Ambika Tripathi, 16, doesn’t let the pressure of academics to take a toll on her. Instead, she uses art as an outlet to relax and see the world from a new perspective. A talented cartoonist and member of DECA with a brain for business, Ambika took an hour out of her busy day to meet me for a cup of tea. And in the short amount of time that we spent together, her genuine sense of humor and passion for what she loves to do reminded me not to take life so seriously when stress is lurking in every corner.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
The INDIAN SCENE: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Ambika Tripathi: I was born in Rochester Hills and lived there until I was in fourth grade and then we moved to Troy. Living here is a very different environment from Rochester. I went to Avondale for the school district and everyone was white which was a little bit of a culture shock. We moved to Troy and it was just kind of surprising to me to see such diversity within the schools. I was able to make so many different friends than what I could make in Avondale and I thought that was really cool and interesting. Troy schools are a lot more challenging than Avondale so that was a bit of an adjustment but I think I’m doing okay. It’s been quite a few years since we have been here, so I’m happy!
IS: Once you moved to Troy, how did you adjust to the Troy schools and how did you fit in?
AT: Honestly, it wasn’t that hard. Once I found people that looked like me, I felt like it was really easy to fit in. We just kind of gravitated towards one another. And it was really easy to get along with everyone – not that it wasn’t in Avondale. I still had friends and everything but I just found it easier to connect with the people in Troy.
IS: What classes are you taking enrolled in? What interests you?
AT: I’m in 11th grade right now and junior year especially is an important year for colleges. I really wanted to find something I was interested in so this year I decided to experiment with my classes. Before, I took a lot of sciences, but I found that I wasn’t really into them so I experimented with business instead. I took marketing and AP Econ and I found that I really liked those classes and although they are challenging to me I still love them so much and it’s really something that I’m passionate about.
IS: Where do you hope to continue your education with those types of classes specifically in that field? What would you like to pursue next?
AT: I want to go to U of M Ross so badly (laughs). I am actually participating in a business club called DECA. I’m handling the finance and that’s what I want to go into as well. It’s really interesting and it’s really fun and we actually got to Nationals so that’s exciting!
IS: Congratulations, where will you be attending nationals?
AT: We’re going to Orlando! I’m so excited and I’m also kind of nervous for the competition. I will probably have to study a little bit more but I’m still so excited!
IS: With the heaviness and the pressure of academics in your life right now, clearly you are a very busy teenager, how do you find the time to decompress?
AT: I draw a lot and it’s just one of those things that kind of makes me feel really happy. I do it because it’s just very soothing to draw, but I actually do take an art class so it’s kind of one of those things that while it’s calming, is also a grade.
IS: What type of art do you enjoy drawing?
AT: I’m not really sure what to call my art. It’s just mine I guess. Over the years, a lot of artists develop their own kind of style, whether it be how they draw faces or how they shade. It’s just very different from everyone else’s — you could say that Picasso is very different from Van Gogh, for example. Mine is just mine. It’s my own. It’s more cartoony.
IS: How did this style originate?
AT: I used to copy certain types of cartoons when I was much younger and then slowly stopped and began to develop my own style. I began drawing humans and other things, which made me feel like I was broadening my horizons.
IS: I’m noticing that there are various facial expressions and different types of people in your artwork? Does that have any meaning to you? Who or what inspires you?
AT: I just draw what I am feeling and paint when I am relaxed. My pictures usually reflect what mood it is that I am feeling. I want to throw in a mix of calmness and joy and sometimes, fulfillment.
IS: Have your pieces ever been on display anywhere?
AT: Last year, I was able to get three of my art pieces printed in the school newspaper. That was really exciting! I also was able to have one of my comics posted online.
IS: How do people in our community respond to you when you tell them that you are an artist?
AT: When I tell people that it is simply a hobby — oh, they’re impressed. But if I were to tell people I chose this as a job, I’m sure it would not be as impressive. I know that I’ll be met with concern. I remember a specific time when I was truly interested in art and animation and there was a certain individual who made a horrible comment about becoming an artist. I was scared and discouraged because of that. It made me feel less confident about becoming an artist as a profession. However, I do love business and want to pursue that. Art will always be a hobby for me.
IS: In our community, do you feel like there’s a lot of pressure on younger people to choose certain professions?
AT: Yes! Definitely! I find that if you ask any Indian boy or girl these days what profession they would like to go into, the answer is always that they want to become a doctor. I have a certain friend who is not particularly passionate about medicine, however she feels like she has to become a doctor because that is what her parents want for her to do. She doesn’t particularly like science at all but is facing pressure from her family to become a doctor.
IS: Do you have that pressure?
AT: I feel like I used to. I felt like my only two options were engineering and pre-med. But I experimented this year and found what I liked.
IS: What aspects of our Indian culture do you appreciate the most?
AT: Two years ago, during a trip that we had made to India, I felt very frustrated not being able to speak the language. I couldn’t communicate with certain members of my family. I was really upset with myself and recently downloaded Dulingo to learn the language. There was a feeling of guilt and pure frustration that I didn’t make an effort before. I have promised myself that I am going to give more of an effort. I appreciate the culture and want to be more part of it.
IS: What do you enjoy the most when you are in India?
AT: I hadn’t seen my extended family in many years and was so excited to be with them again. I was particularly excited to see my grandparents, aunts, cousins and some of my old friends. It felt so great to be reconnected with all of them. Even though I couldn’t speak the language with my grandparents, it was so comforting to be in the company of all of them. It was very heartwarming!
IS: What makes you proud to be an Indian-American?
Tripathi: I’m proud to be an Indian-American because of the connectivity within our community and the rich culture that we have. So many of my desi friends and I have bonded over things like Bollywood movies, music — even Indian soap operas with their over-dramatic shots. Also, I think that just being able to experience the culture with festivals like Holi and Diwali is incredible. I’m not as connected to Indian culture as I’d like to be, but becoming more in touch with it has been so much fun.
Ambika’s Best List:
Favorite Hindi Movie: Queen. I thought it was funny and it was just kind of cool to see someone picking herself back up and creating new memories after having such a terrible experience.
Favorite Hindi Song: Coincidentally my favorite Hindi song is from that movie! It’s from the first scene, I’m pretty sure. It’s called “London Thumakad.” It’s a super fun song that never fails to make me dance.