Mahalaya commenced last night due to the time difference between my two home countries, but I waited till the wee hours of this morning to turn it on. Memories of being woken up by my grandmother and huddling in front of the old radio was replaced with a bluetooth connected Bose speaker and the ageless voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra streaming on Youtube. With the invocation of the goddess, begins the heart-wrenching feeling of the times left behind, the times lost, and an eagerness that I might one day be able to go back and immerse myself into one of the traditions I am so fond of.
“Mommy, can you please turn it off?” said the little voice while gulping down cereal, terribly annoyed to have been woken up to these sounds she did not quite understand. I almost choked from the utter disregard to something that was so important to me. Yet, I had to take a moment, and assess her reaction through her perspective. I probably sound the same when I ask her to switch off her TV shows with similar disregard and disdain towards their content.
What followed was an explanation to make her understand this was my holiday month, my Thanksgiving and Christmas all tied in one, and it was hers too, to learn about, to experience, to embrace. “But I am not Indian. Everyone in school thinks I am. But I was born here.”
That itself will raise a lot of eyebrows, critiques about how this is my fault that I’ve raised my girl so “American,” how I should always speak my language and force her to do the same, how with my deeds I have not taught her any Indian values, and many more. But that is a topic for another day. Today for me is about acknowledging she is indeed an American born to Indian parents. Today is about her acknowledging that I feel the same way she felt when she had to spend Christmas in India last year. Difference is, I have been feeling that way for 16 years.
I walked into a flurry of Fall decorations being put up at work this morning. While my co-workers hustled and bustled over trying to make things look perfect, I could not help but notice the excitement in their eyes, knowing they were counting down to the holidays too. We greeted each other like we do every morning, knowing very well they did not have the slightest idea regarding what this time of the year meant to me. My personal need to adapt, to blend in to a lifestyle that does not make me look or be different, to avoid conflict, but most importantly to show respect to a country that embraced me often times leads me to a place where sometimes I cannot understand if I belong. Will I ever be stopped asking if I speak Indian, make curry at home, or the expression of shock that follows by knowing I have not watched <insert a popular 70’s Hollywood movie>, the last answer to which is often times “have you watched Sholay?”
Out of no fault of anyone, it does get annoying. But most importantly, it raises in me an unrealistic expectation that people around me learn to adapt to my life too, just like I have been adapting to theirs for years. So today is about acknowledging one of the most unique and historic festivals in the world, a month-long celebration of some of the most powerful and baddest women in Hindu mythology, a time to celebrate good over evil, a time to bask in the glory of friends and family, a time to adorn yourself in new yards of some of the world’s finest fabrics, a time to let go, sing, dance, and be merry, but most importantly, a time to hold on to my culture and my traditions in a far-away land that make me uniquely me. And that, my dear daughter, is the treasure you have of two widely different cultures colliding together and making you both American and Indian, but most importantly, uniquely you.