Thursday, January 13, 2011

Home away from home!

The United States is a country of immigrants. Wherever you go within the US, you’ll always find the familiar desi face in the crowd. In fact, some places like Niagara Falls and Menlo Park, NJ seem more like India than the US! Even so, there are times when nothing compares to being in India and every Indian living abroad will agree that it is most felt probably during Diwali and the ICC World cup!

I’ve celebrated three Diwalis home away from home and what can I say ….it truly sucks!!! Sadly, those are the only Diwalis my son remembers as his last Diwali in India was when he was a year old. So in November last year, when I asked him to wish his classmates “Happy Diwali”, he coolly shot back “ Amma, this is not India – nobody knows about Diwali here”!

So today when I read “Lights for Gita” by Rachna Gilmore and Alice Priestley, more than Abhay, I could relate to the poor girl who finds her new home nothing like New Delhi during Diwali. Nevertheless, she is determined to celebrate the festival of lights as she lights diyas and asks her father to get fireworks. When freezing rain and the resultant power shut down threatenes to envelope the whole neighborhood in darkness, Gita’s window blazes with a dazzling glow of her diyas representing the triumph of light over darkness.

Another trade off when living abroad is that you miss and sometimes may I say spared of the day-to-day cultural trappings of living in India. For instance, almost every house in South India, mainly Andhra and Karnataka would have a rangoli at the front gate….I must say I’ve forgotten how to draw one! My son didn’t even know what a Rangoli was until my good friend gave him a wonderful book called “Rangoli” by Anuradha Ananth and pictures by Shailja Jain. It is a bilingual book with verses both in Hindi and English that my friend picked up from India. “Rangoli” is a perfect book for toddlers with vibrant illustrations of different kinds of Rangoli at different locations – on cow-dung swept floors, red tiled courtyards, mud walls, temples and just about anywhere in a quintessential Indian village. A must buy on a trip to India!

I found another book on Rangoli and this time it was an American publication. “Romina’s Rangoli” by Malathi Michelle Iyengar and illustrated by Jennifer Wanardi. Romina’s school project is to create something representing the country of her origin. Being a half Indian and half Mexican, she is clueless. On speaking to her dad who’s in the kitchen making chutney out of chilli pepper and cilantro and her mom who’s reading a book on native Mexican languages, she realizes that there are a lot of similarities between the two cultures. Her friendly neighbor goads her into designing something multi-cultural just like her. Romina creates an Indian rangoli using the Mexican paper cutting technique called papel picado. Both the rangolis reminded Abhay of the ‘connect the dots’ activity is done in school. At the end, he asked me why don’t I chalk out a rangoli outside our house everyday? Well, it was my turn to say “This is not India”:-)


  1. hi divya,
    Nice blog lady and as usual you are doing a great job.. i am amazed at the availabilty of the books out there, i only wish we had such good public libraries out here.. in fact i am reminded of your own small library at your mom's place
    so when are you coming back ?

  2. Thanks Sush!! I'll definitely miss the libraries here when I get back sometime mid next year!