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The one cultural artifact that has influenced me the most is probably my favorite book: Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. The novel follows a cast of vivid characters through an epic spanning the history of India and its people. After reading it, I began to realize my true identity as an Indian.
Growing up in Malaysia, the only Indians I interacted with were Tamils, who made up the majority of the local Indian population. When I finally stepped on Indian soil, it was in the city of Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu (the state where Tamils are also the majority). Therefore, prior to reading Midnight's Children, my vision of India was extremely narrow: I assumed the entire country was like Tamil Nadu. The book's rich detail and attention to India's cultural diversity opened my eyes to the heterogeneous nation that it really is. Reading the novel prompted me to do further research on India, in order to find out what makes me an Indian. Surfing the Internet and poring over atlases, I began to acquire a more thorough knowledge of the history of India—and, along with this historical narrative, I acquired a far more subtle notion of what it means to me to be Indian.
The more I read, the more I realized that being Indian is an integral part of my identity. I am not exaggerating when I say that Midnight's Children made me feel Indian for the first time. I have always been proud of my Indian heritage, despite being a Malaysian national. Yet previously the idea of being Indian never really appealed to me. I was a Malaysian, and I hardly paid attention to what was going on in a land my ancestors left half a century ago. My parents felt the same way: India, they felt, offered them nothing. In fact, they were sick of India; they felt corruption and other social ills were rife there, and they had no wish to expand their ties. As I became more aware of my cultural heritage, I tried my best to explain to them why I felt Indian, but they just laughed it off, saying that in time I would realize that India is nothing but a distant land.
My Indian friends, on the other hand, were far more open to my ideas. I bought a second copy of Midnight's Children and lent it to a couple of ethnically Indian friends (I jealously guarded my first copy, having grown very attached to it). Soon, we discovered that our reactions to the book were very similar: they, too, began to relate to that part of their identity which is distinctly Indian. Still not satisfied with successfully advocating my views on India to these friends, I began to further explore and disseminate Indian culture in school. I set up an "Indian subcontinent" corner in our classroom and eagerly launched discussions about national and cultural identity. In retrospect, I might have been somewhat overenthusiastic, but I did succeed in making a number of students (non-Indians) arrange a trip to India at the end of the year.
On the other hand, the plot of Midnight's Children is sometimes driven by fierce, negative emotions, and I had to take extra care not to fall under its anti-Pakistan spell. This was all the more important because most of my relatives harbor very anti-Pakistani sentiments. Fortunately, I was able to overcome their bias and develop a new perspective—my own perspective—on the subject.
Today, I know that I may not be as Indian as I once thought I was. No matter what I do to blend in, I will always be an outsider—a mere tourist—when I visit India. I have surpassed the stage of simplistic Indian nationalism, but I am still keenly aware that I am, in some way, Indian. If I had not read Midnight's Children, I might never have realized the full extent of my Indian cultural heritage.
This applicant does a good job using a book he read to show how it prompted him both to discover and reassess his cultural heritage. Although the essay overall is quite good, the introduction is weak. The essay would have been more engaging had the applicant started with the second paragraph, thereby leaving the element of suspense to engage the reader a bit longer.
The writer set up the point of contention in the second paragraph ("Therefore, prior to reading Midnight's Children, my vision of India was extremely narrow: I assumed the entire country was like Tamil Nadu."). The writer allows the reader to infer his maturity and proactive nature: "Reading the novel prompted me to do further research on India, in order to find out what makes me an Indian." Though at times he resorts to overly conversational language, he shows that he is indeed genuine: "I am not exaggerating when I say that Midnight's Children made me feel Indian for the first time." Through the statement, "I bought a second copy of Midnight's Children and lent it to a couple of ethnically Indian friends…" he allows the reader to assess that he is a leader with an outgoing character and concern for others. These are the types of qualities admissions officers seek in successful candidates.
The student's final statement ("If I had not read Midnight's Children, I might never have realized the full extent of my Indian cultural heritage.") is easily inferred earlier, so it would have detracted from the essay had he made it sooner. However, reserving it for the end solidifies the theme and makes the essay a memorable one.