Immigrant Tales and Keepsakes from India…
In this series of essays, I explore Indian-American life, journeys to India, America and the emerging self for the Smithsonian’s Homespun Project
By Lavina Melwani
For many Indians living in America, India is the talisman, the sacred thread around their wrists, which connects them to the past and their changing tomorrows. Visit any Indian American family and there are bound to be keepsakes which link them to their lost homeland.
For some it may be a frayed album of photographs frozen in time, for others it may be a much loved folk painting or a pair of tablas, percussion drums. For me it is my silver icons of Krishna and Radha, on their own carved throne, which sits is in my home in Long Island, NY.
I look at it and I am transported back to my home in New Delhi in the India of decades ago. My mother would bathe the many Gods in her home shrine and carefully put new clothing on these mini figurines, cutting holes in silken cloth with a small pair of scissors. This was followed by prayers and sweet prasadam, a part of the rhythm and ritual of the house.
India – A Disappeared World
As a new immigrant to America in the 80’s, when markers of India seemed to be to be few and far-between, this little silver talisman became my connection to the homeland. If we happened to see Indians on the streets of New York, we would run to chat with them, to connect with a disappeared world. Sometimes these new roadside friends, equally happy to see us, would impulsively invite us home to have a cup of chai and samosas. I would see their little bits and pieces of India – wall hangings and crafts – all lovingly hand-carried to a new world, and I would know I was not alone.
In the old days the connection with India was static, painful and almost one way – a link kept alive by expensive phone calls where the line crackled and voices seemed faint and faraway. There was a feeling of foreboding that the world you had left would get re-aligned and your place in it would be gone forever.
The New India
Now India is as near as a click on your keyboard via email, a Skype chat or a Facebook status update. You can talk forever on the phone with loved ones across oceans, for pennies. The changing world and a changing India have made the road between the two countries a Yellow Brick Road to be merrily skipped across. New York has become an outpost of India and New Delhi an outpost of America. You can live in two worlds – and be the richer for it.
My silver gods now preside over a large closet in my mango-colored writing room, surrounded by books, magazines and family pictures. Red Delicious apples from Waldbaum’s are the prasad I offer them, and the fragrance of gulab incense sticks from Patel Brothers grocery store permeates the air.
My Gods seem very at home in America, and so am I.
Originally posted for HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project, at http://indianamericanstory.wordpress.com/
What are the keepsakes you or your parents brought from India to America? Please do share…