When the moment finally arrived, 86 of us stood up to utter 31 sacred words.
I raised my right hand. My heart was pounding. All those years spent in public schools in America, I'd refrained from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. It was wrong to say it when my loyalties lay elsewhere.
But that changed with a ceremony on a July day four years ago. And it changed me. I learned lessons about the meaning of country and more importantly, about myself.
I'd been in America almost three decades but happily retained an Indian passport. Over the years, each time it was renewed, my green card changed to pink and white but the status remained the same: permanent U.S. resident.
I'd lived here so long that I felt just as much American as I did Indian, but I had my reasons for not taking that last formal step that made my Americanness official.
One was practical -- there was a matter of inheriting my father's property in Kolkata, India, and for a long time, that process was excruciatingly painful without Indian citizenship. My father knew what a bureaucratic nightmare inheritance could be, and as long as he was alive, he encouraged me to stay an Indian.
The other reason I held back was far more personal.
India does not allow dual citizenship with the United States, and assuming U.S. citizenship would effectively mean renouncing India. That felt like betrayal, a severance with the land that gave me birth and shaped me.
I spent a chunk of my childhood in India. When my family finally settled in the United States, I struggled to find myself.
I learned to speak English well, even with a twinge of Southern drawl, some would say. I went to high school dances and loved my Levi's and even went out on dates, something I would never have done in India at that time.
But I never felt fully accepted.
I was always an "other" on forms that asked for race and ethnicity, before the days when Asian-American became a census category. In high school and college, I found myself fighting stereotypes and answering absurd questions about India, such as "Do people live in grass huts?"
Sometimes, I felt Americans simply didn't understand me and that everything would be better if I could just go back to India.
The yearning for home and family grew stronger with age, especially after my parents moved back to India in 1985. I felt a need to rediscover my roots, not uncommon, I suppose, among immigrant children.
But every time I returned home to visit, I realized I could never feel fully at home in India anymore. I was too Americanized. A memsahib, the elders in my family joked, referring to the term for British women during colonial times.
That, too, is not uncommon among immigrant children. Many of us feel neither here nor there, straddling two cultures as we navigate key years of our lives.
In my case, I was happy to go on as a citizen of one country, a resident of another.
I paid my taxes and enjoyed all the freedoms afforded Americans save two things. I never served on a jury and more importantly, I could not vote. I never had an electoral say in India either because it did not allow absentee voting.
I hailed from the world's largest democracy and lived in the world's most powerful one, but was unable to take part in a free society's most essential expression. I always felt cheated, or worse, that I was falling short.
In 2004, I covered the presidential elections for an Atlanta newspaper, and after months of excitement and intrigue I was frustrated that I could not cast a ballot on Election Day.
By then I had cleared the biggest legal hurdles in India in settling my father's property. And so it happened that I sat down to fill out the necessary forms declaring my intent to become American.
I was fingerprinted, passed citizenship tests that challenged my knowledge of the Constitution and was finally called to take the oath in July 2008.
At the suburban Atlanta offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, I scanned the room to see faces from Vietnam to Venezuela. There were people from 38 countries there that day for the naturalization ceremony.
I thought back to all the people I had met in my career as a reporter, of people who fought for freedom in lands that kept them caged, and others who clawed their way to these shores to break free.
I remembered Cuban dissenters I had met on my trip to Havana, and Afghan women who risked their lives to make things better for their little girls.