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From Chotila to Chennai

From Chotila to Chennai

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Sometimes I think of those balmy summer afternoons and the crisp winter days in ‘Chotila’ where I would spend my vacation with my grandparents. My grandfather was an avid reader and he owned a vast collection of books spanning genres. Having inherited his love for books, his library would be my secret haven. On one of those trips, my eyes gleamed as they met a book titled ‘Festivals of India’. As the name suggests, it is about the festivals celebrated in India and in this book I found memorable glimpses of India and the sheer diversity it encompasses. I have read this book many times and yet each time I would flip a page my senses would be enthralled by the vibrant colours and flavours that are beautifully ‘brought to life’ in this book. I would envision the ‘sindoor khela’ in Bengal, the vast spread of delicacies served on lush green plantain leaves for ‘Onam’, the delicious fruit cake and marzipan on ‘Christmas’, the ‘seviyan’ on ‘Eid’, the sparkling ‘diyas’ on ‘Diwali’, the riot of colours on ‘Holi’, the vibe in the air during ‘Raavan Dahan’ and more.

 

I was born and raised in a Gujarati family, but luckily we were surrounded by people who belonged to a culture different than ours. For an instance, a Punjabi family in our neighbourhood would invariably invite us to participate in the ‘Baisakhi’ and ‘Lohri’ celebrations. Thus, I picked up some of their traditions, love for the Punjabi food, their spirited nature and dancing skills. My love for dancing also got me into performing every year at the ‘Durga Puja’ celebrations held by the Bengali community in Gandhinagar. I would be in awe of the gorgeous red and white sarees, the big kohl-lined eyes of the Bengali female clan, their way of performing rituals and the signature sweets. A decade later I landed in Bangalore for work and began to live as a paying guest with a Kannadiga family. Meenakshi aunty, my landlady took me in her warm embrace and soon I found myself feasting on delicious ‘holige’ and celebrating ‘Ugadi’; a festival I had read only in my book. Madhavi, my housemate in the paying guest hailed from a small town in Maharashtra. She and I soon became thick as thieves and would spend hours chatting on vivid subjects. She opened up a new side of Maharashtra, beyond the realms of ‘Nav-Vari’ (nine-yard saree), ‘Nath’ (traditional nose-ring) and ‘Nakhra’ (style) that I knew of while I would take her on a virtual tour to the nook and corners of Gujarat. Bangalore is a ‘melting pot’ of different cultures, but at the same time, it also flaunts a rich and deeply rooted ‘Kannadiga’ culture. While I learnt more about the local gourmet scenes, language and traditions, I also soaked myself in the motley of colours that have ‘redefined’ this gorgeous garden city of India.

Fast forward by a couple of years and I was standing nervously as a bride at the threshold of my new home. In a country where arranged marriages within the community bounds are a norm, I chose a man from Chennai, TamilNadu. I chose to marry a man whose mother tongue has nothing in common with mine. I fell for a man who eats rice every single day while I found it hard to live without ‘rotlis’ dripping with ghee. I was initially quite overwhelmed by a completely different language spoken at home, a different cuisine being served and a very different way of life, but as the time progressed I began to mix like ‘Dudh ma Sakar’ (sugar in milk). My struggle with ‘deciphering’ the language soon gave way to a time where I can follow and appreciate Tamizh cinema. I wondered if we would ever be able to bridge the ‘cultural chasm’, but now you would find me decked in a nine-yard saree sitting coyly yet confidently in a ‘homam’ (ceremony) besides my ‘veshti’ (‘dhoti’) clad husband. I was anxious and often wondered if I could ever ‘fit’ in, but when I dress in a ‘madisar’ and speak in ‘Tamizh’, I have been told that it is hard to believe that I am born to Gujarati parents. Rice is now ‘second nature’ to me and with the birth of our little ‘dhoklas dipped in sambar’ (twin daughters), the balance is even stronger. I wake up to drink masala chai and khakhra, but a steaming ‘tumbler’ of filter coffee with idli-chutney is equally welcome. I enjoy the ‘flamboyance’ of a Gujarati wedding as much as I savour the calm and austere environment of ceremonies down south. Growing up with people who belonged to different parts of the nation has been a great way to ‘educate’ myself on India’s rich diversity, but honestly, I felt that ‘gyaan’ was theoretical. It is in the pursuit of finding my way into the hearts of my husband’s family I gained several ‘practical’ lessons and witnessed an ‘independent’ dimension of my ‘incredible’ India.

Every summer vacation, my father would take us on a holiday to a different part of the country. Thus, I have been fortunate of enjoying the serenity of the majestic Himalayas, the quaint temple towns, coffee plantations and backwaters of south India, the colours and vibe of what lies along the stunning western ghats, the sanctity and untouched beauty of the northeast and that soothing feeling of cruising through a gorgeous gorge through the ‘heart’ of India’. My parents are ‘adventurous’ souls who would encourage us to learn a thing or two about the place we would visit. We would often try the ‘signature’ dishes of the region and while Pappa would be honing his linguistic skills by learning the local language, mummy would drool over the local fabrics and shopping scenes. I firmly believe that travelling can be ‘enlightening’. It does not just help in understanding a new way of life from close quarters but it also helps in surmounting biases, myths and assumptions that are ‘sometimes’ primary causes of ‘discord’.

 

My journey from ‘Chotila’ to ‘Chennai’ has been an experience to cherish. Being in touch with a gamut of cultures while growing up has broadened my horizons immensely. I have had the great fortune of not just celebrating Indian festivals, but also ‘Chun Jie’ (spring festival or the Chinese New Year) while living in China, ‘Bajram’ (Eid in Albania/Kosovo) while living in Kosovo and now I  eagerly await a ‘snowy’ Christmas in America. By taking cues from the centuries-old Indian philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is my family) and adopting ‘humanity’, ‘kindness’, ‘love’ and ‘respect’ as my foundations, I have managed to plant my feet firmly in all terrains I have been on. I am deeply grateful to my parents for they showed us the myriad hues of our nation at an early age. I am also very thankful to my husband’s family for their warmth and welcoming demeanour, unlike many women I was given a ‘choice’ to accept what resonated with me. ‘Destiny’ also has a great role to play here because she made me brush shoulders with some marvellous people and experiences and gain a ‘kaleidoscopic’ view of my mystical ‘matrubhoomi’ and some ‘fascinating’ parts of the planet

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