Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong somewhere? This was the feeling I kept coming up against on my two-week trip to my hometown of Mumbai, India. I had spent 18 years of my life there and yet when I went back as an adult, there was something that kept me from calling it home.
I was honestly way more homesick for the U.S., than I was of India before I went. Sure, it was a great getaway but I couldn’t wait to be in a place where my voice mattered, or where I could be independent. Women are treated very differently in India as compared to in the United States. When I was in Mumbai, I was incessantly stared at and catcalled, and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to speak my mind. I have grown a lot in the 7 years since coming to the United States. I can’t imagine living in a place that still withholds some of the most basic freedoms from women.
I call Oklahoma home because here is where I matured into the woman I am today. I visited my cousins in India and I can totally see the differences that show up when you are living with your family until you are married, or when you are looked down upon for wanting a successful career. Being in the United States for so long has allowed me to speak my mind and be proud of being a successful young professional.
Two of my friends from high school are being coerced into marrying guys that they barely know. What sort of a culture doesn’t allow a woman to choose her own husband? I have been dating my boyfriend for 7 months now, and we are just now getting ready to think about moving in. Can you imagine spending the rest of your life married to a man you barely know?
I attended my best friend’s wedding while I was on vacation, and it blew my mind how women are expected to act a certain way in front of people so that their upbringing isn’t frowned upon. Even Indian soap operas and Bollywood movies glamorize the fact that women should be housewives and cook for their husbands everyday, whereas the man is only supposed to earn money.
Going back, I felt a sort of reverse culture shock, and that’s not only because there are about 10 times as many people there as there are here. It was a culture shock because a college in downtown Mumbai recently banned shredded/ripped jeans because it attracts unwanted attention towards women. It was a culture shock because if you are a young woman, you will succumb to catcalling and jeering every single day. It was a culture shock because the concept of arranged marriage still exists. And lastly, it was a culture shock because the boy child is more revered than the girl child.
While the fight for women’s rights in the United States is far from over, I still believe that my voice cannot be silenced. That I can still speak my mind, and the act the way I want to and fight the patriarchy. I am so thankful that I come from a family of very strong women who had careers and raised their children at the same time, despite an environment drenched in misogyny. I strive to be that kind of an Indian woman. Not the one young girl who used to draw in secrecy, under the covers, to hide her less than “lady like” interests. This is why I call the United States home now, and not India. Sure, India is my home country - but without the freedom afforded me here, the freedom to be independent, I may have never discovered who I truly am.
Aditi Panchal is a graphic designer, illustrator and hand lettering artist based in Oklahoma City. Aditi's work tends to be quirky and whimsical with a strong feminine quality. She loves working with local entrepreneurs, small businesses, and people who enjoy stylish handcrafted goods that have a sense of humor and purpose. In her free time, you can find her doodling in coffee shops around the city, trying new cuisines or on the hunt for new inspiration. Her work can be found at aditipanchal.com and you can follow along her lettering journey on Instagram (@aditipanchal).