Sumit is an accomplished traveller. He's survived and overcome the trauma of being re-located to a foreign country at the behest of his parents on more than one occasion. He's learned to adapt and find consistency in the collage of places he's called home. It would be apt to call him a drifter. Wether he's a resident or a visitor, Sumit always scours his surroundings for new cuisines, which he blogs about.
ND: Where have you lived?
Sumit: I 've lived in Egypt, India and the US, but that doesn't include the countries that I've visited.
ND: Take us to Egypt. Obviously Egpyt is going thourgh a lot of turmoil now. How was it when you moved there? What was it like?
Sumit: I moved there from '95 - 2000. I had been living in Voorhees, NJ, thirty minutes away from Philly. At that time Egypt was actually a very safe place. The people were very funny and everything kind of seemed backwards at first. By the time I would go to sleep, between 10 and 11 o'clock at night, that's when people would be going out to different restaurants, to stores, to parties, to smoke hookah. I got exposed to the Middle Eastern culture at a young age: Arabic, which I learned growing up there. I tried to meet as many people as possible. I would talk to them and try to learn something interesting and new.
ND: When you moved to Egypt you're a young kid, what were some of the difficulties, if any, that you had adjusting?
Sumit: When we first moved to Egypt, I would say the language. I was used to English and I was bi-lingual growing up. Bengali is my mother tongue. And then learning Arabic was challenging because I did not know the alphabet, the pronunciation and I couldn't understand.
The second part was becoming familar with certain places and locations, so which places are safe to go to, who can you trust, who can you hang out with, and that was a big concern for my parents. However I have the liberty of having pretty open-minded parents, so as a young kid I was able to travel to different places. I got in trouble staying out pretty late, considering I was only in middle school.
ND: How late?
Sumit: Pretty late. I stayed out until midnight, you know. And I got into big trouble. I got scolded and beaten up. But at that time it was an adventure. And I got accoustemed to a different taste. Not only am I living in Egypt, but my friends at the American school are from different countries: Greece, Norway, Sweden. I would go to to their houses and their parents treated me differently. I got some insight into their culture and I got to try their food, which was awesome!
ND: That's cool that your parents and the families you were around were pretty open to certain things.
Sumit: I would say even though my parents were liberal, they still felt comfortable in their own culture and meeting with other people [within] their own culture. That's how they grew up.
I grew up differenlty. Growing up in three different countries with so many different people from all over the world, I have a different point of view. Normally when you go to any new place, whether in the US or abroad, you normally see cliques of people. Cliques of people normally determined by which area or country they come from, their culture, your region, the language and these people will form their own groups. For me, even while growing up, I felt more . . . I wanted something new. I wanted to experience something new. There were cliques and groups, but I broke away from that. And the same thing happened when I went to middle school, and then high school— even in New Delhi. I surrounded myself with other people in LA and Philadelphia. I broke off from the cliques. I just . . . to me [cliques] seemed mundane.
ND: What kind of people do you tend to attract or engage?
Well, usually the people that I interact with are passionate. I don't necessarily like to talk to people who are miserable. I understand that there may be a job that you don't like, or certain situations you don't care for. People experience difficulties in their lives— that happens in life. But, if you don't feel alive, what's the purpose?
So I try to surround myself with people who are passionate. Passionate about anything. And if there's a difference of opinion, that's great, because I'd like to learn from him or her.
Second is energy. Energy makes a big difference. If you don't have the energy, you don't have the drive. If you don't have the drive, you're missing out on so many different opportunities.
And the third is, I would say, a unique quality about that person. Maybe they're humorous in their own way. I might not see that at first, but later on I do. Maybe they're sarcastic, or awkward or random.
ND: After spending 5 years in Alexandria, you come back. What was it like going from Egypt back to the east coast?
It felt really weird, because all I kept thinking about was going back to Egpyt. I keep thinking, I'm going back to Egypt. Before going to Egypt I was kind of scared being a kid in second grade. I was used to my classmates, my teachers, the whole neighborhood. I had certain types of friends. We would ride bikes and hang out. But my emotions shifted with time. And that's one thing I missed about Egypt. I thought about Egypt for awhile.
And later we moved from India to LA. Even though I enjoyed parts of India, there were some parts of Delhi I didn't like: the traffic, the pollution and it was just too congested, too much noise. LA seemed less chaotic.
ND: You're a brown person. You're of Indian descent, Bengali to be specific. When you finally go to India for high-school do you feel more at home, because you're amongst Indians?
Sumit: NO! Actually, it's funny. It was kind of like racism. My parents were the ones who grew up in India, so they knew the Indian culture. I essentially grew up in the US and Egypt, but this is my first time living in India. And it's different than just visiting.
What type of discrimination? When people saw the clothes that I wore and heard the way I spoke people would try to take advantage of me. I'd go to a barber shop and people would charge me 2 to 3 times more money. I'd go to different places and taxis would jack up the price. And I was offended. At first, I was aggressive. I'm like WHAT IS THIS!? I thought it was bullshit! Later, I thought, How do I get rid of this? Luckily, I was able to communicate with different types of people and go back and forth as far as sharing qualities. So I can help someone with one of my good attributes and he or she can help me. So, in that sense, I went around with people who grew up in the area. Some family members would help me. They would speak for me, haggle for me. It helped me save a lot of money and eliminate some of the frustration.
ND: So, when you were in Delhi, were you speaking Hindi, English, or Bengali?
Sumit: Actually, when I was in Delhi I spoke English, because I went to an American school. I spoke Bengali a lot with my family. I was trying to learn Hindi at one point, but I was not forced to learn it. Even now I know more Arabic than Hindi, because I was forced to learn Arabic in Egypt. When I moved to India in the community I was living in, it was pretty much Bengali.
ND: Let's bring it back to the US. You spent some time growing up in Jersey and later went out to LA. How would you contrast the Jersey vibe to your LA vibe?
Sumit: Very different! I actually broke out of my shell when I moved to LA. At first— talking about personality— I was a lot more introverted. Then when I hit 12th grade, I got to know myself better. I got into sports. I did a lot of social activities. And when I got to LA, LA was so creative. People were a lot more open. I tried different things with different types of people: dancing, public speaking, traveling. Different types of entertainment all over the place. Even things like kayaking. So, I had all these different experiences and those experiences allowed me to connect with a lot more different types of people. What I loved most about LA at that point was that I was surrounded by so many diverse types of people and types of thinking. It was okay that you had a different idea. People would actually support you as opposed to saying, You know what? That's a stupid idea! Throw it in the trash!
ND: Now, as a young adult you've spent a lot of time in Philadelphia. How has Philly been for you?
Sumit: When I first moved to Philly I kind of hated it!
Sumit: People here are very direct. I was not used to that.
ND: How so?
Sumit: In India, no matter where I go people would stare at each other, right. No matter if you're Indian or not. People would just stare, at least in Delhi. I did that in Philly and people got angry! And they would say, "Why the hell are you looking at me!? What the fuck!?" Blunt. Direct.
Even homeless people. And I'm like, What is this? I had never experienced that.
ND: What is it about Philly that you enjoy now? It seems to me that you've kind of found your current.
Sumit: Well, Philly has a strong art scene that people overlook. Things like First Fridays. There are a lot of free galleries that you can go to. And there are a lot of quality museums. It ranges from fine art to the natural sciences.
Also, Philly is very walkable. You don't always need public transportation. You can walk to a lot of places.
Plus, the food scene is changing a lot. There is a lot of affordable, quality food. Especially in Chinatown.
ND: What's your travel philosophy?
Sumit: If you're unsure and hesitant you're going to create regret. When you travel, make a decision to travel and do it. And don't be a miser. You won't fully enjoy your experience. But in the same token don't waste your money on crap. Start with the free stuff. Where is the free stuff? Ask yourself the right questions. And be curious!