Every morning I wake up to multiple alarms as my eyes slowly open. I drag my body around the various aspects of my daily routine. Before I eat a morsel of food, I sit cross-legged on the floor and close me eyes. To many this may seem as a nap, but for me these 30 minutes is a time for introspection. I reflect upon me inner self and pray for success throughout the remainder of the day. I conclude this ritual by apply a tilak chandlo (religious symbol which contains a “U” of sandalwood and a dot of red powder with the center of it) on my forehead.

This daily stamp extends my meditation throughout the day and reminds me of my identity every time I look in the mirror. I had no idea what it meant, but continued it daily. I did it so many times that it became a mechanical task.

As I grew older, I finally understood the meaning behind it and continued this practice with pride.
A few months later, a drop of shame entered the sea of my pride and dignity. As I met new people and my social network grew, all eyes were on the dot. I was labeled with a warning sign. Overtime, this droplet of shame became bigger and bigger turning into a converging sea. Within a matter of time, I began living two different live.

As a youth leader in BAPS, I proudly did my tilak chandlo. Young kids people looked up to me and respected that I had the courage to do such a brave act. I was placed on a pedestal for just doing such an act. This gave me the courage to do tilak chandlo everyday, but as soon as I enter the school bus my image differed. I stared down on the floor trying to hide the ridiculous symbol.

In the 6th grade, we had a substitute teacher. He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, but he noticed the symbol of my head. He shouted,”Hey bullet hole, come here.” Those words pierced right through me. Red as a tomato, I walked up to the sub as classmate giggled and repeated the phrase. That was the most depressing moment in my life, but I continued to uphold the principles my parents instilled on me.

Another time, I was standing in a group and a kid looks at my forehead and yells, “Sniper!” and fell to the ground. People ridiculed the symbol that I valued. Even though I continued this practice, I began to lose my identity. I began to try to hide this symbol on my head. I grew my hair out so it would cover my tilak chandlo. Other times I placed a bandage over my forehead.

This continued over the years until I reached high school. I saw other people who showed their unique beliefs with pride. For instance, a group of friends dyed their hair purple, pink, and blue never felt embarrassed. If they can, why could I? The following day, I showcased my tilak chandlo to school and surprisingly not a single person asked me about my tilak chandlo.

4 years have gone by and I haven’t felt embarrassed applying tilak chandlo yet. I became me again. I never had to hide my true identity again. I become connected with my culture and became honest with myself. I know who I am, where I came from, and where I want to go again.  It’s not easy growing up different, but it in our differences, which make our lives that much more interesting.