Smithsonian Homespun Blogs: My Silver Gods Come to America

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These silver icons were brought to America by Lavina Melwani, immigrant from India

Silver icons, a piece of the old country for many Indian immigrants

 

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 installed in America

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…

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

5 Comments

  1. via Smithsonian Site

    Lavina, there is so much to relate with this blog of yours. More than a decade ago, I landed in this country with a suitcase full of clothes, a cookbook and silver Ganesha. Over the years, as the trips increased, and the cabinet space increased, the Ganesha collection grew too. Before, what looked like an out of place idol looks perfectly at home now, complete with flowers and yes, apples for prasad..

  2. Via Smithsonian site

    Lavina, All of us can identify with this post! Our tie is in the turmeric, the incense stick, the cardamom, the kumkum, the saris we got married in (they’ve caught the moment), the Prestige pressure cookers we brought and still swear by (although I have moved on to American ones in recent times:-)…

    Many congratulations and I look forward to reading you here.

    Kalpana

  3. Via Smithsonian site

    Absolutely stunning piece of writing! Each and every word takes you to a moment so alive! Can associate with every line here Lavina! This is fabulous! My Gods were very “at home” in Danbury as well : )