We are excited to announce that Lavina Melwani is a new blogger for the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project.
For many Indians living in America, India is the talisman, the sacred thread around their wrists, which connects them to the past and their changing tomorrows. Visit any Indian American family and there are bound to be keepsakes that link them to their lost homeland.
For some, it may be a frayed album of photographs frozen in time. For others, it may be a much-loved folk painting or a pair of tablas (percussion drums). For me, it is my silver icons of Krishna and Radha, on their own carved throne, which sits is in my home in Long Island, NY.
I look at it and I am transported back to my home in New Delhi in the India of decades ago. My mother would bathe the many Gods in her home shrine and carefully put new clothing on these mini figurines, cutting holes in silken cloth with a small pair of scissors. This was followed by prayers and sweet prasadam, a part of the rhythm and ritual of the house.
As a new immigrant to America in the 80’s, when markers of India seemed to be few and far between, this little silver talisman became my connection to the homeland. If we happened to see Indians on the streets of New York, we would run to chat with them, to connect with a disappeared world. Sometimes these new roadside friends, equally happy to see us, would impulsively invite us home to have a cup of chai and samosas. I would see their little bits and pieces of India—wall hangings and crafts—all lovingly hand-carried to a new world, and I would know I was not alone.
In the old days the connection with India was static, painful, and almost one way—a link kept alive by expensive phone calls where the line crackled and voices seemed faint and far away. There was a feeling of foreboding that the world you left would get realigned and your place in it would be gone forever.
Now, India is as near as the typing on your keyboard via email, a chat via Skype, or a Facebook status update. You can talk forever on the phone with loved ones across oceans, for pennies. The changing world and a changing India have made the road between the two countries a Yellow Brick Road to be merrily skipped across. New York has become an outpost of India and New Delhi an outpost of America. You can live in two worlds—and be the richer for it.
My silver Gods now preside over a large closet in my mango-colored writing room, surrounded by books, magazines, and family pictures. Red Delicious apples from Waldbaum’s are the prasad I offer them, and the fragrance of gulab incense sticks from the Patel Brothers grocery store permeates the air.
My Gods seem very at home in America, and so am I.
Lavina Melwani is an award-winning journalist who has written for several international publications including: India Today, Newsday, The Week, WSJ, Travel Plus and The Hindu. She lives in New York. Her online magazine, Lassi with Lavina, is about Indian art and culture. Click here to visit her website, Lassi with Lavina.
In the following essays, she explores Indian-American life, journeys to India, America and the emerging self.