Maheen Syed and Nitya Sudarshan are close friends who will be graduating this Spring. Maheen and Nitya have shared their wise advice and silly stories with me in this joint interview. They are both kind and compassionate people who have really grown during their four years at Brown. Their friendship with each other and their other fellow Brown students is something that has truly made Brown a home for them. However, they still love and appreciate where they are from and the people that have helped them get here. Maheen has lived in Lahore, Pakistan her whole life and Nitya is from Bombay, India. Maheen will graduate with an Sc.B in Applied Math and Nitya will graduate with an A.B. in English and in Biology. Continue reading this interview to learn about the fun antics and heartfelt moments that these two have shared.
So how’s your semester going so far?
Maheen: My semester has been very interesting because I am taking a lot of classes that are outside my concentration. I’m in this really cool class called the Craft of Teaching. I haven’t really explored specifically the education department and I’m having a lot of fun with that. Being a senior is like one of those feelings where all of this is almost ending, so I’m a little stressed out by that, but also super excited for what lies in the future. It’s an intricate balance that I swing between.
Nitya: I think it’s similar for me. It’s senior spring and I’m taking a lot of cool classes. I’m in an amazing Judaic Studies class on the Holocaust. I’m also in this seminar on reproduction. But I think, like Maheen was saying, and for me at least, I’ve developed a routine at Brown. So it’s easy to think okay, I’m going to go to the SciLi and study and then I’m going to go home to my apartment. You just always expect to come back to campus and do it all again. But now it’s like only something like 100 days until we graduate and it’s just feels like it’s too soon.
Maheen: Yes, too soon! Brown has become such a home for me. It’s interesting to see how that dynamic will change because so much of these past four years has been about defining that home for me.
Nitya: Yeah, especially because we live with each other and so many of our good friends and when’s the next time we’re all going to be in the same place again? That’s something we can take for granted now.
What was your happiest day at Brown?
Nitya: We have a friend who’s birthday always happens over winter break and we realized that she never had a birthday at Brown. So all of us— me, Maheen, and a bunch of our friends— came together in one day to plan a little birthday party for her. It was so last minute, but I think we put together a pretty amazing thing for her. I don’t know if I have a single happy moment that stands out, but that really fun and happy day for me.
Maheen: For me, a lot that’s sticking out when thinking about this is moments with friends at our home here. I have so many memories that I would say spark joy. Like the other day, I walked in and saw two of my floormates just watching a video and dancing along. And I immediately joined in and we all started singing. And it was very random, but it was so wholesome. We’re a weird bunch of people.
Nitya: Yeah, we also really take care of each other, which is so nice. Like how it’s always a group effort to get Maheen out of bed.
Maheen: Oh my gosh, that reminds me of the time I got back from Pakistan and was super, super jet-lagged. You’re supposed to deal with it and stay up, but I never do that. So I got back and immediately went to bed. Then I hear this banging on the door and it’s Nitya and my friends. They literally forced me to get up, and they said “We’re going to get you cupcakes, please don’t sleep!” And because of them, my jet-lag ended in a week, which was a first for me.
What made you decide to come to Brown?
Nitya: I don’t think I have a specific reason. When I applied and got in, I was picking between a few schools, but Brown just seemed like an instinctively right decision.
Maheen: For me, it was slightly different. I had a family member who had been to Brown. So when I was 11 or 12, I heard them talking about Brown. I just immediately loved the way their experiences sounded. For me, Brown always stuck out. For me it was always a dream to be here. I never visited the college, I had never even been to the States. Even though I loved the sound of Brown, applying was very much on a whim.
Nitya: And now her brother’s coming here as well.
Maheen: Yeah! My brother also got in, I’m excited for his experience here.
Where is home for you and how has your time at Brown changed your experience of going back there?
Nitya: Home is India for me, in Bombay. I’ve found that, I am less desperate to go back home as the semesters go by. Not that I don’t love being home, of course, home is home. But I do think that I am at a point now where I look forward to being here as much as I look forward to being at home. When I leave Brown each semester, I am sad to leave here, but happy to go home, and vice versa. I don’t feel different or anything like that at home since Brown; it’s the same place.
Maheen: Home is Lahore, Pakistan; I’ve lived there my whole life. For me, I think coming to Brown has opened my eyes to a lot of the sacrifices my parents have made for me. Now when I go back home, I’m even more cognizant of that. And like what Nitya said, I have two homes and oscillating between the two of them is always bittersweet in a way.
What is your motto in life?
Nitya: I think I know Maheen’s: Sleep until you absolutely don’t have to.
Maheen: No, this is not my motto. Sleep and eat, firstly. Umm… Nitya’s life motto is to come up with new, innovative ways to annoy people.
Nitya: In fun and random ways. They’re things like labeling everything in Maheen’s room.
Maheen: Oh my god, Nitya was gifted a label maker and she would literally print out labels for everything. It started out with fun and cute things, but then my laptop was labelled laptop and my wall was labelled wall, my door is labelled door. She does this to everybody. And the only person who’s having fun is Nitya.
Nitya: I think you enjoyed it too.
Maheen: Yeah, that’s true. I mean my laptop is still labelled.
Nitya: And it helped someone find their laptop.
Maheen: Oh yeah! Someone lost their laptop and was stressed out about not being able to find it. And then DPS called asking if their laptop was labelled laptop and they were able to get their laptop back.
Nitya: See, it helped. It was also so funny.
Maheen: On a more serious note, I think that being at Brown has given me the opportunity to interact with people who are so compassionate, like my close friends who have made Brown a home for me. Even in classes that I’ve taken, I feel like compassion has been at the center of what they talk about. The importance of compassion that I’ve learned here is something I think I will take with me wherever I go.
Nitya: I think for me, Brown has taught me to fully engage in the interactions that I have. That’s something that has definitely changed for me in the last four years. There’s so many people that we meet on a day to day basis in so many different contexts. Everyone at Brown has a lot to share and talk about. I’ve learned to almost slow down my life in a way. Instead of seeing my time as the tasks I have to complete, I’ve learned to just engage more with people around me and engage in different conversations.
What’s something you wish you knew or did earlier in your time at Brown?
Maheen: Actually go to the events listed on Morning Mail/Today@Brown. I would always see a lot of really cool stuff and want to go, but I would never get around to it.
Nitya: Same for me, actually. Especially events related to speakers. There’s some really cool speakers that come to campus. For me, Morning Mail/Today@Brown used to be like a little reminder to go to bed when it popped up at 1 a.m. I wish I had looked at it more earlier on. Another thing for me, was actually taking the time and initiative to chat with professors. I did this for the first time as a junior; I spent a long time talking to a professor because I noticed they had worked in the same place I wanted to work. Professors are people too and I wish I had taken this chance earlier.
Maheen: I’ve found that people at Brown are open to talking about the cool things that they’ve done. It’s scary to be the one approaching people; but learning to not be afraid to initiate those conversations is important, because most people are really open to them.
What is one misconception that you had earlier been changed by coming to Brown?
Maheen: That everybody has everything figured out. Everybody has their own trajectory, everybody is dealing with their own story. It’s can be very stressful to think that you’re not where everyone else is, but it’s okay to not have everything figured out because things do end up working out.
Nitya: If people seem like they’ve figured it out, they often haven’t. And I mean this completely in reference to myself, when someone seems put together on the surface, they likely aren’t. Different parts of people’s lives affect the others and it’s not always obvious even to the person experiencing it; there’s really no way someone has every single thing figured out.
What’s your favorite place in Providence or at Brown?
Maheen: I like to eat at the Creperie on Thayer.
Nitya: There’s a little garden in front of Alumni Hall near Keeney Quad that I think is cute.
Maheen: There’s this building on the way towards RISD’s campus, if you get on the roof of it, you get a nice view of Providence. Especially at night when all the lights are on.
Nitya: Sunsets at Page Robinson Hall, 5th floor.
Maheen: Oh yes, whenever I’ve had classes there I’ve always zoned out at sunset.
Nitya: Also the two or three streets off campus on Pembroke, like Lloyd and Bowen, are nice to walk around. India Point Park is also really nice, especially at sunset.
What has been your greatest struggle since coming to Brown?
Nitya: I think for me it’s being okay with not being okay sometimes. I think I’ve gone through a lot of experiences that have been overwhelming. Sometimes I can get into the habit of beating myself up for not being able to cope or move on from things. Letting myself take it easy if I’m going through a hard time is something I’ve learned. It’s not weak to recognize that I’m too overwhelmed and take a break or slow things down. Another struggle is just acknowledging that sometimes you need to reach out for help. You know, just because you can deal with something alone doesn’t mean you should. And it’s not just about taking advantage of the resources at Brown, but even just telling a friend that you’re not having a good week. That can be very hard to do sometimes. Learning that things are not okay sometimes.
Maheen: That’s a tough answer to follow, but a more lighthearted struggle I’ve had at Brown is deciding what to eat. I struggled with finding halal food on campus. I love chicken, okay. In Pakistan, I only eat chicken. I’m really unhealthy, I would never eat vegetables. And then I got here and I was like, what? How do I get food? The MSU (Muslim Students Union) has done a lot to make more halal options available so it has gotten better over time. I actually had an aunt in Albany, NY that would make food for me to take back when I visited, and I’m really grateful for her. I feel like any struggle, no matter how big or small, there’s always been someone who was there for me. That’s been such a huge gift these past four years that I don’t think I can ever be thankful enough for.
What building would you be on campus and why?
Nitya: I think I would be Friedman because I look old and boring on the outside, but I’m fun and bright on the inside or when you get to know me.
Maheen: I want to be the stairwell at List because I’m a work of art.
Nitya: Yes, she’s so artistic!
Maheen: I said I’m a work of art.
Nitya: (Jokingly) I think she’s the only one who thinks that.
Maheen: (Laughing) Well, I’m the only one that matters.