“Feel in Order to Heal”

A Spotlight on Ritu Bhatt

To be honest, I think the hardest part about writing this article was trying to make Ritu Bhatt sound as beautiful and inspiring as she truly is. Having the pleasure of growing up with her, I know there is and always was something incredibly special about Ritu. Her free-spirited and genuine personality gives her the power to make anyone, in any situation, feel comforted, included, and warmed. Despite personal struggles, Ritu consistently maintained a brave face in front of others and was able to find happiness through South Asian and American arts. This article touches on the deep and honest life truths and hardships that Ritu experienced and shared with me in the hopes of inspiring others. 

Growing up in our hometown’s relatively large South Asian community, learning centers such as Kumon and KD (Karen Dillard) that were dedicated to improving academic success were typical extracurricular activities for South Asians. She, like many other South Asians, were fed the mentality that in order to make good money, she needed to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. She needed to make good grades, to go to a good college, to get a degree, and then finally… to work at a 6-figure job. It was a plan, set not by her, but by her community and her family. 

Luckily enough, Ritu had parents who put her in sports, dancing, and singing before she even stepped foot into an academic center. Her eyes were opened to many more avenues and activities that would give her more enjoyment than law, medicine, and engineering. She believes they did this to test what she enjoyed doing and to hopefully make it a part of what she became in the future. Unlike many other South Asians, she was lucky enough to discover her passion at such a young age. On top of that, her parents gave her the opportunity to participate in classical Indian singing and traditional Indian folk dancing such as Fogana: a yearly dance showcase. Through these early cultural interactions, she was able to connect with her culture more than the typical South Asian child in America and embraced it earlier than most. After being exposed to nearly every activity possible, she discovered that most of her enjoyment came from creative things such as acting, singing, and dancing. 

Girl Singing
Plano West High School Spring Show, 2018

After going to school, her talents and love in the arts rewarded her with lead roles in plays, becoming the choir president in middle school, and later co-president in high-school. However, the more she took academic classes and started focusing on school the more she felt dissociated from the things that made her happy. While discussing this article, Ritu told me: “I wanted to do as much as I could in arts because I kinda had a feeling that I wouldn’t end up pursuing”.  In fact, she felt as if she wasn’t good enough and never got the chance to truly find out whether this was due to the high standards of the South Asian community.

It’s difficult to follow your dreams in a community that places such a high standard on following the traditional path. It was always ingrained into her that passion would just be a hobby or an escape. She was at the crossroads of whether she should take the predetermined avenue of success or the avenue of love, and never once thought “why not both?”

About seven years ago, Ritu’s father lost his battle with lung cancer. To help her cope, Ritu turned to her love for the arts more than ever. Using it as an escape, she fell deeper in love with the field of creativity and found a new purpose. Before Ritu’s father passed away, he worked to mold his children into a perfect replica of traditional success: medical school. Regardless of the pressure he may have placed, her father actively encouraged her to sing and even put Ritu in her first singing class. With large support of her creative talents coming from her father, and yet an even greater push to become a doctor, it was hard for Ritu to understand what type of future was truly meant for her. 

Ritu and her Dad
Young Ritu and her father

Therefore, after dealing with the loss of her father, Ritu entered a greater state of confusion with what she wanted to pursue. Questions popped into her mind and her vision into the future was more blurred than usual. What did he want me to do? What was going to make him proud?  Ritu knew she wanted to make her father happy and proud, but she didn’t know if that was going to be through a career as a doctor or following her dreams for the arts. She took the information that he had given her and later spoke to her mother about what she was feeling. At the end of it all, she was left simply “confused on what [her] passions would be in the future”.  

Girls Dancing
Ritu performing for Baylor Taal with teammate, Rhea Saini. Fall 2018

After many years of contemplation, Ritu applied to go to college with the intention of going to medical school. She chose the pathway that was “ingrained in [her] head”. As a biology pre-med student, she lost time to participate in the things she loved such as singing and acting. Though, after an experience of losing aspects of her life that made her happy, Ritu changed her major. She freed up some time and actively participated in the South Asian community. Currently, she holds the vice president position for ISSA (Baylor’s main south Asian organization), which is the Productions Chair for Baylor TAAL (Baylor’s Indian dance team), and is helping to grow a mental health organization at Baylor called Active Minds. Her hope is to remove the stigma of mental health for South Asians and Baylor students and start conversations about the underrepresented issue. Through these organizations, she found a balance between the mental and creative sides of her. 

When I spoke to Ritu about writing this article, she had told me upfront that this wasn’t going to be a success or an inspirational follow-your-dreams story. I understood that, but I knew this was going to be a story about Ritu Bhatt, one of the most respectable and warming people I know. This is a story about an amazingly talented South Asian girl struggling to break through the stigma of brown stereotypical jobs to follow her true dreams and passions. This story is meant to not only inspire but also to show that if anyone is struggling, they are not alone.

Girl Singing
Ritu singing at Baylor’s ‘Gateway to India’ event, 2019

Although Ritu isn’t pursuing her dream job, she is going into something where she can mesh everything she loves all at once. She chose to continue in the medical field, however, she switched slightly to focus on Public Health. She believes that this avenue has the components of what she would’ve achieved if she went into the creative arts field. What Ritu means by this, is that by pursuing a career in Public Health, she has the opportunity to work for greater accessibility for health care in lower communities, she gets to fight for the underdog, like she would’ve fought for South Asians in the art industry. 

Growing up, Ritu was taught to believe that success was only associated with the monetary incentives of life. However, as she matured into the amazing woman she is today, she learned to define success on her own terms. She doesn’t think success is defined by money, but is rather defined by the ability to inspire others. She believes a job should be something that someone should enjoy, something that results in happiness. However, she doesn’t believe it should necessarily define someone’s entire happiness. Even though she isn’t pursuing a career that gives her full happiness, she found a career that incorporates everything she enjoys. After college, she plans to create a non-profit to fulfill her passion for helping others while subsequently fostering love for the arts. Her philosophical take on her experiences have culminated into one phrase: “feel in order to heal.” 

Lastly, Ritu believes the South Asian community “has a lot of room to grow” but knows we are growing, especially at Baylor. When talking about South Asians in the media and art industry, she doesn’t see much representation or people that stand for who they truly are. In a perfect world, she hopes “that everyone gets the opportunity to follow whatever they want to do whether or not it’s conventional or if it’s been done before”.

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