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You Can Take It With You

by Priya Chhaya

Moving.

A room once full of books, electronics, posters, and photographs now bare. Each item packed away into cardboard boxes that all look the same. Boxes, filled with nearly everything you own in two cars.

Moving Out.

Two words that mean so much more than just the act of packing up your belongings and transporting them into a new living situation. Here in the United States the traditional path is that kids leave home after college (or even earlier, after high school) either because a parent wants the kids to learn responsibility, and other times because the kid wants some independence. To feel more like an adult.

For Indian American children moving out, while more commonplace than years past, is connected to jobs and opportunities that are in areas not close to where they grew up. And having said that, for many female Indian American’s moving out is an even tougher decision—and much of that has to do with the belief that the daughter stays in her father’s house until marriage.

It’s hard to tell how many girls today are bound by that belief, in my case the rationalization for staying at home had a lot to do with saving up rather than any restrictions by my parents, but as I took that leap from home to apartment a few weeks ago I found myself wondering: How much of my “Indianness” is based on where I lived? I know for some Indian American kids that tug of war can be strong and combative, while for others remains a gentle pull. And as a friend recently reminded me, where you stand depends on how much of the ritual, the traditions, you actually understand.

In my case, after five years post-graduate school, I wanted to try to live a version of the American dream. I wanted to take care of myself, to be independent, to make a space my own. So as I put my books, clothes and posters in boxes, as I bought furniture, and cooking supplies, and took an inventory of clothes to take, and what to give to the Salvation Army, I also began to pack up my life lessons from my parents: doing aarthi before going on a long trip, actually making roti and daal on my own, calling India to talk to my grandmother—instead of waiting for my turn when my parents called. Habits and ways of life that I wanted to take with me without the prompting and encouragement of my mom.

As for things I’ll leave behind? I think dependency is one of them.  Living at home was never terrible—but I think it unconsciously limited me from taking risks and being spontaneous—staying in the city to meet up with friends for example. Sometimes being comfortable means that there isn’t room to grow, room to stretch, room to become what you want to be.

While it has only been two weeks, I’m not entirely sure what I’ve taken and what I’ve left behind, but I know that it has been a definite learning experience. Not to mention moments when you miss the two people who have given you all the encouragement and support in the world.

For those intrepid Indian Americans thinking of moving out here are a few things to add to the “To Do” list: Check to make sure you are within an auspicious month. Then if you are Hindu like me, be armed with statues of Ganesh (I now have at least three in my bedroom) to bless the house. My roommate who is from Chennai boiled some milk (a ceremony known as pal kachal, which is symbolic of the first domestic act in the house/literally a house warming), while my mother (we are from Gujarat) did a short prayer and left a booklet of prayers in the house so it would be there before I actually spent the night. Finally, when setting up your furniture bring a compass to make sure your bed is facing in the right direction—North/South is best.

Remember, while moving out is for all a way of “cutting the chord” that tethers you to where you grew up, not everything has to stay behind. That culture, that history, those lessons are parts of your identity that you can take with you into the future.

Priya Chhaya is a public historian that works with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American (and Indian American) identity.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Culture, Family, Identity

 

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Getting to Know You: Making Connections

by Priya Chhaya

When I was younger there were three things that I feared when my parents told us we were taking a family trip to India. The lack of American/European toilets (something that has mostly ceased to be a problem), spending time with cousins I barely knew, and consequently wasn’t sure I liked, and the rain.

Over the years, the first has become less of a problem, and the third is easily avoided by going to India during the non-monsoon season. Getting to know my cousins is another ball game.

This past month I traveled to India for three weeks. Why?

1) My grandmother turned 80
2 )Wedding shopping (my sister is getting married in May)
3) Vacation time—I finally got out of Mumbai and got to spend some time in Goa

It’s been about three years since I’ve seen most of my cousins face to face (two or three of them have managed to visit the U.S. for the first time in the interim), and this past visit made me realize the value of a particular tool in strengthening our relationship and making it easier to communicate across oceans and continents.

Facebook.

Of course, age does have something to do with it. When you’re a teenager, you are loathe to enjoy a trip that takes you away from the typical American summer activities, and meeting family doesn’t seem like an awesome way to spend your time. But as we’ve grown up—we’re all adults now—we’ve come to realize that we have a lot more in common besides blood. Enter everyone’s favorite social media site.

In previous years, we’d arrive as almost-strangers—scrambling to be filled in on what had happened in the intervening years, trying to find that comfort you feel with close family—something usually achieved right as we head back to the airport. Now, thanks to Facebook, we come in knowing that one cousin has been working on a purse design business, and that another went on a trip to Ladakh, and that another cousin and his wife redecorated their new place in Pune. In a way, Facebook has replaced those single sheet, blue airmail letters that we grew up watching our mothers and fathers send back and forth, and phone calls can now actually be filled with a conversation instead of awkward filler. Facebook is even going to let me get to know my cousin’s future husband despite not being able to go back to India for the wedding.

The Family, in Khandala

And that is why I think this trip was so successful—from the 21-person field trip to Khandala, a hill station just outside of Mumbai, to the excursions to shops all over the city—the trip was filled with camaraderie and a more familial repartee… and the best part of all, memories with family members that I love.

For more information on my visit to India visit thisiswhatcomesnext.wordpress.com. 

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2010 in Family, Social Life

 

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An Indian Girl by Any Other Name

by Avani Nadkarni.

A person’s first name is a huge part of their identity. As a woman, it’s the one part of your identity that stays constant, whether you get married or not.

Parents think long and hard about what their child’s first name should be, because it’s the first gift they can give their baby. They brainstorm ideas, solicit advice, consult the countless baby name books and Web sites available.

In parts of India, a baby isn’t even named until an official “naming ceremony,” conducted several days after the baby’s birth. When Indian immigrants have children in the U.S., however, they must name their child before they leave the hospital.

My mother gave me my name—Avani—because she thought it was pretty. Plus, it doesn’t rhyme with anything. She’d learned her lesson from naming my older sister Arti, who got teased with Arti Farty endlessly throughout junior high.

When I was in elementary school, I desperately wanted a “normal” name, particularly Ashley. When I finally have a daughter, I’d think, I’m naming her Ashley. There were about four Ashleys in any given grade when I was in elementary schools. A lot of Jennifers and Jessicas, too. People could pronounce Ashley. They wouldn’t mess it up like they did my name, saying “A-vah-nee” if they saw it spelled out or mistaking it for “Ebony” if they heard it.

As I grew up, however, I began to realize the advantages of my name, which means “Mother Earth” in Sanskrit. For one thing, it’s a definite conversation starter.
“What a pretty name!” people exclaim. “Where is it from?”

As a newspaper reporter, it helps put people at ease from the get-go, as they make small talk about their experiences with India, or names, or anything related. By the time the name conversation is over, the person is at ease and ready to chat.

And now, in my mid-20s, I’ve learned to really embrace my name. And if I ever have a daughter, she won’t be called Ashley, although I still think it’s a beautiful name. She’ll have a strong name from the colorful land where her grandparents are from.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2009 in Social Life

 

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