Here in India, to exist is to be honked at. The blare of horns is omnipresent and inescapable. And, no, it’s not just that I, the oblivious foreigner, am constantly getting honked at for not knowing the rules of the road—after all, the only rule to understand is that there are none. It’s jarring, coming from the US where horns are all but absent from the road unless someone messes up. The American horn is a signal of anger and frustration reserved for wrongdoers.
At first, I had assumed that horns were being used here just as they typically are in the US: to say “move, you idiot,” and assert dominance as a driver weaves through chaotic intersections. But slowly it dawned on me that honking here is, in general, much more expressive.
I had watched drivers honk excessively without even the slightest appearance of anger, or even impatience, in their facial expressions, but I didn’t fully put it together until I had seen a handful of trucks across town with the same message printed on their backs: Horn Please. They were asking to be honked at, and not in a “Honk if You Love Jesus” bumper sticker kind of way. They genuinely wanted people to honk at them in order to compensate for their blind spots amidst the chaotic traffic. Rather than conveying anger, horns were being used to say, “I am here.”
I started out my time here at SAATH thinking about criticism in the same way that I regard honking in the US—as an indication of wrongdoing. One day a week or so ago, I had been asked to make a logo for the NGO’s extracurricular STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) enrichment classes that they offer to help empower young women, a program for which myself and several of my peers have been helping to develop curriculum. This logo, I was told, could be beneficial for use both in fundraising and in promotional materials used to attract new girls to participate in the programs. I had spent a solid chunk of time developing what I had thought was an innovative adaptation of the SAATH NGO’s original logo, with a twist so that it incorporated STEM symbols such as test-tubes, computer chips, and mathematic equations. But when I showed my logo concept to one of our mentors, she was underwhelmed.
As soon as she started to share her thoughts on my design with me, I tensed up. She explained to me that building upon the NGO’s logo was not ideal, and that my design looked too similar to the original logo, despite the changes and STEM-based additions I had made. I nodded silently, unsure of what to say, seeing as my idea had just been shut down. I felt like someone had just honked at me, when I didn’t even realize I had done anything wrong. Had I run a red light? Or maybe I had forgotten to use my turn signal? And here I had thought I was a decent driver… (or rather…logo designer?)
By the time my meeting with my mentor was finished, it was lunchtime. I ate my lunch in a bit of a despondent haze, but then started to remember that little sign on the back of so many trucks around town that said, “Horn Please.” I realized I needed to put my own, imaginary, “Horn Please,” sign up. I needed to get more feedback, seek it out, listen to it, and incorporate it in my work, rather than hiding from and avoiding the criticism.
A few days later when I met with my mentor again, I showed her a new logo idea that I had designed with her comments in mind. I had started from scratch rather than building on the primary SAATH logo, but, wanting to keep it associated at least loosely with the NGO as a whole, I maintained a similar color scheme. I went in to the meeting anticipating a great deal of critiquing, which I would then utilize for the next re-design. This time, though, I heard her comments as I have been hearing the honking here in India. Rather than assuming I have done something wrong, I am learning to appreciate my mentors’ feedback as their way of telling me, “I am here.”