Finding “The One” and Other Family Activities

So you’ve been brought up in a traditional family, you haven’t really been doing the “going out” and socialising thing and you’ve spent the majority of your life as a home body. Your life is inextricably linked with that of your parents. You go wherever your parents go and family is your world. One day, you are under strict instruction to not mix too much with boys and the next, you start receiving questions about whether you have found “The One” aka your future husband. Obviously, your first reaction is “Eh?! Remind me how this is possible again?”.  Was I supposed to be on some kind of treasure hunt where an aha! moment would alert me to the fact that The One was found? Nope. No chance. And so, you subtly remind your parents that thanks to your orthodox upbringing, this whole love marriage thing is not a very likely option. “Appa and amma, you choose, you know best.” you graciously say. Knowing fully well that the list of requirements you have specified is next to impossible to find in someone of this generation, you take some solace in the fact that this whole finding The One business could take years altogether and you have plenty of time to enjoy being a pampered daughter.

This does not stop the incessant stream of preparatory advice pouring through from everyone from your grandmother to random maamis* who have travelled to your western country all the way from the other side of the world, of course. ” Make sure you shower as soon as you wake up. Don’t touch anyone or anything, especially anything in the kitchen unless you have showered. Make sure you pray first thing in the morning. Cook in the orthodox way, your in-laws might be very orthodox” And so on, and so forth. Pretty much every action or reaction of yours is an opportunity for the imparting of future marriage advice.

Unbeknownst to you, your horoscope will be exchanged and examined ( received by unsuspecting looking aunties who will only receive the horoscope outside the Rahu Kaalam* time-frame). Several proposals will be received and turned down by your parents, others will be brought to you for your approval. Again and again, the cycle will continue, till The One is found. You will question whether marriage is even necessary seeing as your life is going pretty great so far. You will be told by your mother that this line of questioning is not an option( *read in dramatic voice* ” my salvation is dependent on me giving away your hand in marriage”). Your mother will further be prodded along by several maamis that will alert her to the fact that “a girl should be married before the end of her 24th year according to the scriptures”. Your father will roll his eyes. Your brother will add his own requirements to your already long list ( “as long as my future brother-in-law is a musician and has a Xbox, he can marry akka”). You will widen your eyes at the happenings and continue about your daily routine as if none of this is happening.

And this is how the arranged marriage system continues to exist in the 21st century, even amongst those of you who have been brought up in the West.

Have you had any interesting experiences with arranged marriages? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear it:)

Glossary: Maami (married aunty), Rahu Kaalam(inauspicious timing).

 

 

 

More Indian than Most Indians

Is it just me or are NRIs more Indian than most Indians living in India? I mean while my fellow NRIs are busy enrolling themselves in carnatic vocal, violin, mandolin AND keyboard lessons (because where I’m from, pursuit of one art only is simply unsatisfactory, you see), our metropolitan Indian counterparts are busy enrolling themselves in salsa, western drums and electric guitar lessons. While we look forward  to any Indian festivity that will allow us to wear sarees and kurtas, our Indian counterparts embrace any opportunity to wear sundresses and crop tops ( bindis and salwars are reserved for “ethnic days” only people!). We travel all the way to Chennai from the other side of the world for music season, while our Indian counterparts would much rather go for a Coldplay concert in America. And so, the list goes on.

Of course, I am not denying the fact that there are traditional, orthodox families still existing in India who epitomise “Indianness”, nor am I denying the fact that some NRIs are more Western than the Westerners, but for the most part, Indians today are more modernised than ever before! I suspect that the “grass is greener on the other side” adage is contributing to this fascinating socio-cultural phenomenon and while I can’t speak for the lifestyles of metropolitan Indians, I can fully understand why NRIs cling on to culture with their dear lives.

Our parents are often the first generation of the familial line to call a foreign country home and in a multiplicity of unknowns, culture and tradition are the only known knowns.  They are so scared that we will lose touch with our traditional roots, all of which are steeped in immense spirituality, that they will go to any length to keep the spark of culture burning brightly within our hearts. And so, they spend hours of their week driving us to bharatanatyam classes, exposing us to temple-going culture and celebrating all Indian festivals at home to make sure that we know what our culture is about. They make sure that we spend time with our grandparents so that we may tap into the wealth of their knowledge and learn about the beauty of our traditions from people who have been practising them for decades. They constantly remind us that the “God first, others next and myself last” checklist should drive our lifestyle choices always, always, always!

Plus, as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Living further away from India makes us appreciate even the smallest aspects of Indian culture. Seeing a kolam on every doorstep, for instance, or buying a million pairs of earrings from a street vendor for a grand total of 100 rupees. The sight of a temple gopuram every 10 kilometres, or the sound of temple bells. Echoes of the Venkateshwara suprabhatam ringing out from homes in the morning, or watching ladies engaging in all sorts of strenuous physical activities in sarees. Listening to the spell-binding singing of the apartment doorman who you would have sworn was Ustad Rashid Khan if your eyes were closed, or the go with the flow attitude of every single person you speak to on the street. The lack of road traffic rules and the lectures of the local taxi uncle ( “In India, driving is all about mutual understanding mam” said he as he drove onto oncoming traffic. On a one way street).

So, if we appear like country bumpkins in our braids, bindis and salwars rather than  glamorous, bollywood actresses to everyone out there, we do not mind in the least. Our highs are driven by incense and bhajans and our lives are simple and straight-forward. Such peace, much wow. We are the way we are, and we are very happy with that 😛

What are your most favourite aspects of Indian culture? Leave a comment below! 

Glossary: NRI (non-resident Indian), bharatanatyam (indian dance form), kolam (rice flour art), gopuram (temple arches), bhajan (devotional singing). 

The Navarathri Survival Guide

 

A comprehensive summary of recurring themes that inevitably present themselves during this 10 day extravaganza.

Pre-Navarathri

Forget about embracing your inner Goddess. Weeks preceding the festival facilitate a need for you to embrace your inner architect. After hours spent thinking about which spot in the house would be perfect for the Golu of your dreams, there is then the business of designing the 3/5/7/9 step structure fit to bear the burden of both the idols, and the weight of your expectations. Of course after all the effort and time that you and your family members have put into the golu, mere completion of a frame that actually works brings about relief aplenty. To your eyes, the structure looks just as good as if it were designed by Vishwakarma ( the celestial architect) himself. Once the golu is set up,  there’s just a few more things that need to be addressed before the festival starts.

Step 1: Bring out all Sarees and Kurtas that have not seen the light of day since Deepavali of the preceding year

Step 2: Think about all bad qualities and habits that you’d like to give up

Step 3: Mentally prepare yourself for the consumption of copious amounts of Chickpeas

Day 1-3: Goddess Durga Special

The first three days of the festival are dedicated to Goddess Durga. Dynamic and powerful, She is the giver of all forms of energy – spiritual, mental and physical. She represents the first potency present in man, the power of purposeful action (Kriya Shakthi). As your tongue rolls its way around the lyrics of the Lalitha Sahasraanam and your body acclimatises to the Navarathri fasting regime, you will be more than grateful for all the energy that you are tapping into during the first few days of the festival.

Day 4-6: Goddess Lakshmi Special

She is the Goddess of wealth galore; the wealth of character, intellect and health! She manifests herself as will power or Ichchaa Sakthi in you. Her worship thus serves as a reminder of the importance of accumulating the wealth of character, firm faith and steadfastness in your spiritual journey. Praying for iPhone 7s and Sephora gift cards are not recommended. Chanting the  Mahalakshmi ashtakam is suggested instead(better long term gains, you see).

Day 7-9: Goddess Saraswathi Special

This period is when you will witness the devout outpourings of fellow students in prayer rooms across the globe. With hands folded together in prostration, they pray earnestly. The phrasing might be slightly different, but in essence they are all praying for one thing. Maa Saraswati Gyaan do (Divine mother, please grant me enough knowledge to pass my exams). Goddess Saraswati bestows intelligence, the capacity for intellectual inquiry, and the power of discrimination . She manifests herself as the power of discrimination or Jnaana Shakthi. Ayudha pooja (worship of all educational tools) is conducted to pay respects to the instruments that help you in your worldly work. From a spiritual perspective, the weapons to be worshipped are the divine powers in man that enable spiritual progress.

Day 10: Vijayadashami

A day of great joy and jubilation, this day represents the triumph of good over evil. It is also a celebration of the conversion of ;

  1. Your will power (ichchaa shakthi) into a yearning for God
  2. Your purposeful action (kriya sakthi) into a force for doing Divine actions
  3. Your power of discernment (jnana sakthi) into the Divine Itself.

The entire festival is thus an elaborate construction of man designed for you to  contemplate on God for ten days and cleanse yourself of all impurities to experience the divinity within. So enjoy visiting other people’s golu’s, basking in the glory of Her worship and chanting Her many names this Navarathri! You might get sick of sundal and all the fasting you’re going to have to do, but you will always be glad for the inner peace you derive from celebrating this festival!

What are some of your cherished Navarathri memories? Leave a comment down below:)

 

Nava= nine, Rathri= night. Navarathri= nine nights devoted to the worship of the feminine principle. Various goddesses are revered throughout the course of the festival- culminating with Vijayadashmi on the tenth day. The festival symbolises the victory of good over evil and the awakening of Divinity within us.

Prayer Room Memoirs

Leaning on the door frame, she stared into the room that bore witness to some of the most precious moments of her life. The memories were so vivid, stored as pristinely preserved images in her mind’s eye.  She still remembered the day she first moved into the house as a new bride, happy but slightly overwhelmed by the prospects of a new family . “With one match, light the wick ma. May you bring as much brightness and prosperity into our family as this sacred lamp does” said her mother-in- law a few seconds after she had stepped into her new home. She chuckled at the remembrance of how young she had been, still untouched by the world or weights of responsibility. Eager to please, brows furried in concentration, she had prayed to the Gods above that she wouldn’t drop the matches or do anything untoward, something quite likely considering her naturally clumsy disposition. As the flame burnt brightly, she had breathed a huge sigh of relief and then, the rest of her life began to unfold.

The room acted as the backdrop for the infamous Thala Deepavali* couple shot ( which everyone had oohed and aaahed over for days together…lakshanam/tejas* filled,smiling faces + new saree/veshti combination always resulted in newsfeed domination!). It acted as the recipient for every single food item she prepared with lots of love on festival days. Aah..how many kolams* had been drawn in that blessed room. How many job applications, home loan agreements, first salaries and exam results had been placed at the altar for blessings of the Almighty! How many times had they taken blessings there from the elders before embarking on important journeys, before making important life decisions? It was where the days of each and every member of the family started, and ended, for what was life without frequent reminders of our higher purpose?

As her offspring made a dramatic entrance into their lives, slowly but surely, the room began to take on a whole new dimension. It was no longer just the place where she could spend hours in blissful meditation. It was no longer merely a place of prayer. It was now a room where she would ponder about how best to maintain her inner peace amidst the spiralling chaos created by her adorable little toddlers, who seemed to be running on pools of limitless energy. It was now a room with an added disciplinary element, a naughty corner of sorts.”Vaishnavi, go and sit in front of Bhagawan* and think about what you have done. Once you feel truly sorry about your mistake, you can come out” she would chide, trying her best to maintain a serious expression. Of course, she would peep into the room on the sly to watch what her little brat was up to. The cute conversation between the child(now extremely sorry about her mischief)and the Krishna statue was not to be missed. In fact, there had been times when she had run to call her husband to come watch!

As the kids grew up, the room resonated with the sound of the tanpura which was used to tune voices, tablas, harmoniums, mridangams and sitars. Countless hours of practice was completed in the confines of those four walls. “Happa! How many instruments do you want me to put manjal*, kumkumam* on? I can’t bend down for that long di” her grandmother had said during the Saraswathi puja*. They were a musical bunch, indeed. She smiled as she remembered the numerous times she had bribed the kids with promises of trips to the park and ice-cream if they promised to chant 108 Gayathri mantras in that very room,  daily. They would thank her for it later, hopefully.

Her thoughts were interrupted by her father and husband, who were carrying an assortment of tools and wood pieces into the room. Navarathri* was approaching and the Golu* was due to be put up. For reasons unknown to her, they had decided to go with an elaborate nine step structure. Time to make an exit, she thought. The construction ability of the men in the house was less than enviable, to say the least. There were bound to be a few mishaps. She rolled her eyes as they rejected her suggestion to perhaps, try and make a simpler version and wished them luck. They were going to need it.

What are some of your cherished prayer room memories? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary: Thala Deepavali( first festival of lights celebrated as a married couple), lakshanam/tejas (divine radiance), kolam( rice flour design), Bhagawan(god), manjal/kumkumam (turmeric, vermillion), Saraswathi Puja ( day where homage is paid to books/musical instruments ), Navarathri( nine day festival where the feminine principle is worshipped), Golu ( step-filled structure filled with various idols and dolls).

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! 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

I figured that it would probably be a good idea to embrace my own culture before learning about everyone else’s

I love living in Australia. It’s a beautiful country filled with incredibly kind people and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’ve been calling Australia home for more than half my life and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt after all these years, it’s that no one looks down on Indian culture, except for Indians themselves.

Maybe this attitude is a by-product of leaving our own countries, fuelled by a desperate need to blend in and to be accepted by the people of a foreign land. Maybe it’s a side effect of the bombardment of social media that, let’s face it, dictates social trends for people all over the world. Or maybe, in light of globalisation, we are too busy learning about everyone else’s culture that we have completely forgotten to pay any attention to our own.

We are too busy telling everyone to call us Jenny instead of Janaki. We are too busy trying to imitate the Australian accent (which when mixed with our own just sounds like a garbled mess). We are too busy trying to adopt the lifestyle of our peers, foraying into worlds our ancestors would never have dreamt of.

Of course, everyone will agree that adapting to new surroundings is not only normal, but necessary. Adapting to change is good, but completely giving up on our cultural identity  is not. Learning about new cultures is enriching, but an utter disregard for our own is not.

I mean, we are totally up to date with Beyonce’s music career, but have no clue about the legends of our own classical music. We know how to tame our Indian curves to fit into clothes that are in vogue, but have no clue how to drape a sari on ourselves. We engage in cultural immersion exchanges to various parts of the globe, but have no understanding of the symbolism of our own traditions.

We proudly embrace the culture of our new land, but are apologetic about our own. We call people who are traditional, FOBs (Fresh Off the Boat) and if we ever do attend an Indian function we post pictures of ourselves in Indian clothes signing it off with a meek #foblife. Of course the FOB term is used in good fun, but the underlying point is that we think being traditional is preppy and uncool. If we do embrace traditions once in a while, we feel inclined to point out that this is, not in fact, how we normally look, but a “look” that we’ve gone for temporarily.

When it comes to culture, ignorance is not bliss. We are missing out on the grandeur of our own cultural heritage because of the simple fact that we haven’t put much thought into it. We do not understand the purpose of all the rituals our forefathers performed and misinterpret traditions, which usually results in dismissing them as pointless or regarding them as archaic. And so, we abandon the wealth of cultural knowledge that has been passed down carefully from generation to generation in paltry timeframes of 5, 10, 15 years. It is so easy to lose what our ancestors protected with their heart and soul, so easy to throw away precious heirlooms of wisdom.

If there’s anything we should feel apologetic about, it’s the fact that we are victims of the conformity bug and all that’s left of our culture to be passed on to future generations might well be confusion and ignorance. All cultures are equally beautiful. They all deserve to be preserved. If we all gave up on our own culture to ape everyone else’s, the world would be an incredibly boring place.  No matter how long we’ve lived in Australia, no matter how Australian we are at heart, we will always be asked “so are you originally from India or….?”. Our Indian ancestry is not a costume that we can peel of at will. So, let’s spend some time getting to know our own culture whilst also learning about the other amazing cultures of the world.

What do you think? Leave a comment down 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:) 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).

 

Sticking to Tradition: No Visa Required

Namaste fellow tradition lovers!

Through my blogging initiative, I have come into contact with some pretty awesome people who hail from orthodox  families in India. Having had many conversations with them over the past few weeks, I realised pretty quickly that the idea of youths sticking to tradition (willingly)  in a Western country was so surprising to them. They did not think that such people existed, especially outside of India! I assured them that there are indeed some young tradition lovers out in the West 🙂 Our conversations got me thinking and I decided to make a new addition to my blog.

So…here it is. My first blog series! I will be writing a compilation of short stories under the heading “Sticking to Tradition: No Visa Required” to highlight unique experiences of Indians living abroad . I hope that you will enjoy this series and if there are any topics you would like me to cover, please leave a comment down below:)

A shout-out also, to my wonderful friends, the creative minds behind Ambireturns (ambireturns.wordpress.com), Iyerslife (meenuiyer1092.wordpress.com) and the IyerTips Facebook page. They have made it their life’s mission to share their treasure trove of knowledge of Tamizh/Iyer culture with me!

Happy reading,

Divya

Yes, I wear a bindi 24/7 in a Western society. No, it’s not a big deal!

Twenty years ago, I was born on the auspicious day of Vijayadashami. Amma insisted that the first sound that reached my ears was the Gayathri mantra and Appa was given strict instructions to do the honours the minute I reached his hands. After the initial oohing, aahing and commentary about which of my facial features resembled my parents,  I was dressed up in clothes that amma had specially picked out for the occasion. But when you are of Indian heritage, dressing up is never complete without that  dot, rotund and prominently placed between the brows. So it was placed on my forehead with much ado and that is when I first started wearing a bindi.

Fast forward ten years, my family moved to Australia. My extended family members looked at me with bemusement when they realised that I was planning to attend the first day of my new, Australian school with a bindi and a huge swipe of vibhuti on my forehead. ” Don’t you want to wipe all this stuff of your head before going to school, Divya?” they asked. I responded in the negative and explained that I didn’t see why I should! I was only ten, but even then, the idea that moving across a sea should change any part of my identity or dressing up routine seemed absurd. Of course when I went to school, many of my classmates wanted to know what the black dot on my forehead was and why I had white-out/liquid paper on my forehead! They asked very respectfully, of course and that is when I realised that I did not really have a proper answer to give them apart from a vague, “it’s part of my culture” response.

So why do we wear bindis? The place between the brows, where the bindi is placed is said to be the third eye, or spiritual eye as it is the site of the Ajna chakra. This chakra is responsible for the time in which one finally loses their Ahamkara ( ego and sense of individuality) and becomes self-realised. Daily application of the bindi serves as a reminder of our higher purpose in life and to see everything in the world as one. From a scientific perspective, the site of the bindi is where the pineal gland lies and during the times when pastes like sandalwood, turmeric etc were applied, cooling effects on the body were observed. The composition of the pastes also helped conserve energy lost by the body.

Of the thousands of cultures I could have been born into, Indian culture was the one conferred onto me. For that reason, wearing a bindi is my birthright and I wear it with no shame. It is not a huge part of my identity, but it makes me, me. Not wearing it for the sake of conformity does not really make sense to me. In any case, individuality is a celebrated part of Western culture. And honestly, it is not that big a deal. Most people I’ve met usually don’t even notice it, or think it’s a mole. Choosing to wear a bindi everywhere in a Western society just means that every time you make new friends or expand your social circle, you will have to give a brief 30 second explanation on what it symbolises and you’re good to go. It actually makes for really good conversation when you meet someone new and they ask you about it with curiosity! Saves me from having to have mundane conversations about the weather, or even worse, about sporting teams that I have no clue about:)

Have any of you had interesting experiences with wearing a bindi? Leave a comment down below!

Glossary

Vijayadashami- the last day of a ten day festival in which the goddess is worshipped and the triumph of good over evil is celebrated, Amma: mother, Appa: father

I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. As I was born in Malaysia, brought up in Australia and 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!