BY: Shama Padalkar
Experiencing Our Town:
In The Words of Women Immigrants in Columbus, Indiana
Having come from Mumbai and Pune, the vastness of Indiana empty lands and the flatness of the earth were striking. As the car took exit 68 from I-65, we were in Columbus, but all I could see were a few businesses like the Holiday Inn, the Comfort Inn (that’s where we stayed), and Walmart. No houses, buildings—no sign of people. So that was my first impression of the town—a sleepy town, no people, quiet (nobody honks their car horns).
Our son was in the 11th grade when we moved here. Our first visit was to decide on our residence and school. Where we come from, getting into a good school was a challenge. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that if we lived in a certain area, then our son would go to a high school—in this case, either East or North—based on that area. So if I lived in a certain area, admission to that high school was guaranteed. We were overjoyed that one big job was done. Another surprise here was the way students and teachers interacted with each other (it was a shock to learn that there was a pregnant girl in my son’s class). Students call teachers by name. My son was on the school swim team and used to have his practice before school and after school. The school system expects students to make choices and there are options. Most of the procedures were new to us and we struggled to understand them. I do not remember much about it now, but I had to read twice to understand them. Even the English is different. The use of prepositions is different. It took me a while to adjust to it.
We have friendly neighbors. One neighbor mowed our lawn while we were visiting India. One of our Indian friends here was going to take care of that when we were gone and when he went to mow the lawn, he found it was already mowed.Who does that? Our friendly neighbor said, “If you’d told me, I would have also kept an eye on your property.” Seriously, who does that?
The concept of a downtown was new to me. Downtown Columbus looked extremely unfriendly to me. After my husband returned home from work, we went a couple of times to roam around the place. It all looked very closed, unfriendly, unwelcoming, and uninteresting, too. In 2008, there was the old Commons, but I never visited. There were no vegetarian restaurants and the ones that offered vegetarian options did not have nutritious, wholesome options. The Sears used to be a good place to browse, but even that store closed. The new Commons is very welcoming. The sculpture “Chaos”—they call it art—but to me, it is a piece of work created out of junk. A smart piece, but still I don’t find anything artistic about it. It still looks like junk—moving. The children’s play area must be a blessing for families with small kids. I love the idea of having an indoor space—free—for all to use during unfriendly weather and seasons.
There is so much more diversity and openness now.