Humans of Harker: Bollywood, benevolence, and bon voyage

Meona Khetrapal finds joy in the places she visits and the people she loves

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Shreya Srinivasan

“I want to be remembered as someone that people can talk to. I want people to know who I am and know that they could talk to me. I’m not a random person. If they know me, I know them. I want to be remembered for someone who had a welcoming attitude,” Meona Khetrapal (12) said.

At the Harker school, most students can be found occupied in some extracurricular or academic activity on the weekends from February to May. For Meona Khetrapal (12), it’s competing and training for Bollywood dance contests.

Starting from freshman year, Meona has been dancing for the Xpressions dance company with some of her close friends outside of Harker. Their competitive season lasts from February through May, with practice twice a week and competitions every other weekend. Meona soon became captivated by the many aspects of Bollywood dance within her dance team of approximately ten other Indian American high school girls.

“[Bollywood dance] was really fun,” Meona said. “Of course, [I enjoyed the] stage makeup and all the super elaborate costumes, and it was Bollywood dancing, and I love Bollywood music. It was something different.”

When Meona first started participating in Bollywood dance her freshman year, she wanted to embrace the culture more, which she felt like she lost partly after moving from Asia to the United States. After finding friends who shared similar interests and aspirations, she joined Xpressions.

“I joined mainly because I felt like I wanted to be more part of my culture. Living here, I wasn’t really connected to it that much as I was when I lived in Asia,” Meona said. “There’s so many instances where we’ll be around all of our American friends and everyone will sing to rap and stuff like that, but [my friends and I] would really want to dance to music.”

Part of the inspiration for Meona to explore Bollywood culture was due to her traveling roots across different regions and cultures. She has traveled her whole life to countries across Asia, and she feels that she can return to any of them and find a home for herself there. Being able to travel and live across the globe is something Meona is grateful for.

“A lot of my friends when we’re hanging out, we’ll drive by an ice cream shop, or a movie theater,” Meona said. “And they’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, I used to go here all the time when I was a kid,’ or ‘my sixth birthday was at this pizza place’ or things like that, little memories like that. Mine are not here, but they’re spread out everywhere. I have those kinds of places in Singapore and Korea and Hong Kong and India.”

Meona has also gained a lot from those experiences. Because she has relatives in many of the places she has lived, she’s been able to develop a family and home, despite however many there are. In traveling for long periods of time, she also had the chance to assimilate to different cultures and learn new languages such as Mandarin, French and Korean. From her travels, Meona feels she has developed lifelong friends and places of comfort in all these countries.

Meona expresses herself through culture and art. For her, language and conversation serves as an outlet, whether it be learning the language of a place she’s traveling to or meeting new people. Now, unable to travel during the pandemic, Meona still keeps up with this value of language by watching Spanish television shows or Bollywood movies.

“Focusing on language [is important],” Meona said. “So if it’s someone who’s not a native English speaker, that’s how I express myself towards them: learning their language and trying to make them feel comfortable, greeting them with even saying ‘hello’ in their language, which is easy to learn.”

Along with learning about new cultures and languages comes the importance of respect. For Meona, the small acts of kindness and respect that others show to her help her realize and appreciate her true friends. No matter how small, Meona believes it is necessary to remember and always keep respect in mind.

“Sometimes, a lot of us forget to be respectful because we get so comfortable around other people. But I really value the little things … those little texts. And it goes a long way in seeing who your friends are, especially in quarantine, in times of trouble, who are actually going to be there,” Meona said.

One group of people that Meona shows kindness and respect for is her close friends, many of whom have noticed her bright and accepting personality. Advika Phadnis (12), who became close with Meona in her freshman year through advisory and basketball, appreciates both of these qualities of her personality, and she appreciates her encouragement and support as well.

“Meona’s personality is extremely vibrant. She always makes people laugh. She also always encourages me to try new things and explore new experiences,” Advika said. “I really admire how Meona holds herself and is able to lift others up around her. She is also an incredibly caring person and is a person who puts the people she loves first above anything else.”

Close friend of four years Hannah Sobcyzn (12) respects Meona’s ability to be a supportive leader on and off the basketball court. Hannah respects her hardworking nature as well, which she uses to balance the many aspects of her life and multiple commitments.

“On and off the court, [Meona] is a leader. She knows everyone and understands the team enough to be able to hype them up before a game or comfort them after a loss. As a team captain and as a friend, she leads by example,” Hannah said. “She truly understands who she is and who she wants to become and is comfortable in her own skin. She knows her priorities and is able to balance her school, social, work and sport commitments effortlessly.”

Her supportive nature can be seen by her friends as well. Ellis Goldman (12), who also met Meona on the basketball team her freshman year, admires Meona’s positive and captivating aura.

“She has the ability to command any room she walks into and instantly gain the respect of those around her. She never lets her opinions go unsaid and is fearless when it comes to going after what she wants,” Ellis said.

Meona reflects on the importance of having comforting and accepting conversations. Through learning new languages to communicate with others, being a respectful guest in someone else’s homes and acting as a supportive leader with her teammates and friends, Meona is someone that people can look to for comfort.

“I want to be remembered as someone that people can talk to,” Meona said. “I want people to know who I am and know that they could talk to me. I’m not a random person. If they know me, I know them. I want to be remembered for someone who had a welcoming attitude.”

Additional reporting by Anmol Velagapudi.