Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 26, 2024

The spunky, sticker-collecting storyteller

By AASHI MENDPARA | February 4, 2024

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COURTESY OF AASHI MENDPARA

Mendpara reflects on her relationship with storytelling.

Growing up, the History Channel was my family’s absolute favorite thing to watch on TV. My grandparents’ version of an ideal Sunday night wasn't spent watching football: it was reruns of Decoding the Past. While I was always a bit disgruntled having to watch shows about cults and Armageddon, the History Channel gave me one of my favorite childhood fixation eras: Extreme Collectors.

They only aired one season of Extreme Collectors, but to me, it was my version of Decoding the Past. I had such a fascination with watching people build storage spaces for their vintage coin-operated jukeboxes and empty rooms for their thousands of snow globes.

This show made me realize that some collect vinyl, some collect books and some even collect animal bodies to preserve, slice, stuff and display. And so, I found myself on my own journey to find what would allow me to be equally guilty of indulging in a collecting frenzy.

I tried it all: duct tape wallet, Silly Bandz, rubber ducks, quarters and more. At the age of 10, I settled on stickers and stories. It’s really the only thing that stuck. I remember being asked, "What are three words that describe you?" in the fifth grade, and I decided spunky, sticker-collector and storyteller was the only combination that fit (this stuck for about seven years).

Despite my parents not engaging in leisurely reading or writing, I proudly claim that I come from a lineage of storytellers. While many kids were enjoying books on Greek gods and goddesses, my parents fed me a diet of oral stories of Hindu myths and legends. I may not subscribe to every single literary tradition, but I continue to have a profound connection with the travelers and keepers of knowledge my parents used to speak so fondly about.

Stories became my way to observe and store the world I hope to remember through my senses. I just want to slice into my deepest, most cherished memories and stuff them with the details I seek to share as a writer and human being. 

I remember spending bus rides on the way to middle school talking about our days at home and telling stories about scraped knees and broken elbows (we were the original D1 yappers). I think about my senior year English class often; the place where we talked about everything from the morning coffee we would grab on the way to class to the meaning of friendship and community over COVID-19.

Perhaps that’s why I first started writing. I would cling to the words of Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri and Arundhati Roy, captivated by their skill in crafting narratives from their own experiences. I was mesmerized by their unapologetic creation of characters so vivid that you could almost smell their tears — characters expressed through words so razor-sharp they left a lasting impact.

My real life is full of such characters, people so beautiful and charming and rich with love I can’t help but think about them in awe. I still hold my hands and skip down the street with my cousins after listening to stories of our mothers doing the same as children. I continue to sign my name with hearts like my first-grade teacher, wear a ring on every finger like my best friend from seventh grade and listen to the same song before every exam like my brother. I have been collecting pieces from my community since the age of five.

In the end, Extreme Collectors and I share many similarities. While some choose to collect vintage toy cars, and I choose to collect conversations with people, we both capture, alter and curate the things we collect, all with the purpose of showcasing our lives. 

Hopkins has, in so many ways, nurtured my need for stories and community. The people I have learned from, whether that be my roommates, friends, professors or staff, have all generously opened the door to their own collections of life and memories. It has been enriching to be around people who so graciously share their lives with me. 

I hope that my door opens to a collection of people, stories and words bursting at their seams, so much so that the world can bear witness to the people and places I hold close to my heart. I love to listen, I love to share and I love to write. The beauty of storytelling and collecting lies in its capacity to evolve with you. What a beautiful life to live and a life to love. 

Aashi Mendpara is a junior from Orlando, Fla. studying Neuroscience and Anthropology.


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