A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Parent's Struggle for Balance - part I

This is a blast from the past... An article I wrote for India Abroad years ago, about parenting American-desi style. Things haven't changed that much.

Finding the Balance
What's the best way to get your children to learn about Indian culture?

Dear Myself,

I know you missed reciting shlokas with your son at the Temple last Saturday. But what can you do? He was at swimming class with his father - a recent addition to his extracurricular activities and a change from your weekly ritual. Your mind was preoccupied with thoughts of this when your daughter started clamoring, "Ma, are you paying attention? I learn a new adavu today! Can I show you when we get home? Can I, can I, please?"

She loves the Saturday Bharata Natyam classes, her friends from class, her teachers; you want to encourage her interests. So as you drove out of the temple parking lot, you had to let go of your thoughts of him, and listen to her.

Life's gotten to be an even more difficult balancing act since you became a parent, hasn't it? The Hindu-Indian heritage, the American-pop lifestyle you are acculturated into - it can be a constant struggle, can't it.

With your daughter the dancer, it was easy - weekly dance classes compel you to the Hindu temple. She has a guru, someone who doesn't simply teach the basic adavus and dance movement but also the background of Bharata Natyam, Sanskrit shlokas, mythological stories and their underlying principles, and even yoga. The mythology she learns from reading Amar Chitra Kathas is reinforced by the stories her teacher tells through dance. She wears Indian clothing both to class and for dance performances. The girls in the class have a chance to share thoughts, feelings and experiences with others of similar background. The all-inclusive package deal involves a weekly visit to the local Hindu temple - a convenient venue. She hears the priest chant the daily prayers - better than hearing the tape-recorded voice of the priest reciting the annual pujas you do at home.

But getting a child (especially a boy) to learn classical dance is difficult unless s/he has a natural interest. There is no obvious role model for boys to learn classical dance - no Madhuri Dixit or Hema Malini who have formal training. Even in the West, ballet is not a popular art form for boys. Your [five year old] son would rather "jump as high as Hrithik Roshan" or "do the pee-pee song" like Amir Khan in Dil Chatha Hai. You could choose another performing art, either Hindustani or Carnatic, instrumental or vocal. But these don't have the same crowd appeal, flavor or robustness of dance - not to mention his indifference.

So now you are searching for something for your son to do to feel connected to his Indian and Hindu heritage. Why not an India trip? But you don't think that someone can really learn about Indian heritage as a young child visiting India.

The last time you went, you were flooded with Western images on television and in the movies - and no one wanted to talk to the children in your native tongue. Instead they were interested in testing their English out. There was no grandmother around to tell stories from the Ramayana or of days gone by - the way your grandmother had both the time and inclination decades ago. So the children must absorb what they can from the Indian ethos. They get a few weeks of the exposure that most Indians who immigrate here as adults have gotten over a lifetime.

Since, mainstream in the US is Caucasian and Christian, not Indian and Hindu, you do what you can. But how often have you taken the day off for Sivarathri or Ganesh Puja? You want a more consistent option... You plod on, teaching him a few shlokas, taking him to the Temple when you can, telling him stories. And in between, you continue to have doubts. Are you stressing about the whole Indian thing too much? Is it so important for him to learn about his heritage, when he - like you - will adapt and find his own balance? A few generations down the line, will our desi background become another "dx by dy" slice of the pizza pie that is America?


1 comment:

The Magus said...

I understand your position all too well.
My mother still gives me a hard time when she speaks to me in Spanish and I answer in English. I am the first to be born in the USA in my entire family line and as much as my mother tried to give me the culture and language of Venezuela, only a small amount stuck.
Now as a parent, it is difficult for our multi-racial, multi-religion extended family of grandparents, parents, and children to blend all of the cultures as they get challenged by "American Pop Culture".

I would hope that many children that start out like I did, looking at culture as something our parents try to give us as an identity, grow into adults that really understand where we came from and how it fits in with where we are now in the context of a much smaller and more connected global community.

"Don't give up" :)