I have constantly been surrounded by people. My sister was born when I was four years old, and although she acted as more of a toy than a person to me for a few years, was and continues to be my closest companion. From the age of seven, all my time outside of school was consumed with group activities from dance to sports to instruments and Sunday school. I accumulated a wonderful group of friends, memories, and even a few great hobbies and skills. Then I entered college, and nothing really changed. I met some brilliant and funny people who I enjoyed my time and studied with and my life very luckily continued this way as I moved across the country. Living in new cities and working new jobs helped me grow professionally and opened my eyes to the beauty the U.S. has to offer. In Washington D.C. I was lucky enough to have lived with a friend from college and together we made new acquaintances and explored America’s capital. I moved to New York shortly after and lived with a childhood friend who showed me the ways of the Big Apple. But after I moved to India, I became acutely aware that in all these years, I had not learned one very important life skill; how to be alone.
Madanapalle is a very small tillage (not a town or a village, but right in between) approximately 200 km away from Bangalore and approximately 250 km away from Chennai. I lived in a girl’s hostel, but since I was not in school, my quarters were in a separate area away from the rest of the girls living in the building. After the initial excitement of my arrival had dissipated and I had settled in to my space, a feeling I had never experienced before came creeping in, and it took me some time to realize that I, Sarala Mayuri Kal, was experiencing loneliness. Every day I took a quick four-minute walk to work, had a wonderful time strategizing with my colleagues, came back, and stared at my four walls until I could fall asleep. As someone whose mind wanders constantly, it’s easy to see how this much time ruminating in my own thoughts drove me a little insane. Yes, I read a plethora of amazing literature, and when the internet cooperated with me, talked to my friends and family, but at the end of the day, the hardest task I faced was keeping myself from falling in to a pit of sad, wilting emotions that could take me to more dangerous places. Going out was almost never an option as I’d been strictly advised to never leave my hostel alone, and as I did not have friends, that option became obsolete. When I did dare to venture out alone, I was reminded that ignoring the catcalls of the young men around me was a much more difficult task than I’d imagined. There were times I’d hustle my colleagues to take me out, but I refused to constantly be a burden on those that I had to see every day for the next year.
As days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, I learned that the most powerful way for me to keep my sanity was to channel my thoughts into positive energy rather than alleyways to negativity. Meditation became my guru, and my stubborn refusal to surrender to isolation gave me the energy to tackle this feeling day in and day out, fighting back tears and a desperate desire to book a flight back to my beautiful bubble in Los Angeles. My last day in Madanapalle as I was packing up my room, I thought back to the days I endured the sweltering heat of summer without an air conditioner and the snappy cold air of winter without access to hot water that I barely survived. These last 10 months in India have given me experiences and memories of a lifetime, but more than anything, have taught me that I have the resilience and strength to overcome any battle I may encounter, be it mentally taxing, physically challenging, or just plain annoying.