by: Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach
Do you have fantasies that inspire you?
I admit, I have a lot of fantasies. Many may think I am quite crazy, but many of my fantasies revolve around being integrated into the Indian culture and teaching other people about the culture.
Some of my fantasies include:
- Being part of an extended family that accept me and teach me the ways of the Indian culture.
- Cooking regional Indian dishes like other Indian housewives or grandmothers, serving them to family, possibly on banana leaves or steel plates.
- In my night dreams I am totally fluent in different languages like Tamil, Hindi and Telugu.
- Being an accomplished singer or dancer, and perform on stage.
- Watching youngsters learn their culture from adults or experiencing others learning culture from my cultural adjustment coaching programs.
Actually, interestingly many of these fantasies have become my reality. Ok, I still struggle with the language…. that remains as always, a work in progress, but the others, I am getting closer and closer. Regarding the other fantasies, the other one that continues to inspire me is being a singer and dancer. The singing part will be a dream forever, possibly to fill in my next life, but I have been part of dance groups learning Japanese, Indian and ballet dance over the years.
However, the fantasy that bought me the most joy was watching children (or peers that I gave classes to) being excited about learning and demonstrating culture to others. Specifically, I remember the day that I realized this was coming true for me in my daily life (though it was there before, but my eyes were closed to it). That day was a few years ago, while the Rochester, New York Malayalee association was holding a practice session for our upcoming Onam celebrations. In this practice session, a group of small children practiced a dance for the Malayalam song “Karale Karalinte Karale” (From the movie Udayananu Tharam, video below). In watching them as a spectator in the dimly lit audience area of the performance hall, no one knew, though I was surrounded by people, but I became overwhelmed with joy and I began to cry. It took me by surprise. Why am I crying here? I knew it was from joy, and the only time before this I cried from joy was at my wedding. So, what was it that made me so overcome with joy? It was watching these kids- and knowing how much care and attention the parents had given to pass down their culture to their children. It’s not just about the dance, though that is what was on stage. Practice sessions often rotated between different people’s homes in the group, and at these sessions, parents, particularly moms, were present. Often the lessons, I presume were given in Malayalam or a mixture of Malayalam and English, so the kids were not losing touch with their mother tongue. This brings me so much adoration and respect because as a child of immigrants who did not have the opportunity to be part of a larger ethnic club or group, this experience was not part of my childhood. I was American from day one, and very scattered shreds of my Hungarian heritage are with me today. This is no fault of my parents, but the cultural and social environment where we lived and of that time in America.
The most impressive part of this experience, why it surprised me that it overwhelmed me with so much joy is that for many others there, I am sure, it was an ordinary, average experience from their life. Not like crying at a wedding or graduation. But, for me, this everyday experience was extraordinary because I felt part of something amazing, a part of a multi-generational cultural teaching and sharing experience that I longed for. Here, in a group of people that I obviously stood out among the crowd, at least by skin color and ethnic background, I was accepted; and taking part in a fantasy I created.
Share your thoughts with me
GRAMNY Kids performing “Karale Karalinte Karale”
Stills of the performance by Krishna Kumar
GRAMNY – Greater Rochester Association of Malayalees, New York
“Karale Karalinte Karale” movie song sequence with Sreenivasan and Meena
Authentic Journeys, Cross Cultural Mentoring Program
Onam Ashamsakal – An American’s Journey to Understanding Onam (with videos of Thiruvathirakali)
More Articles on Onam on Alaivani
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Author of this post, Jennifer Kumar was an active member in the Tamil and Malayalee communities in USA. Jennifer lived in India and earned her Master's degree in Chennai. In 2011, Jennifer has returned to live in India a second time. She is a cross-cultural coaching helping people get adjusted to lifestyles between U.S.A. and India: Indians, NRIs, Americans and anyone else! If you'd like to know more about her, follow her on Facebook or see her coaching website by clicking here. Thanks.
Updated April 2011