Essay of the Week: Finding a Healthy Home for Rage

By Pridhvi Vegesna

“What did I do to deserve this?”

This question grips me as I enter a restaurant in India. Aromas of toasted breads, creamy curries, and fiery spices induce my senses into a state of bliss reflective of the passionate Indian spirit. I absorb the wonders which bless me, only to be interrupted by a server who asks me for my order.

The waiter is a 6 year old boy; his 1000 watt smile is radiant enough to distract anyone from the troubles of their day. But it wasn’t enough to stop me from realizing that this boy was missing an arm.

I moved to the Bay Area as a baby, travelling to my native land of India once every other year. There, the question still haunts me: “what did I do to deserve this?”

When I was 10, my Uncle and I were caught in the congested streets of Bhimavaram, Southern India when a young girl approached us. With a baby on her back, she mustered the energy to trudge to our car, where she submissively yielded her head and put forth her hands to beg for alms. Our eyes met for a second.

“Ksssshhhhh”.

My uncle rolled up the window and sighed: “eentuuku vallu mana bora tintunaru” – Telugu for “why do they bother us.” Living in India his entire life has numbed him to beggars. But I couldn’t resist: I bolted out into the streets, tapped her shoulder, and placed some money in her hand before returning to the car. That night, I went to bed proud. But, the next day, I saw the same girl, on the same corner, stuck in the same miserable state.

I gave her charity, but I couldn’t give her justice. I became livid with the system of injustice that blinded my uncle to her humanity. I couldn’t bear the thought that poverty was constant — unchanging. But most of all, I was young and was hiding from the anger that I had with myself. I felt blessed, but inadequate and this frustrated me. I didn’t know how to share the gifts of my blessings.

I was released from the burden of ire while engaged in a debate over the minimum wage. I argued that America could benefit from a hike in the minimum wage. I spent hours amassing mounds of evidence — studies which showed the beneficial impacts of increasing the minimum wage. All the hours I put in meant that I couldn’t lose to my opponent (well, at least until their last speech). He introduced evidence about an island that had its entire economy based on the fishing industry. After the government raised the minimum wage on the island, companies outsourced all the fishing jobs leaving the economy in ruins. Years after the raise in the wage, 23.8% of the population was unemployed.

Although I lost that argument, I had won as a person: I found debate and, in the process, I discovered an outlet for all the rage that lived inside of me. Sure, the activity is more theoretical than concrete, but I’ve learned that before I can bring about the change that I so deeply desire, I need to learn how to combat my problems intellectually. Fixing poverty is more complicated than raising the minimum wage and it’s definitely not as easy as getting angry with my uncle.

Whereas the reminiscence of that little girl fixated me, frustrating me all the more, I’m now able to approach situations beyond their moral pull and embrace the complexity of policy behind each issue. No longer bedridden by my same old self-induced resentment, I’ve become critical, composed, and curious with debate. And these new skills will propel me to enact change in the real world.

The question is no longer “what did I do to deserve this?” Instead, I ask, “what will I do to fix it?”

Pridhvi Vegesna, a 2017 graduate of Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California

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