being 21

Was browsing around and came across this post about how lovely it was being 21, being lazy, and doing what came to mind and basically enjoying the view from where one stood. The world was after all at our feet.

So reflexively, I thought back of when I was 21. The memories came flooding back. The dreams still fresh, enough for me to reach out and feel hope alive in them. I was wrapping up school, working studiously on the TOEFL and GRE prep, getting extremely irritated that my best friend was giving up and staying home, and not coming with me. Was having a blast being friends with two intern docs, and having a major crush on one. I was also sitting on the fence on marriage scene. Marriage was the ultimate escape, as much as it was jumping from a known enemy to the unknowns.

I saw me busy pouring over books settled in Philly, and in 3 years time joining practice with colleagues. Shooting lasers, fitting contacts and working my own hours.

What did happen though was I ultimately bowed down to pressures and got married (to my now husband!! ). Long story short, between writing long snail mails to the husband and waiting for the weekly call, and continuing to nurse dreams of landing in Philly, I spent a good year getting to know a fine woman, my mother-in-law who left us the same time I left to be with the husband. Retrospectively, though impatient to start a new life, I think I benefited hugely from staying back. I got to know the lady whom no other daughter-in-law knew the way I did. I saw first hand the large heart she carried in her petite frame, the bond that she created between her sons, the love that she passed on to them and the dignity with which she carried her family’s chapters on her shoulders. I know I do not have her wisdom nor her goodness in me, but the time Ive spent with her makes me want to be like her. A simple goal on an impressionable 21 year old’s mind.

21 also saw the beginning of certain dreams dash down. I would reach USA, but not as a 21 year old. The more I yearned to join school, the more it got delayed. I had to do a stopover. I would not be peering into people’s eyes and would later on be destined to work with “computers”. The very computer I had disdain for as a high schooler, and chucked the subject for Botany/Zoology. I would also never be a “student”. I’d be a mom first. I’d always be a mommy student. Ones that the grad students would look condescendingly on. The ones who would be forced to sit up ahead as the fun youngsters would take backseats, and refuse to make eye contact. I’d be forced to fight rumors on how the “wives” would always get an ‘A’ just coz their computer-whiz husband did the assignments for them. I did them on my own, through the nights, as what would normally take an engineering undergrad an hour would take 2 hours for me, this after putting the kids to bed. I got an occasional B. It didn’t matter. It was my B, not my husband’s A. There’s a silly pride in that.

There were some really fun times being 21.

It was exactly 14 years ago that I boarded Lufthansa from Madras for Brussels via Paris. In our anxiety to pack me off to the husband waiting in Belgium, dad booked tickets on the next available flight without checking the visa. I arrived a day earlier than I should have. August 25th saw me landing on a fairly empty beautiful airport at Zaventem. I turn a corner after picking up my bag and I see a huge sign “Cafe Brussels” and a young couple standing in front of it kissing. A sight I would hold as a symbol for all that I craved. I could read and understand the language and I was halfway close to the land of my dreams. I head over to the immigration and hand the passport over hoping the guy wouldn’t look too closely at the shabby way ’26’ was written and how a 6 would easily be mistaken for a rounded 5. The stamp was coming down hard when it froze mid-way. He looked at me and pointed at the date.

Putting on my best French explanation I’d rehearsed over the flight, I told him that it was a genuine mistake and added in half a whisper “It’s a year, I’d like to be with my husband.” Saying that I pointed to the visitors glass window a floor above. He was standing there, smiling, yet am sure nervous as I was. The officer picked up the phone and spoke in rapid Dutch (as I did’nt understand a word) and listened for a good amount of time before he came back smiled and said in perfect English “Welcome to Brussels. Enjoy your stay.”

I skipped out before he could change his mind.

I look at colleagues still in their 20’s digging their way through work and career like rottweilers on a scent and I am filled with envy. The perks they get would always seem just a bit more attractive than what I got on asking. I asked for cutbacks and I asked to not lead. I got what I wanted. Yet, somehow, why does it seems a bit like I was shortchanged?

Sincerely hope it isn’t because am 21 at heart!

On that note, have a fun labor day all. I know I’d be out shopping. Before you smile and nod your heads, let me tell you shopping for almost teens is a nightmare. Nothing I say would be correct, perfect, funny or remotely right. I’d just be embarrassing them with every word I utter. I had a large dose of it last evening at the school orientation I was dragged to.

Oh well, it’s the arrogance of youth. Something that lasts well into the 20’s and if all goes well into the rest of their life. For the rest, there’s always a dream or two filled with dewy hope.

Written By
More from Rads
new med series
For awhile now I have been meaning to write something a little...
Read More
32 replies on “being 21”
  1. says: some body


    good post!

    “The ones who would be forced to sit up ahead as the fun youngsters would take backseats, and refuse to make eye contact.”

    kinda gives me an idea of how married desi film actresses feel, i guess ;-).

    detailed comment will follow …

    – s.b.

  2. says: WT

    it sure does get better…shopping for teens that is. ;)did you visit the new forever 21 at the Fairoaks mall? twas pretty good. πŸ˜€

  3. says: S S

    Good post…

    “I see a huge sign β€œCafe Brussels” and a young couple standing in front of it kissing”

    I have a similar experience when I first landed in US. I can relate to how much of a culture shock it would be for someone “Indian” conservative…

  4. says: 249be35thst

    Great storytelling! Very poignant. Can relate to “giving up the dream” but have also had many life enriching and fulfilling experiences that I know wouldn’t have happened had I followed MY original plans. Thanks for the HONEST and insightful post!

  5. says: bApHoMEt

    I was quite moved by this post-

    “I turn a corner after picking up my bag and I see a huge sign β€œCafe Brussels” and a young couple standing in front of it kissing. A sight I would hold as a symbol for all that I craved.”

    Phew! I can imagine how defining it would have been.

    You know, I was going through the darkest phase of my life when I was 21. And like you, I can say that that one year did change me quite a bit.

  6. says: rads

    Adithya: what wonder woman? Didn’t do squat, it’s hard enough floating :p

    Baph: Yep@defining. Some images just stick.
    Don’t I know? @dark phase πŸ˜›

    Neil: lol, same difference πŸ™‚

    249: We make the most of what happens to us. Ultimately that’s how we build us. Thank you πŸ™‚

    SS: It was not as much as ‘conservative’ but more of what it meant. You know, freedom, love, carefree, dreams.. that sorta thing πŸ™‚

    Praveen: hehe, it’s all yours if you want to make the film πŸ™‚

    WT: What new forever 21? It’s been there right? or did you mean, it has a new look now? Going tomorrow πŸ™‚

    max: Welcome, and thank you πŸ™‚

    Laksh: Thanks πŸ™‚

    sb: haha@actresses. πŸ™‚
    Can’t I not read your detailed comment, as I am sitting way behind? :p

  7. says: Priya

    No No, I got confused in the middle of it somewhere. What happened with the visa at brussels ?
    It was great to read this piece anyway, regarldless of (my) muddle headed confusion, because it brought back some wonderful memories.
    But I don’t think I’d ever want to be 21 again.


  8. says: rads

    Priya: I landed on 25th when my visa starts on 26th. The officer was kind enough to let me enter the country ahead of time. According to the husband, my forlorn lost face clinched the deal, though I’d like to think twas my French. πŸ™‚

  9. says: Priya

    OOh, Ok. I got it now. I thought the number referred to your age on your passport ! πŸ™‚

    God I need the weekend to start πŸ™‚
    Have a great weekend by the way. Take care of that knee of yours.


  10. says: rads

    A-Kay: πŸ™‚

    ajeffrey: Thanks!

    Apple: LOL! Talli, na age oka pedda rahasyama? It’s been debated to shreds here and the thing is I don’t even hide! πŸ˜€

    Priya: haha, na. πŸ™‚
    Will do. Hobbling around’s becoming easier!

  11. says: some body

    “na age oka pedda rahasyama?”

    mathematical equations have been written and solved to determine rads’ age. let me put it this way: even kepler figured out planetary orbits with less precision than commentators on this blog have used to determine how many times rads has revolved around the sun!!

    – s.b.

  12. says: terri

    Separated for a whole year from your husband? That’s reason enough to stand under a huge sign and kiss – which I hope the man standing behind the visitors’ glass window did, multiple times.

  13. 21… doesnt seem too far back… just seems like yesterday! Wonderfully written!

    Oh.. just wondering…When I read this “Shooting lasers, fitting contacts and working my own hours”
    I thought you were an ophthalmologist, but you wouldnt be doing GRE and TOEFL…

  14. says: WT

    i thought they opened this remodeled XXI forever just a month ago,no? btw, any good sales at the mall?

    rofl@s.b’s orbits bit.

  15. says: Archana

    Rads, lovely post.

    You know, guilty as charged regd. how grad students look down upon the ones who came to the US with husbands in tow. I guess we never quite bothered to find out the other point of view – was kinda eye-opening to read it.

    I admire you for the way you have adapted so well to the various twists down life’s path!

  16. says: rads

    Archana: Well, to be frank and correct, it takes all kinds to make the world. There are women who’ve done that too, and who shamelessly advertise as well. There are some who cozy up to profs and TA’s and get their A’s and then there are some who genuinely work their way. The reasons could be different. Mine: Since am an established nerd, I loved school, the ideal it stood for and a need to accomplish something.
    hehe, sorry, longg reply πŸ™‚

    WT: Oh they did? No clue. Hardly go and didn’t this wkend either. Mall days are over, these days it’s just targeted shopping πŸ™‚

Comments are closed.