SP, 13, from Georgia, talks about life as she enters into high school. She talks about her passion for Science and Religion, and how one day she hopes to have all answers for religion based on Science. When you read her responses, its difficult not to wonder if she’s really 13. Her parents are from India. Here’s the transcript of my face to face interview with her.
Heart: Tell me about yourself.
SP: I’m 13 years old. I’m a September birthday, so I’m the youngest in my grade. I’m a dancer. I’ve been dancing for a long time. I take Indian Carnatic vocal coaching. I play the violin at school. I’ve deep passion for Science and Math. I’m going to the 9th grade at the [redacted] School of Math, Science and Technology and I’m very excited. And I’m a very religious person.
Heart: Were you born here in the States?
SP: Yes, I was born in Atlanta.
Heart: OK. Do you always find yourself balancing the Indian and American aspects of your life?
SP: Yes, I do. I find a way to incorporate my culture into my daily life. I pray to God every day. I pray before a test. I’m not timid to talk about my religion with Christians and Muslims. I’m not shy about it. I’m very open about my religion. And my friends are not timid to listen and understand about my religion either. So, yeah, I love talking about my religion to other people. I think its amazing. And I love connection Science with religion. Coz, they do connect in very very deep levels. They have very similar concepts.
Heart: Is it important for you to find a scientific explanation for what you believe in your religion?
SP: Yes, a lot of people have told me that if I want to achieve something in Science, especially in Physics, which is something I’m fascinated about, they say that it won’t cooperate with what my religion believes in. And I say, “No, our religion says, no matter what you put into the world or take out of the world, the world which is the ultimate God is one. That’s what “Purnamadah” means.”
Energy cannot be created, it cannot be destroyed. Its the same with matter and mass. And that’s what Purnamadah means. So, Science and religion connect, especially in my religion. I want to explore this topic more to prove to others that there’s a way to believe in religion and achieve something in Science at the same time.
Heart: Are you a Hindu, you follow Hinduism?
Heart: So, how does the topic of religion come up in classroom?
SP: In Social Studies class, the topic comes up very often about what you think is God. I think God is everything. That’s my belief and that includes God is Jesus, God is Allah, so God can be anything. And other people have never disagreed with me, because I always speak in a way that I don’t offend them. I match their beliefs.
So, I’ve been researching about other religions too, so I don’t offend them in anyway. Like when we’re talking about ethics in government, the topic is brought up. In language arts when we talk about ethics in a story like, “What would you have done?” the topic of religion and beliefs come up. And just regular conversations we have with our classmates for fun. Like you know, “Hey, what do you do every Sunday?” And I would say, “I go to Balvihar.” (Sunday school for Indian children to learn the lessons from The Gita.) And the topic goes off like that.
Heart: Nice. Spirituality or humanity?
SP: I think both are almost the same thing. Humanity is a way to achieve spirituality. I don’t know much about the topic but humanity basically means being human. Being able to differentiate between right or wrong. To offer hospitality, to be kind, all that humble stuff. And that ultimately leads to spirituality. Because spirituality means becoming one with the ultimate force, becoming one with whatever you believe is the ultimate truth. So I think, one leads to the other. They go hand in hand.
Heart: Lets do something light. What are your top 3 acronyms? Like do you use LOLs or something like those frequently?
SP: Oh. I use none of them. None.
Heart: Three apps that you can’t live without?
SP: I don’t own a phone or any devices, but let’s see, three apps that I can’t live without – I use my mom’s devices, so, I definitely need the internet, I love Youtube, watching videos on various topics. Games are only temporary favorites. I guess, the third could be the camera app?
Heart: Of course, we all need a selfie once in a while. What are your favorite Youtube channels?
SP: I’ve a lot. But I only pick out certain content from each one. I like political discussions. I like it when people express their opinion about politics. I like watching videos of weird facts, magic, and people believing in magic. I like videos that amaze me with great facts. I also don’t mind funny videos or cartoons. Sometimes, I watch some inspirational videos.
Heart: Are you allowed to date?
SP: I don’t think my mother would … I think she would be disappointed definitely, but she trusts me enough. Well, I think she wouldn’t allow it. And for my own good I guess and I completely agree with her, especially when I’m this immature and I don’t know about what true relationships are supposed to be like. I rather wait for me to mature in that kind of topic. So, no dating.
I have friends who’re dating, and I’ve all kinds of friends. But, I don’t like it when people think that a close friend and I are dating, that’s wrong, because I’ve brother – sister relationship with many people.
Heart: Do you compete with anyone for anything?
SP: I compete with my sister for my parents’ attention. In dance, ever since last year’s exam, I’ve come with this desire to please my teacher. So, even though I love my dance classmates, I’m always competing to be the best. I want to please my teacher. You can think of that as competition.
Whenever I hear someone achieving something, I want to do that too. I wouldn’t call that competition but, I want to have this sense of wanting to do something in life. But, that sometimes can turn to competition and that’s not good.
Heart: If its a healthy competition where you want to grow yourself, then I guess its good.
SP: Yes, that’s the thing.
Heart: Is there any particular area that you want to get better at?
SP: I wish I was a better chess player, so I can compete in chess. Science, I love competing in Science and Math. I am getting better at my violin. I’m slowly doing more competitions and programs. And I definitely want to start competing in more Math programs, academics wise. So, yeah.
Heart: So, what’s your strategy? Do you surround yourself with people who are as nerdy as you?
SP: (Smiles) Yes, yes. I get along with people who’re like me, and they say opposites attract and I think that’s also true. But, I work better with people who work just like me, and we get along great especially as teams and all. And also with friends who’re not that interested in what I do, but they’re amazing too. I don’t have anything against them, its all great. Having a diverse number of friends exposes you to many different ideas and thoughts, its great.
Heart: Good answer. Food?
SP: (Laughs out loud) Love food! I love my Indian food, my mom’s food is the best. No one can beat my mom’s food. I mean my aunt can make better sambar. (Laughs) But I love my mom’s food. I love my Indian food, I’m not scared to eat it in my school cafeteria, hey, I’m unique. I don’t mind American food, but I always prefer Indian food over it. Sometimes I can get sick of rice all the time, so “Mom, can you make pasta?” and she makes it and its great. She puts turmeric and garam masala, and plead “No mommy, no!” but its great. By the way, I’m vegetarian.
Heart: I make pasta sometimes like that, so I get it. (Laughs) Can you tell me the lunch varieties that you and your friends bring at middle school every day? What option do you see the most?
SP: Sandwiches! No one likes cooking I guess, so I see a lot of raw sandwiches with lettuce, raw ham, and other meat. I see Caprisun juice boxes, store bought juice boxes and all. I see chips. Lays chips are a big thing. I see people bring Ziplocs of crackers or Cheeze-Its or something. Pretzels are very common. That’s your average American who brings lunch from home.
From school, you can buy stuff. They have hot food, like hot dogs, pizza, salads, fruits, so people buy those from the cafeteria. That’s the kind of things that I see from other people. Now, few of my friends bring food from home like I do. Chinese kids bring their own home cooked food. I bring rice dishes, like pulihora (lemon rice), perugannam (yogurt rice) and rare cases charu annam (tamarind and tomato sauce flavored rice). I don’t mind that. I bring fruits a lot. Every now and then carrot sticks. My mom makes pasta, pasta is very convenient for my mom. So, pasta is very common.
Heart: Which demographics of kids bring food from home and which ones buy in the cafeteria?
SP: Usually, I see that people with financial issues buy lunch from school because they’re on the reduced prices program, also because their parents work and they don’t have time to cook. Students who don’t have time to cook, they buy lunch from school. And students who just like school food better than their home food buy from school. Sometimes students bring food from home but get something else from the cafeteria like an extra side.
So, usually, I’ve noticed that the nerds are the ones that bring their own lunch, I don’t know why that’s a correlation, but that’s how it is. (Laughs)
Heart: How are the parents of the students generally employed? (SP’s father has a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering)
SP: I’ve friends whose parents are janitors, I’ve friends whose parents are the standard customer service workers, some parents are professors, some doctors. I’ve a friend who’s parents are millionaires, so yeah, I make friends with all kinds of people. I like to hear about what their life is like. The lives of some friends are vastly different than those friends whose parents have well paying jobs. I’ve noticed that their attitudes are also vastly different.
The background of the parents does affect the child. Parents can be a huge influence. My parents have had a great influence on me. Their hard work and their ethics, they’ve mirrored onto me in my daily life. Parents who neglect their children, I can see in them negative aspects. Parents who are hardworking and work hard to provide for their family, I can see sincerity in their children, I can see a need to prove themselves, and students of high income parents, like doctors and professors, I see similar passion for science or “doctorism”. (Laughs)
Heart: Is there a group of children who seem to feel entitled? Entitlement is not feeling the need to earn something through hard work, you know what I mean?
SP: Definitely, I have friends whose parents have high income and they’re are spoilt. These parents don’t make their children work hard, they spoil their children, I can see that, they feel like “Oh, this is all there for me.” They don’t see the hard work behind it all. Now, some people have inherited wealth and so they don’t have to work. They expect everything will come easy for them, but nothing great comes easy. They’ll learn it the hard way.
Heart: Do you have a favorite quote?
SP: Mark Twain: The person who doesn’t read is no better off than a person who can’t read. I enjoy reading, I love reading.
Heart: What’s your favorite book and what impact has it had on you?
SP: I read a lot of fantasy books, I learn a lot of morals from them, I read books about mythological stuff, but some realistic fiction books that I’ve read, like Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt or the The Saturday Boy by David Fleming, they’ve made me cry a little. I like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, that’s a very good book, where they show the point of view of a disabled person or a person who feels bad. I love those kind of books. These books have always had a great influence on me, because you never know what’s going on in someone’s mind, that you should always be mindful of that.
Heart: Great answer. So, 10 years from now, how’s life going to look like?
SP: I want to, I’m not sure what college, I hope its Georgia Tech, I want to be learning Physics, Quantum physics. It fascinates me. I want to be in a position to help society. That’s always been my dream. That’s my ultimate goal, to be in a position to help society. And that’s how I’ve been since forever. I want to achieve my secular goals, my academics, my income but then I also want to connect with people, communicate, and lead, encourage and inspire. That’s where I want to be in 10 years. Or atleast starting that process.
Heart: Have you heard of Sam Harris or Deepak Chopra?
Heart: They talk about spirituality at a quantum level.
SP: Yeah, that’s what I would like to do someday.
Heart: Do you follow news?
SP: Not really. I watch Channel 2 Action news or whatever’s on TV in the mornings. I don’t keep up with the stuff that’s going on in the White House or any kinda that stuff.
Heart: Favorite music artist?
SP: I like electronic music. I have a bunch of them. Martin Garrix, he’s a DJ. Alan Walker, he’s also a DJ, all my favorite music artists are all DJs. So, yeah. Those are the first two that come to mind.
Heart: Cool. So, is sex education discussed in school?
SP: Yes. Definitely.
Heart: Are the kids encouraged to talk about it with parents and teachers?
SP: I usually discuss with Amma (mom) about what’s going on and what we’re doing. And I like discussing that kinda stuff because how can it hurt, I mean, its good to know, always. I appreciate it when teachers talk about it. The district is obviously concerned that we learn this stuff well, and they should be. What I find annoying is when students take this immaturely and they start giggling. This is serious business and it can be life and death situation for some kids. Its very personal and when you’re giggling, you might be hurting someone. “Oh are they giggling because I am different?”
So, yeah, there’s sex ed in class. And in high school, they go more in depth about the topics. Like they don’t introduce topics like rape in elementary schools. So, its all definitely age appropriate. And I think its good that they teach that kinda stuff.
Heart: Good. How many times have you visited India?
SP: Cool! I try to go as much as I can with my parents. Sometimes, activities get in the way. Mostly, we go once every other year. I love India. Some kids don’t. I don’t know why. I love India very much. My grandparents are very dear to me. There is so much to learn from them. I just go, “Tell me about your life please!” Its amazing, you don’t see stuff in America like you see in India. Its very open and you can learn so much.
Heart: What leaves your head shaking?
SP: What does that mean? (Smiles)
Heart: What annoys or irritates you about people? There must be something that you don’t like.
SP: I find it really annoying when people think I cannot do something because I’m a girl. Especially in Science or Math clubs when I’m the youngest, which I usually am very often, they’re like, “Oh, we will give this task to someone else.” I say, “No, I can do it. I can do it.” I am capable of doing stuff, so I hate sexism. That’s so annoying, I hate it.
And I love discussing with people who have the same opinion as mine. I try to convince people who have an opposite opinion to have my opinion. Again, its just an opinion. (Laughs)
And when I hear people believe that Science is not important. They just say, having money, having a job are important. Science and math are not. Of course, they’re important. So, I don’t like when people say that kinda stuff.
So, another thing is when people say that I shouldn’t achieve my dream career, or my dream job, because I need to be a beautiful wife and mother. I don’t like that. Because take for example you and your different projects, and look at your children. They’re amazing kids.
Heart: Thank you.
SP: Yeah, I mean I will handle everything because I want to. Its my life. But then I’ve to contribute to the society, and I’ve to be a dutiful family member. That doesn’t mean I have to give up on my dreams. I can do everything.
And that’s what leaves my head shaking. Very vigorously.
Heart: Any final message or thought for children or adults?
SP: Yeah, sure. Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dreams. If anyone tells you what you want to do is ridiculous, that’s absolute nonsense. You just have to keep trying. There’ll be a lot of things in the world that will try and try and try to get in the way. It might be jealousy, it might be anger, it might be your parents being protective, or you being afraid of changing yourself, but don’t let anything get in the way. Because, honestly, the only thing getting in your way is yourself, you’re mentally cornering yourself that you can’t do it. All those other things, you’re capable of pushing them away. So, just keep going. And the other thing, Hardwork does pays off. Put everything you’ve got. Be determined to go wherever that is you want to go. A diamond is a diamond wherever it is. So, yeah.
Heart: I didn’t know I could learn so much from a 13 year old.
SP: I don’t know, that was a bunch of stuff. (Laughs)
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto.