South Asian representation has always been a difficult thing to come by. When we would see South Asians in the media, they were often stereotyped with accents pursuing careers that either involved medicine or technology. For the longest time, due to characters such as Baljeet (Phineas and Ferb) and Raj (The Big Bang Theory), I thought being a South Asian inherently meant I had to be nerdy, religiously studious and dedicated to the pursuit of traditional career paths. I was beginning to think that I was stuck in this box built by society, and I couldn’t get out of it.
And I wasn’t alone.
In 2018, Sameer Desai, tired from the lack of South Asian representation in media and entertainment- let alone non-stereotypical representation- created a podcast to finally give the South Asian community the voice it needs — South Asian Stories. This award-winning podcast focuses on the diverse and untraditional career paths South Asians have taken across the country, breaking out from the mold that Western society and traditional values has created amongst the community.
“There’s always been a push in the South Asian community for people to become doctors, lawyers, or engineers,” Meera Tikku, an intern at South Asian Stories and student at the University of Pittsburgh, states. “But here, we show that we don’t need to follow the traditional path.”
From fashion designers to comedians, South Asian Stories hosts a vast variety of people from different career paths, showcasing our ability to succeed in almost anything. In just their most recent interview, South Asian Stories featured a marvelous woman, Dr. Ranjan Ravaliya, who changed her career at 62 from an environmental scientist to a Hindu priest and wedding officiant.
“Listen to your gut feeling,” Dr. Ravaliya encourages in the episode. “If it’s in your heart, then do it.”
With people like Dr. Ravaliya sharing their stories on the podcast, explaining their passion for wanting to try something different no matter the perceived time constraints and societal pressures, people like me- confused and lost about their career paths- realize with the help of these stories that there is no set path for anyone. Nothing in our life is a guarantee; nothing is set in stone. In the end, our life is made up of choices we’ve made throughout the years and the outcome… well, that’s the surprise.
“Life has certain surprises for you,” Dr. Ranjan Ravaliya mentions as she discusses her transition from scientist to priest. “And those surprises are either you take it or leave it.”
In a society where South Asians often feel pressured to follow one path- not only from the traditional values many families impose in their households, but also by the stereotypical views of what a South Asian is- it’s difficult to pursue a passion divergent from the careers we were told to strive towards as kids.
“We understand the push for traditional career paths. It offers financial stability, a safety net, and that’s something that all parents want for their kids,” Meera explains. “But success comes in many forms. Sometimes even in the most unexpected forms.”
For many people, their career is their identity. It allows them to figure out who they are and what they like. It can teach them how to define themselves. By providing people a platform to share their stories and journeys to the careers they’ve strived for, South Asian Stories celebrates the diversity within the South Asian community. It acknowledges that our stories, while slightly similar, are also widely unique and it’s okay if we don’t fit into the mold created by society. It’s okay that we have preferences, hobbies and passions different from what we thought we had to pursue growing up.
For the longest time, I thought being a doctor was the only path for me. It wasn’t until I took AP Physics my junior year of high school when I decided that if I pursued medicine, it was possible I wouldn’t even reach my college graduation. And I freaked out.
Medicine had been all I was pushed towards. It was one of the few career paths I knew besides computer science (which I refused to even acknowledge because I was determined to not follow my parents’ career) and law (which was also a no because I would cry the minute anyone disagreed with me). But suddenly, with medicine out of the picture, it was like I was finally opening my eyes to everything else around me.
For the first time I was considering majors I never thought I would before, career paths I wasn’t sure my parents would approve of, pursuing passions I wasn’t sure could ever amount to anything. Luckily, I am fortunate enough to have parents who supported my every decision, with my mother even pushing me to pursue my creative aspirations.
“I like that you would be doing something different from everyone else,” she told me when I first shared my idea about being an author when I grow up. “It’s not boring.”
But even with my parents’ approval, there’s still a fear about doing something different. A fear of breaking out of the accepted mold. A fear that I’d fail. So sometimes we need a push, something that shows us we’re not alone in facing these emotions of discomfort, uneasiness and aimlessness; South Asian Stories gives us that push.
And because of that- the stories they share and journeys they detail- people like me, scared to follow a path unknown to them, are able to believe that it’s possible to succeed somewhere different. South Asians Stories gives our community the best guidance from the best people to provide it — fellow South Asians.
“We need representation authentically,” Meera says. “Only someone from our community can give us the representation we need.”
For all my fellow South Asians out there who feel lost or confused, for anyone who’s even considering pursuing a career different from what they’ve planned, or who wants to take the leap but is too scared, here’s my advice: grab some food, lay down on your couch, click on the first episode of South Asian Stories, and go from there.
Trust me. We’re not alone.