From sarongs to saris

Ever since I moved to the US, I have always amazed at how Indian, the Indian Americans were here. It always struck me as how they cling on to their roots, values and cultures. All that seemed so fake and surreal to me, when I moved to New York. All I wanted to do was to see and be seen in the trendiest clothes – from skirts to skinny jeans. When I was living in the city, my closet had to be changed semi annually and almost all my clothes were black – and had some degree of shimmer in it – to keep up with the night clubs of Manhattan. Indian clothes had no place in my closet or my heart – after all who wanted to be seen in Indian clothes. Weren’t they all drab and boring?
Now I take the effort (and the pain) to dress up in a sari – more so if it’s a Indian household that I am visiting. As I continue to do this I am sure my son will eventually get used to Indian clothes, and stop staring at other people in a sari. But again this is very conflicting to me – coz not only can I not manage a saree, I look extremely uncomfortable. Back in India though, sarees are considered “ethnic” and reserved for select occasions like weddings. Moms my age in India today, slip in to trousers and skirts like as if that’s the most normal thing to do. Perhaps it is!
How does one teach respecting elders to children? Is it sufficient to teach Dennis “to not talk back” to parents / grand parents? Or is that not required to be taught coz its dead amongst children in India. Back in the day, I would suspect it was a much easier thing to teach. Today as nuclear families rule- grandparents are mostly missing, besides the occasional visits.
As I see my much younger nieces and nephews growing up in India, I cant help but compare the stark differences in raising children, here and back home in India. Now as Dennis grows up, the call for me to be Indian, is more than ever before. Children in India seem to have it all – playstations, fancy cell phones, and the works. Back when I was growing up – we never had any of these – and cell phones were a luxury one used to “show off” to the rest of the world. I only have my own experiences to draw on, as I raise Dennis- so its always a dilemma. I have always loved reading – books when I was a little girl, to the occasional magazines now. I really hope and pray that my son picks up this habit – but these days children don’t seem to be too interested in reading. Will I be called “old fashioned” if I try to imbibe this trait in Dennis. Coz todays children in India rarely read ; the handful that do – are called a bunch of names I wouldn’t even dream of calling Dennis.
Kids in India are much more tech savvy – perhaps a lot more than adults in the US. I know moms here who wont let their son / daughters be online unmonitored, whereas the same age groups in India have an unrestricted internet time. Here in the US, parents always have a horrific story to share of a stranger approaching your kid online. Are kids raised in India smarter or parents plain stupid? Who knows?
I always conversed in English to my friends – and to my family – up until my son was born. I thought that was bindaas, kick-ass, uber kewl. But was it really? After he was born – I switched – to Bangla. I dont regret the decision at all, but sometimes I wonder – is this really me? I would not have been caught dead speaking Bangla in front of anyone who does not understand the language. But I did – and over came my embarrassment too. And one must remember it is a LOT harder to instill Indian traditions and cultures among children being raised outside India.

The concept of being an Indian seems to be evolving faster than I can catch up. NRI’s today are far more Indian, far more traditional, and conservative than anybody I know. I think Indians outside of India, are a lot more “Indian” than Indians in the sub continent. For people who have settled outside of India – raising “Indian” children from their memories and recollections of India – is a lot harder than people who are in India. For me, India has frozen in time. What I remember of India is only upto the time that I lived there. Its hard for me to fathom and imagine that time has moved on since then. In the bargain are we contributing to raising children who will be “confused” about India? Perhaps.

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13 Comments

  1. Khushi

    Great post topic. And very well written. When I go back to India, I feel the same – that my concept of India is one frozen in time.

  2. Meenakshi

    good topic..great writing

  3. ruhana

    had no idea you were writing such great posts!! do keep writing 🙂

  4. sushmita/soma

    love it.. so much in sync w wht i feel and how i think.. things i wld not hv been caught dead doing, i am doing so that rishi grows up understanding and appreciating his culture.. oh i cld go on n on n on.. this is awesome..

  5. prema

    Nice C. You write well but hone it a bit. Three points I wanted to comment on:
    About conversing in English as kids… I thought we did it because it was a common language for us all. Not cos it was cool or bindaas or anything. Just the only language I knew really well.
    It was interesting to know that kids abroad are more ‘Indian’ than those here. I suppose its a form of yearning for what one cannot have.
    Lastly, did you mean fathom in your penultimate line? Phantom does not seem  to fit.
    Sorry to give it the editorial eye, but you write well.

  6. Chandana

    Thanks for encouraging everybody. And Prema coming from you, it does mean a lot to me. Will correct the mistakes right away

  7. Rajneesh

    ever heard of ABCD. (AMERICA BORN CONFUSED DESI). THATS WHAT CAME TO MY MIND.
    ANYWAY GOOD WRITING . CHEERS

  8. Chandana

    Thats exactly my point Rajneesh. You’re damed if you do, and damned if you dont. At some level, all parents are to be blamed about raising children who will be confused about the India they see and the India that they learn about.

  9. shefal

    great article. i am a proud ABD, American Born but Not Confused Desi. I was born and raised in America and i am now raising my 2 boys here as well.

  10. Nice post, Chandana!! I can relate to a lot of what you said. I try to look at parenting as what feels right, and not so much as what’s Indian/Non-Indian way. And whether in India or here, kids are going to be more exposed to media and technology now than we were, it’s just generation gap. We have to set limits and rules for it’s use for our kids as we see fit. And just to clarify, reading is still cool among kids of all ages and I hope it always remains so. I have never heard of anyone being called names for it.

  11. Tana

    Hi Chandana,
    Nice topic! I agree that Indians here tend to become frozen in time and more zealous about preserving “Indian” culture. What’s curious is that this occurs most strongly – as you have pointed out – after kids come into the picture. Because I don’t have any, I cannot comment on that aspect. But I realize that it is important to keep asking what “Indian culture” really is, and keep in mind that it is a diverse, dynamic thing – whether here or back in India.

  12. Indrani

    Dear Chandana
    You have touched a topic that I believe is close to all immigrant’s heart. From what I felt from my experiences is one’s impression of India freezed at the time one leave’s the country. Later on visit are just to hurried to notice any change. To instil values in our children, growing up outside India its important for us, parents to talk about the land, family and relatives back home. Another way is to read stories like Panchatantra, Jataka Tales, Amar Chitra Katha and the like. That’s what I have been doing with my son, who was born in the United States, enjoyed is toddler years with grandparents and extended family in India and is now coping with the challenges of a preschooler in Singapore. As far as reading is concerned, I guess its one of the best habits to be instilled in a child. At least you can be sure that the western world still have avid readers. so what in India its made fun of. You have to do what you feel is right as a parent.

  13. Hello!

    Thank you for your blog. I am an NRI child that has been raised in North America. I can’t agree with you more. After meeting many people and dating some, I thought I was the only one who thought that maybe we grow up valuing Indian culture more since here it is limited. Maybe, Indian culture is not valued as much in India because it is in excess, always there, always available. Isn’t it true that people value something more when it is gone? I’ve often been surprised and baffled by my peers in India, and how they are nothing like what I expected them to be.

    I have started a blog about my experiences growing up as an Indian in North America. If your interested in reading it, I’ve attached the link above.

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