Image description: A circle of hands decorated with henna, with necklaces, beads, tea, and samosas (a desi snack) around the images. End ID
Image description: A circle of hands decorated with henna, with necklaces, beads, tea, and samosas (a desi snack) around the images. End ID

Illustration by Iman Lalani

Cultural SIGs: A Cornerstone of Community

Reflecting on Sahana’s recent mixer and how it made me realize the importance of cultural events on campus

Oct 8, 2023

I’m from India, I’m South Asian, I’m Desi. I’ve introduced myself as such so many times. Ironically, coming to NYU Abu Dhabi has made me question and rethink how Desi I really am. But on Sep. 26, at Sahana’s “Spill the Chai” event, amidst a group of South Asians gathered around — gossiping, applying henna, and making bracelets — I realized just how much I missed my culture. It was such a simple thing we were doing, but it made me realize that although there is a certain kind of pride in describing and explaining aspects of my culture to people outside of it, nothing can beat the solidarity of spending time with people from my own culture. For that time, it felt nice not to have to think about whether the people I was talking to would recognize the references I made in conversation, or worry about accidentally slipping into my mother tongue in the middle of my sentence.
In addition to providing such comfort, these cultural events also put the spotlight on treasured aspects of our culture. For me, the practice of applying henna holds personal as well as cultural importance. Scraping off the hardened henna from my hands, I looked in the mirror and I was transported back to my childhood, my country, and my people. All of it came rushing back. The smell of henna, the scrape of chalk on the floor for a game of hopscotch in my neighborhood, the rush of someone patting my back in the middle of an intense game of kho-kho in high school. The evening of the Sahana event, there was no better place to be than in that Baraha room, amongst the conversation over steaming cups of chai. I didn’t look at my phone even once, it was as if I was back home, back to when I was a teenager again, when I didn’t have Google Calendar installed on my phone and kept time by when my mom called out that it was getting dark and I should come home.
Of course, there are objections to cultural Student-Interest Groups on campus, people say there are too many of them, or that they have become too restrictive, or even that some of them can be merged into just one SIG. But in defining their membership, I’m sure none of these SIGs want to be restrictive — they’re just trying to build a cultural safe space. That’s why I want there to be more cultural events.
I think in an environment where we are reminded every day of how diverse we are from each other, such events are not just wholesome, but necessary to keep us grounded and connected to each other. I think cultural SIGs are a blessing. I think that sometimes, sticking with people who are just like us is liberating and calming. So, as we wrapped up the Sahana event, I made sure to swipe the leftover henna cones to store in my freezer, ready for the next time I miss home again.
Tiesta Dangwal is Senior Opinion Editor. Email them at
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