Dilemmas of the Fourth Generation NRI ( Non Resident Indian)

If like me, you belong to the fourth generation NRI category, an identity crisis is definitely on the cards at some point in your life. If you are the first generation in your family living outside India, then not so much. For you guys, things are nice and easy. For instance, when people ask about where you are from, you are able to give a short one line response (i.e. I’m from Mumbai and I currently live in the U.K.). When it comes to adaptability, you only have to deal with the fusion of two cultures( that too, you will still be 90% Indian with a 10% hint of global flavour). Essentially, you are still  Indian, with zero chances of an impending identity crisis. But for us fourth Gen NRIs on the other hand, oh boy, it’s a whole different story. Why, you ask?

#1 Queries about our place of origin are enough to make us doubt our own identity

Aunty: Where are you from?

Me: Australia

Aunty: Ahaan, but where are you really from?

Me: Oh, I was born in Malaysia but moved to Australia a while ago.

Aunty(now annoyed): Yes, but originally?  From Tamil Nadu or Kerala? Your features are very Indian.

Me: Well,I’m sure several generations ago my ancestors were from India, but everyone in my family including patti(grandma) and tata(granddad) were born in Malaysia. I have no idea which part of India we are from.

Aunty: Aah that’s what I’m telling na, you’re Indian.

Me: …… yeah, I guess.

#2 India is home, but India is not home

Making a trip to India brings about a mixed bag of feelings. Everything is so familiar; the sounds, the smells, the food, the people, the culture, but at the same time, there is no particular part of India that we can call home. There is no family or family home to go back to. And so, we experience India much like tourists would, living in hotels, eating in restaurants and getting around in taxis. It’s fine because India lends its charm to everyone, foreign or not, but it would be pretty cool to have an ancestral family home in a quaint town somewhere!( cue dream sequence vision of family members in sarees, hair laden with malli pu (jasmine) , anklets tinkling as we walk around a Kula Deivam Koil(ancestral temple). Sigh.)

#3 We understand our mother tongue, but aren’t confident speaking it

We love the sound of Tamil and are quite capable of understanding and formulating sentences if need be, but because everyone from our parents to grandparents speak in English, speaking in Tamil doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s so nice to observe families from India speaking in such beautiful Tamil to each other and we really should try to learn our mother tongue! There are some classically Tamil sentiments and expressions that English just can’t do justice to.

#4 We belong neither here nor there, when it comes to pretty much everything

We aren’t typically Indian, nor are we Western. We have no idea which subsection of Indian familial classification we belong to ( a result of a long line of inter-cultural marriages once the family line left India). Our values are Indian, but we aren’t fussed about caste or creed. We aren’t as good as Indians at pronouncing Indian words, but we aren’t as bad as Westerners at pronouncing them either. Indians recognise us as foreigners(unless we look super traditional) and so do Westerners! Along the way, we have incorporated a little bit of the culture of each place we have lived in, resulting in an amusing blend of socio-cultural adaptations(i.e. yours truly, the South Indian looking, Hindustani music loving,  English speaking,  Malaysian food eating, Australian Tamil Girl!).

As confusing as it can be to be a fourth-generation NRI, we still manage to maintain our Indian heritage abroad and that in itself is an amazing feat.So to all my fellow NRIs, chin up and keep celebrating the glory of our beautiful culture! Let’s learn more about our traditions and culture so that they will be vibrant for many more years to come.

What are the dilemmas you face as a NRI? Leave a comment below:)

 I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Happy reading! – Divya

 

 

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Modern Day Tradition Lovers!

It’s not easy being a modern day Indian Girl. I mean, we are occupied with the pursuit of degrees and careers (which is likely to lead to stress related hair loss along with financial independence) whilst trying to strike a balance between modernisation and tradition. I feel like in the toss up between trying to be a high-flying professional in heels and being the quintessential Indian woman, culture and tradition often take the back seat. If we really wanted to, we could be the kolam* putting, bindi wearing Indian girl and power-suit wearing career woman at the same time. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Here are 4 things modern day Indian girls trying to preserve culture know all too well…

#1 Contrary to popular belief, our lives are NOT boring. Neither are we.

Our wardrobes are an amalgamation of jeans and saris, maang tikkas* and floral headbands, kurti tops and evening dresses. We are just as good at making pav bhajis as we are at making lasagnes. We enjoy reading the works of Tagore just as much as we adore the works of Jane Austen. We don’t mind a bit of fusion even though our hearts are lost to the greats of Indian Classical music. Plus we can tease you to no end in at least two different languages (be prepared to get owned).

#2 We are strong-willed (aka stubborn)

We are adaptable to change and are happy to go with the flow for practically everything ( cue no major preferences for places to see, type of car we drive or clothing brands), but one indication that our morals are at risk and we turn into  warrior princesses. Of course, we are not perfect and we make mistakes sometimes, but we really do try to be uncompromising about our values and traditions because this is the only way culture can be passed on to future generations.

#3 We often end up being the centre of unwanted attention

As much as being traditional feels so natural to us, we often forget that we are seen as a rarity in modern day society. Our friends and family are used to us, so we don’t really notice this fact until we meet new people. Then, there’s no running away from the spotlight. Be prepared for gasps of disbelief and comments about your past life “nee romba nala padare, nee pona janmathule Bhagawanekke ten ode abhishekam pannirpe*”.

#4 We are subject to interesting predicaments our peers will never understand

Sorry, I am not allowed to carpool with boys (Amma voice : THE ONLY BOY you are going anywhere with is your husband). Sorry, I have to get home before it gets dark ( Amma voice: everyone who lives here needs to get home before Bramhamuhurtham* ends). Sorry, I’m doing my prayers ( Amma voice: there is always enough time in a day to think about your salvation). Call it being over-protected or old-fashioned, but ultimately, our parents only go out of their way to protect us because they care for us. And really, we will only be treated like pampered, spoilt princesses by our parents. No one else is really going to drive us around everywhere at the cost of their inconvenience or go out of their way to make sure that nothing ever goes wrong for us!

What are other things you experience as a modern day Indian girl( or a friend of one)? Leave a comment down below:)

Glossary: Kolam( rice pattern made in indian homes), maang tikka( indian hair jewel), nee romba…( you sing really well, you must have offered so much honey to God in your past life), brahmamuhurtham ( auspicious time period of  4-8 am/pm)

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. I am no expert in Indian culture, but my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Any Brahmin influences on my writing are solely due to the fact that most of my exposure to the Tamil language has been through my TamBrahm friends ( I am not one). Happy reading! – Divya

 

Tamizh New Year Adventures!!!

Kausalya Supraja Rama Poorva Sandhya Pravartathe Uthistha Narasardoola Karthavyam Daiva Manikam*….. The smell of incense wafted through the air, amidst the fragrance of the tremendous ghee content present in the javarisi payasam* offered as naivedyam* in the prayer room. Patti* had already heated coconut oil and camphor in her prized kuli karandi* which she had apparently inherited from her great-grandmother.  She gently applied this oil onto my long tresses while simultaneously delivering a dose of scolding. “Thala la ozhunga ennai thechuka matela? Yen ipdi thalaiya viruchu potundu pei madri sutharel?” “Patti, neenga mattum ipdi solrel. Ellarum enakku  Koonthal Azhagi nu per vechirka*”. The oiling was complete and Patti gave the hair one final brush through. Amma walked in with the new panchangam*, freshly anointed with sandalwood and vermillion. “Where is everyone? I’ve been calling everyone to come to the puja room for the past twenty minutes!”

En Kaadal Sikki Mukki Thikki Vikkethu, Kumari*…. Appa emerged from the bathroom with an enraged expression on his face. “Who is playing all this kandraavi* on New Year’s day? Sailu, how many times will we have to talk to you about this?” “Yenna, be happy that he is at least awake at this time. Remember last year….?” Amma came to the rescue of her precious son, as usual. Eventually, everyone settled down, much to the relief of patti, who looked like she was about to blow her fuse at any moment. She could never understand why so much hoo-ha was caused on festival days in this household.  Of course, as the resident chamathu kozhandei* of our family, I cause 0% of this hoo-ha. Naturally, 100% of problems are caused by my brother, who due to some misfortune, believes he is God’s gift to mankind and has the freedom to do as he pleases.

No festival day is complete without a family photo in which we are all dressed up in our finest sarees and veshtis which will most likely only ever make a re-appearance during Navarathri* several months later. Obviously, the photo will be sent to all relatives and family friends who will gush over how big I’ve gotten and tell amma to dhristhi sutthi podufy* me.

Anyway, New Year’s day or not, the practice of oiling and plaiting my hair is a regular occurrence. I have a natural hair product collection that could rival any modern day girl’s makeup collection. Almond oil, bhringraj oil, coconut oil, amla oil, shikakai, gingelly oil etc. Let me tell you that washing hair that is way past your hip is no easy feat. That stuff is time consuming. Not to mention the drying process. But, it is such a therapeutic thing to brush out your hair, such a comfort to have your head massaged by your paati and no doubt, a great joy to have sambraani* waved under it to have that heavenly smell lingering about in your hair all day long.

I used to wonder why all Indian women had such long hair and it was only recently that I found out that it wasn’t just about the aesthetics. Hair is inextricably linked to energy and the Kundalini and that is why many saints and holy men place their hair at the very top of their head. This leads to a higher perceptibility to higher order thinking and actually aids in spirituality. Staying away from cutting your hair regularly also means that the energy your body would utilise to regrow your hair continuously, can be better used for spiritual enquiry! Keeping hair tied and not letting it hang loose is also an aid in conserving energy. So as much as many of my friends and family members would like me to “layer” my hair and “get with the times”, I think I’ll stick to my long hair thanks. Nothing more beautiful then a long, neat braid with some jasmine flowers in it :p

Happy Tamil New Year to all my readers! How will you be celebrating today?

Glossary: Kausalya supraja…..= line from a morning prayer regularly played in Indian households, javarisi payasam= sago sweet dish, kuli karandi= steel, curved spoon naivedyam= food offered to God, paati= grandma, Thala la ozhunga…= won’t you put oil in our hair properly? I don’t understand why girls these days walk around with their hair loose looking like ghosts, Patti, neenga….= you’re the only one who says all this, everyone calls me the one with beautiful hair, panchangam= hindu calendar, chamathu kozhandei= well-behaved child, En Kaadal….= line from a love song, Kandraavi= nonsense, Navarathri= festival, dhrishti sutti podufy= removing evil eye, Sambraani= frankincense 

 

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. I am no expert in Indian culture, but my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Any Brahmin influences on my writing are solely due to the fact that most of my exposure to the tamil language have been from my TamBrahm friends (I am not one). Happy reading! – Divya

The Tale of the Girl and her Holy Basil

Aum…..Aum……Aum. The celestial sound of creation filled the air as she cleaned the area around her precious Tulasi plant. The drone of the tanpura, ever so calm and soothing was the only sound she would allow her beloved plant to be exposed to. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She loved the smell of morning dew, crisp and fresh. But the fragrance that emanated from her beloved Tulasi was no less.  It was her most favourite scent in the world.

She began chanting her mantras and performing puja with utmost devotion. Namastulasi Kalyani… she chanted as she drew a simple puli kolam in front of the Tulasi. She pushed some stray strands of hair away from her face and placed sandanam and kumkumam onto the maddam. Namo Vishnu Priye Shubhe, she sang as she placed some kumkumam onto a leaf. She picked up her kudam and gently watered the Tulasi…Namo Moksha Prade Devi, Namo Sampath Pradayini….Aum Shanthi Shanthi Shanthihi. 

Birds chirped inconspicuously in the background as she began circumambulating her beloved Tulasi. She used to run around her Tulasi as a five year old kid and stare enviously at its leaves. How jealous she was of those blessed leaves who got to be ever so close to her dearest Lord Krishna. If only she could become Krishna’s Tulasi maala for but one day! Now as a young woman, she prayed only that she should possess a character that was unblemished and that she should be as pure as her Tulasi maata.

She picked up the bell lying on her puja tray and rang it softly as she waved the camphor that was slowly burning away without a trace. Her puja was now complete and she walked to the verandah where her grandma was laying out chillies to dry.

Her grandma gave her a knowing smile and told her, “unakku manampol mangalyaam thaan”. “Manna…what patti?”. “Mannampol Mangalyaam- it means that you will be blessed with a good husband, of your choice.Gayathri shook her head in disbelief as she placed a few more chillies on the mat lying in front of her. “Aiyoh Paati! Trust you to find some correlation between a plant and matrimony”. ” My dear, this is said in the scriptures also. Worship of the Tulasi is done by chaste women and confers auspiciousness onto the household. But that is not the only reason why generations of Indian women like us have worshipped Tulasi. Because it contains mercury, Tulasi  has strong anti-bacterial properties and the air surrounding a Tulasi plant will always be bacteria free. Tulasi is also the only plant that releases an extra molecule of oxygen. While other plants release O2, Tulasi releases O3. That is why we keep the plant in an open courtyard in the middle of the house. Immersing Tulasi leaves in water and drinking it prevents respiratory tract problems.Make sure you drink some everyday.”

Gayathri nodded in response and thought about all that she had just heard. Interesting, she thought. “Funny how the little rituals we do daily and take for granted are deeply rooted in scientific knowledge. Patti, our ancestors really knew what they were doing!”.”Of course di, old is gold!” she said with a twinkle in her eye. The chillies were all on the mat now and they shared a hearty laugh as they went back into their home.

Do you worship Tulasi daily? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: Tulasi (Basil plant), Tanpura ( musical instrument), mantra(prayers), puja(worship ritual), (sandanam/kumkumam( sandalwood/vermillion), maddam: structure in which plant is placed, kudam ( pot), maala (garland), maata( mother), patti (grandmother). Meaning of Tulasi sloka: Salutations to the benevolent Tulasi,salutations to the holy darling of Vishnu, Salutations to the Goddess who grants liberation, salutations to the one  who grants wealth.

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Happy reading! 

 

The Jasmine Love Story ( Sticking to Tradition: No Visa Required)

I have no idea what it is about youths in Australia, but no one who is of marriageable age gets married. Or in the rare event that they do, the wedding is held overseas. In the ten years that I have lived here, I have attended a grand total of two weddings, and one of them was my aunt’s. One fine day we received a wedding invitation via mail and I stared at it in surprise. After confirming that the wedding was actually being held in Australia and that we would, in fact, be able to attend, I waited for the wedding date eagerly.

Finally, the day of the wedding arrived and I stood in front of the mirror listening to amma’s commentary on the techniques she was using to drape my favourite manjal coloured saree on me. I lined my eyes with mai, and placed a tear shaped bindi between my brows. The only thing left to be done now, was my hair. I measured the strings of the kunjalam against my waist-long hair to determine which point of my braid it should go onto. Ten minutes later the braid was complete, kunjalam and all. I walked towards the car, but stopped abruptly to do a double take on my reflection in the window just outside the front door. I glanced sorrowfully at the sorry sight of my long, empty jadai. My jadai was missing an essential accessory: malligai pu.

Oh! How much I do love the strands of those little flowers, as white as snow and as soft as silk. The sweet-smelling fragrance that they exude is , oh,  so heavenly and uplifting. Their very sight enthrals and the faintest whiff of their scent is enough to bring forth the image of my ishta devata bedecked in layers of jasmine garlands. It is a delightful flower indeed.

So why didn’t I just buy some malli pu for my hair, you wonder? Well, because it’s practically impossible to find it in the part of Australia I live in. Very few stores sell them and we are charged ridiculous amounts for  10  cm strings of yellowing, dried out flowers. Since buying flowers was not a practical option, we decided to plant a jasmine tree at home. It’s been five years since we planted the tree and it only recently started producing a decent amount of flowers. Sigh. It’s just too difficult to get jasmine here, which is why I turn into a mad, jasmine-hungry girl as soon as I land in India. No kidding.

We were having an interesting conversation with an auto-driver in Chennai who was insisting that the national language of India was Tamil and all other languages were “waste languages” when I spotted the sight of a flower vendor on the side of the road. I forced the auto-driver to stop immediately and literally bought out the flower store. “Divya, how much malligai pu do you want to put in your hair? People are going to think you are a bride or something” amma said as she rolled her eyes. Appa started complaining that he was getting a headache from the overwhelming strength of the scent.  “Shhhhhh. Everyone, just look at the flowers and enjoy.” I replied as I pinned the strands of flowers onto my hair. I mean, who knows how long it would be before I got to wear them again?  Our auto- driver finally dropped us off at out destination: the home of a family friend. As soon as the aunty saw me, she gasped. “Happa! Evalo lakshanama iruka. Oru nala paiyana paathe katti veppom”.

Oops. Probably shouldn’t have worn so much malli pu.

Jasmine flowers are one of the ornaments of Indian women. They are also used in the worship of Gods and are deemed to be auspicious. Modern day research confirms that jasmine has a subtle effect on hormones and promotes beta rhythms in the brain, resulting in greater mental awareness. It has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system and  results in increased self- confidence, which is why jasmine oil is used to aid patients struggling with anorexia. Chemical constituents in jasmine flowers promote a positive mood and help eliminate emotional barriers one may have. 

Do you love jasmine flowers too? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: manjal (yellow), mai (kohl), kunjalam (hair ornament), malligai pu (jasmine flower), jadai (braid), ishta devata (favourite God form), “Happa! Evalo lakshanama iruka. Oru nala paiyana paathe katti veppom”( wow she is so traditional. We will find her a nice boy to marry).