Monday, March 16, 2009


The other day, I was reading an Indian mythological story to Shiv. India is a complex country and Hinduism is even more complex a religion. We have so many Gods that it's kind of like acquiring the Verizon support network when you're born Hindu!!! Now there are the male Gods, who invariably have their female counterparts or Goddesses. And usually they're spouses. The story was about King Rama, who lived in ancient India, many many many years ago, and who we consider an incarnation or 'avatar' of the God Vishnu. I was trying to explain to Shiv, my 3 year old, that Sita was the wife of Lord Rama. Just like his mother, Meghana, is the wife of Ranjit, his father. And Mrs. H. is the wife of Mr. J. etc, etc. Shiv's eyes suddenly lit up and he was all excited when he said, "Amma, Jackson is my wife!!". (Jackson is Shiv's BFF...or so Shiv thinks!!). I had to laugh. It was so cute the way he said it. I shook my head and said, "Not exactly, Shiv. But I kind of think you've got the point."

Shiv is recognising and acknowledging relationships a lot these days. He's found his place in the world because he knows that he's tied to so many wonderful people in his life and they are all helping him develop his identity as a person. It was really cute how he would point to my mother and tell all his friends proudly, "This is my ganmader"!! (That's grandmother, by the way!!). He loved showing her off every time he was with his friends. Before we went on vacation to India, I made sure he was familiar with all the people he would meet. We would look at pictures everyday and he would point out the different faces in them, and state who they were. It was so wonderful to see the delight on my in-laws faces when he recognised them almost immediately once we got to India. They couldn't get enough of him calling them "Annamma" (grandma) and "Ajju" (grandpa).

In the English language, it's usually the same word for relations whether it's on your father's or mother's side of the family. In the Indian culture, we actually have specific labels for each family member, thereby enabling one to know exactly who the person is and how they are related to us. It's actually pretty cool how precisely one can explain their relationship by simply stating what they are called. For example, "Amma" and "Pappa" would be mom and dad, while, "Maavu" and "Maayi" would be the father and mother-in-law respectively. "Ammamma" and "Ajja" would be one's mother's mom and dad respectively, while "Annamma" and "Ajju" would the father's. "Naathu" is the term for grandson, while "Naathi" refers to the granddaughter. And so on and so forth. Now, my family speaks a dialect called Konkani, which is among more than 400 other languages and dialects spoken on the Indian subcontinent!!! Pretty interesting, huh??

There was a time when everyone had their place and name in large joint families. The concept of so many people living under one roof is gradually disappearing now though. Everyone's becoming a generic "Uncle" or "Aunt". I look back at my childhood and realise how fortunate I was to grow up with cousins and my extended family. I wonder sometimes, if I'm depriving my children of that experience, being so far away from India. But then again, I know that our cousin reunions here in the U.S allows them to bond with the other kids in the family. Being so far away from each other allows us to cherish and truly enjoy our time together, without taking it for granted. Our neighbours on our street are our surrogate family now. I feel comforted knowing that Shiv and Shome will grow up with a really great bunch of kids. Of course, they will argue and fight, and hate each other at times. But that will only make them grow stronger as friends.

I guess what I'm trying to get at in this blog is that I truly believe that we are at home in this neighbourhood. Of course, I wish we'd got the 4 foot extension on the house, but that is irrelevant, when I look at the wonderful people who live around us. They are our extended family of sorts. We may not speak the same language, or enjoy the same foods, or even eat our meals at the same time...but in the end, I know that these are families with whom my children and I can feel safe and comfortable. No matter how individualistic the world is becoming, there is some part of us that will always want to reach out to the person next door. No (wo)man is an island (John Donne (1572-1631)).

Shiv with his buddies!!

1 comment:

Jen said...

I really enjoy reading about the Indian culture! I have a close friend who is originally from India, but he doesn't talk about it much!

I am so jealous that you have all those kids in your neighborhood! Poor Dylan doesn't have any kids his age in ours.