Tag Archives: abcd

I Refuse to Be Called an ABCD

Masala In Ur Dosa – A column addressing identity through the lens of a Telugu Indian-American in conversation with his South Asian peers.

“I like pizza, and I like camping, and hiking with my dad”, my classmate shared with me on the very first day of first grade in the United States.

I remember thinking to myself in Telugu (my mother tongue) that I had no idea what he had said. “Pizza? Camping? Hiking?”. It was the first moment I realized that there was something different about me.  I felt lost. The feeling was a visceral one that would become a familiar and frequent feeling over the next 26 years of my life in the United States. A feeling that can only be described as a mismatch between my external perceptions and my internal being at my very core.

As I grew older, I obviously grew to love the savory Italian dish, and I even grew to love walking through nature and appreciating its beauty while sleeping in tents overnight. But as I met others like me, I soon learned that this feeling was the seedling of the identity crisis that will continue to cause a chasm in the souls of many young South Asians growing up outside of India.

My confusion with identity did not stem from a lack of awareness of food items and outdoor activities, but rather from confronting my parents’ core values compared to mine. I’ve since adopted what they’ve considered “American Values” while still keeping some of my “Desi Values.”

I am part of a generation that is only now recognizing and accepting its new identity. This identity is far greater than the once common yet cringey acronym, “ABCD” (American Born Confused Desi). What led up to this self-acceptance? A slow rise in visibility of the South Asian identity in community and media spaces. It spurred the never-ending conversation about identity amongst first, second, third-generation immigrants.


What was once an Instagram handle that my cheeky 21-year-old self came up with to arrogantly describe the spice and the “stuff” that makes the beloved South Indian dish has now inspired the identity of my new platform to showcase the “stuff” that makes up South Asian diaspora.

I hope to bring on people from all walks of life, all South Asian backgrounds, and speak with them about their journey with their identity. Through meaningful conversations and discussions, I hope to address the complexities and nuances that exist in how our South Asian culture and heritage mixes with our daily lives. I want to showcase conversations from South Asians who are exploring and defining their identity through their careers, art, music, and writing.

While acknowledging that our families have introduced us to our cultures, the platform prioritizes the voices of the younger and newest generations to show the ever-transforming ways people are resonating with South Asian culture – beyond language, behaviors, regions, or caste.

My hope is for the South Asian diaspora to realize that one’s unique and individual identity should be celebrated unmarked by cultural or generational expectations of the country you are born in. If any of this strikes a chord with you, check out my Instagram for regular updates, and my YouTube channel.

Prithvi Ganesh Mavuri, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in the Southeast region in the United States. However, his other passion lies in learning about South Asian languages and cultures.

What’s In A Voice

Music has been an essential part of my life since I was five years old. I don’t think there’s been a day in my life without singing.  When I’m sick or my voice croaks and squeaks, when it hurts, and even when I’m too busy to eat, music has always been there for me when I’ve needed it. When I’m listening to music or singing, everything feels right with the world.

That music has changed over the years. Much of my music comes from my parents, but my older brother affected my music taste the most. As a child, my parents would constantly stream Maroon 5 or Contemporary Bollywood on Pandora radio. As I got older, my brother got me to listen to Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, John Mayer, and Sam Smith. By ten or eleven I was making my own musical choices and when I was fourteen, my taste was completely separate from my family.

But, more than anything, the eleven years I’ve spent in choir has shaped my music forever. I obsessively seek melodic music. I find it hard to enjoy a song without a strong melody, unlike some of my friends who prefer guitar lines or layers.

Inevitably, my musical taste is tied to my choral experience, because the only way I actually learn music is by finding the melodies and harmonies that inhabit it

I’ve discovered that the music I enjoy now is rather different from the rest of my family. My parents cannot stand slow, sad songs – my favorite type of music!  It’s not as though I made a conscious decision to like sad songs, but I’ve come to realize that the strong, melodic tunes I love, are often sad ones.

Here why.  I believe a powerful melody can carry a sad theme without the pressure to have a catchy, poppy background. A simple setting can make a strong tune stand out.

But that doesn’t mean sad songs are the only thing I like. Once in awhile, I’ll listen to quick-moving, happy tunes like Harry Styles’s “Canyon Moon” or Panic! At the Disco’s “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” – they have strong melodies as well. 

At other times, there are songs I can listen to over and over again – mxmtoon’s “almost home” or Conan Gray’s “Heather” they just hit me hard.

But, in that musical search, I neglected one aspect of my childhood: Bollywood music.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bollywood music. The background is intricate, the melodies are fun, and the storytelling is incredible. I just don’t know enough of it. 

Of the hundreds of Bollywood songs I’ve heard in my life, I only know “Subhanallah” from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani fully, mostly because of my mom, and that took me hours on end to learn.

I don’t speak Hindi so learning the lyrics took me almost an hour. I read through it at least fifteen times – it was difficult for me to understand. The melody wasn’t hard because Subhanallah is a simple song, but unlike many Western songs, each of its two verses had different melodies -I had to figure out how the verses changed- not easy!

Give me a song from Bach’s cantata and a piano and I can learn it within the hour. That process takes me half the time. I’ll listen to the song, play it on the piano, sing it through a couple of times, figure out the lyrics, then practice it. Twice. That’s it. 

I’m incredibly tuned into Western music, whether it’s choral pieces or theatre tunes or “contemporary” music. It’s expected, easier.

But Hindi songs are difficult. They live by a different set of rules. The language requires a unique technique, while the musical tones, the different runs, vocal flexes, and background, are often more complex than a Western song  (unless it’s background-driven). 

When singing has been defined by Western classical music like mine has, it’s very hard to switch mindsets.

For instance, when I’m singing a song I’ve sung a thousand times, I can mess with it however I want, but I’m almost always true to the style of the song. It’s twice as hard to do that with a Bollywood song. The intricacies are very different and I have to really think about the nuances of the song.

Sometimes that makes me feel like a traitor to my heritage. 

One time I was asked to sing at a neighbor’s Navaratri party. I sang in English. I could’ve sung in Italian, but that would have been weird. I was complimented on my singing afterward, but I know that everyone was disappointed that I hadn’t sung in Tamil or Hindi or any Indian language.

What do I do? I don’t regret singing Western classical. I love my choir and what it’s taught me. 

But, of course, music is about give-and-take. From my point of view, I have excellent Western training but I lost a good desi background. Can you have a perfect vocal technique for twentieth-century English music and for twenty-first-century Bollywood? It seems impossible!

But it’s not like I didn’t have opportunities. For a year my mom drove me to Palo Alto once a week for Carnatic music but I sucked at it. It was not my jam. Then again, it could’ve just been my petulant eight-year-old self.

Yet despite what my fears tell me, I’m not a traitor to my culture for not enjoying Carnatic music when I was eight. And yes, I do want to get better at singing Indian music, but ultimately, that’s not what matters.

 My younger brother likes dubstep music, I hate it. My dad loves the song “Take it Easy, Urvashi” and my mom detests it. But even then, my entire family will always listen to songs like Culture Club’s iconic “Karma Chameleon”.

The thing is, music is different to everyone.

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.