Good Indian Girl, Sort Of: Poonam Desai
What your favorite hangout in Dallas? Reverchon Park by my house. I go there and swing on the swings, blow bubbles, run around, throw a frisbee with my partner, and stare at trees. I also really enjoy Spiral Diner and V-Eats. As a vegan, these are my two go-to spots for delicious plant-based food!
I currently work as an: Licensed Psychologist. I work full-time in a school district as part of the Psychological and Social Services Department, and part-time at a private group practice. I also teach mindfulness in the community, holding workshops and seminars upon request.
I do this because: (Steps onto soapbox) Mental health is something so many people are affected by, including in the South Asian community, and so few people talk about. I have struggled with depression and anxiety and it can be crippling. I have also known the joy of good mental health and it is freeing. I know many individuals who have dealt with their own mental health issues and the answer lies in sharing, building connections and support systems, and healing through one another. Yet, those with mental illness typically feel isolated, stigmatized, and cut off. It doesn’t add up. I love helping people learn about themselves, learn ways to cope, and practice self-love. Schools are a particularly interesting setting. My days are never boring, never routine, and always offer a chance for me to practice mindfulness, love, and compassion with a clinical lens (steps off soapbox). Thanks for listening!
What are some Indian traditions you still follow? I make chai (with mint!) nearly every morning. I celebrate Diwali and the New Year every year. Whenever I touch a book with my feet, I apologize to the Goddess Laxmi (you know what I’m talking about–touch the book, touch the heart, touch left eye, right eye). I use a lot of Ayurvedic practices and herbal preventative and treatment remedies. I’ve tried over the years to practice my Gujarati, and I still remember how to read and write, but I find it difficult to keep up fluency. I know how to bounce into bhangra the moment the dhol drops. I have also kept up with my Bharatanatyam skills (shout out to Alpana Jacob at Arathi School of Dance!)
Bollywood or Hollywood, and why? Mostly Hollywood, tbh. I’ll watch a Bollywood film if it comes highly recommended from several people I consider my informants. I particularly like the artsy films that focus on depth of story and cinematography. I also like the ones that make social commentary: Udta Panjab, Peepli Live, and anything Aamir Khan is in. But, I grew up on a steady diet of Meg Ryan and Gwyneth Paltrow (hello internalized racism!). For better or for worse, Hollywood will always be my go-to.
Favorite movie? What Dreams May Come. I found out recently this was a book before it was the visually stunning movie starring Robin Williams. I’ve always been drawn to existential films. This one made me ponder the nature of depression, love, reincarnation, and the many broken, beautiful parts of life.
What’s your favorite thing about Indian culture? All the beautiful colors! Lol, just kidding. The spirituality at the heart of it. I am proud to be Vedic for all its inclusivity of different philosophies and schools of thought. I am proud to grapple with such complex ideas around karma, duty, and equanimity. I know the “Hinduism” broadly understood today is a distilled mixture of rituals and rites done without much understanding, but any practice–spiritual, religious, or secular–has as much meaning as you pour into it. My favorite thing is letting my feet sink in the muck of my spirituality and finding the gold.
What’s one piece of advice your parents have given you that should probably be or are abiding by? If you clean a little each day, you won’t have to do so much at once…..I definitely see the value in this, but never really got the hang of it.
Good Indian Girl? Maybe! I know a few people who would definitely say yes and few who would give you the side-eye in response! I scuba dive. I look people straight in the eye. I paint, I curse like a sailor. I write and I self-published a book of poetry earlier this year, I refuse to do things I don’t agree with. I regularly go on 10-day meditation retreats. I talk to strangers (and listen to them). I celebrate Halloween fervently, I’ve been married for 10 years and don’t have any children. I’m an activist and advocate for mental health, public education, LGBT rights, and racial justice. What is “good” anyway? Can I skip good and say I’m a f-ing awesome Indian Girl and proud to be one?