish for dinner, of the countless arguments I would have with my mom for not eating my vegetables, and of my intense love for Maggi noodles. I am making palak paneer in honor of graduation and will be thinking of old times while enjoying it with my parents over a Zoom call. 

India is home and despite being far away, I continue to keep up with news and hear from my family firsthand. If you are interested, I would love to discuss the history, culture and the flaws of my country at length over a bowl of some hot Maggi noodles!