Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Tutorials for sale @

  View Jennifer Kumar's LinkedIn profile Skype Me™!
Oct 23

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Friday, October 23, 2009

Inspirational Bloggers: NRI Maami's Expression of Indian Culture in America

Expat Interview and Storytelling by Jennifer Kumar

Inspiration to maintain traditions out of one's homeland can be an exciting and, at the same time, challenging journey. Recreating an entire mood in a new environment where locating and acquiring authentic and ethnic decorations is challenging increases awe and inspiration when a final product is realized that not only looks 'like home' but exudes the feelings and nostalgia 'of home' is impressive and inspiring, to say the least.

When I think of bloggers, who take this creativity and ingenuity to the next step by narrating with photos and, sometimes flowery words, I think of NRI Maami. Of course, when I first found her blog, I was intrigued by her 'blogger handle.' For those who are new to the terms NRI and Maami- NRI means 'Non-Resident Indian' and Maami is a term encompassing a persona of a married, Tamil woman.

Having only a short two-year stay in Chennai, I met, interacted, and even spent long weekends at homes of 'maamis.' Quite frankly, NRI Maami's blog and descriptions of some things reminds me of some typical situations that happen in Chennai. There is something about that which keeps me connected to my time spent in Chennai, and has inspired me to keep this culture alive outside the borders of Chennai, Tamil Nadu and India- right in my own backyard in America.

On those notes, and without further ado, I introduce you to the expressions of Indian and Tamil culture in America through the unique lens of NRI Maami.

Rounding up the troops of dolls for Navarathri Kolu Season

There was something about --- well, everything -- Navarathri and the steps of dolls known as Kolu celebrated among some families in Chennai that left a long lasting impression on me. It was not just seeing the five to nine steps of brightly painted clay and earthen dolls or the "more polished" dolls of foreign lands acquired by those of certain status who have gone abroad to Japan, China, Malaysia, France, Libya, Kenya and others that intrigued me so- but the mood, the 'reason behind the season.' Somehow when viewing and reading NRI Maami's accounts of her celebrations in America, I am transported back to the Chennai celebrations and festivities.

Showcasing kolu for visitors to see in person is indeed a lot of work. The home needs to be prepared in decor and checked for cleanliness for planned or sometimes, unexpected “vethalai paakars” for the ten days of Navarathri. Preparations are initiated long before the golu is arranged a few days before the start of Navarathri. These preparations go on sometimes for years- as in the handing down of dolls from generation to generation. These preparations also begin from the previous year of dismantling the golu - thinking through the year of interesting additions to purchase for the golu- especially if visiting family in India or traveling to exotic destinations - hoping the airlines don't throw the bag damaging the dolls, or lose the bags all together. Closer to the festivities at hand, party foods and gift bags for the ladies are prepared; including; a wide variety of 'golu viewing' stir-fried bean salads (sundal varieties), arranging for special dresses and party favor bags (known as thamboolam- which traditionally include a mirror, comb, haldi, kum kum, betel leaves/nut, coconut and blouse piece), and finally in, as NRI Maami so eloquently puts it, "... and no more trying to fit into old pattu podavai blouses, at least until next year." (source) Anyone who understands Navarathri Golu celebrations, and even hosted in their home can completely relate to that, which brings a broad smile to my face.

Here, we can see the evolution of golu in her home from 2007 until now. (Click on photos for bigger sizes.)

The striking difference is the 2009 golu seems to have uniform and consistent steps. To illustrate how to create these steps from items readily available in American shops, she has created a nice pictorial and narrative tutorial. (source)

How to Create Kolu Padi - Steps for Dolls Display- for Navarathri in USA

Side view 1
Side view 1
Front View
Front View
Golu steps completed
Golu steps complete


1. Go to the nearest Menards, Home Depot or Lowe’s and take yourself there in a mini-van or SUV.

2. Ask for stair risers – you have different ones available depending on the number of steps you need. Those would make the 2 sides. Ours was wide enough to need a third one in the middle.

3. For the steps themselves, you could buy stair stingers (which are expensive) or you could just buy similar planks in any other kind of cheaper wood. We ended up buying 2×4x8 planks for the steps.

4. Your top step needs support – so buy it some legs – I am not sure about the dimensions but we picked some up from the clearance section and then after assembling the steps, measured and cut it to the right length.

5. Also get some deck screws – they have many options for this, but the cheapest deck screw would do.

6. Assemble as shown below – we screwed only every alternative step, the other just rested fine without any screws required.

7. Unscrew to disassemble.

Deepavali and Other Festivities Of the Household

I recently realized why I loved my time in Chennai so, so much. It was like an extended vacation with 24 official public holidays- who studies, works or does anything but eats sweets and an infinite number of varieties of sambarsadham? Of course, I am joking, as in between all those holidays a lot of really hard studying and field work assignments kept me engaged and at a lack of sleep and vigor. It was the holidays- the festivities - including the infinite varieties of sambarsadham that kept me curious and eager for what Chennai and India had to offer me next. The experience of life is in the festivity.

That being said, NRI Maami celebrates and observes what I dare say many Americans would qualify as "too many holidays." Maybe, she has yet to share her American observances of such holidays as Shivaratri, Pongal, Ramanavami, Akshya Trithiya, Varalakshmi Vratham, Karthigai Deepam, and others depending on her particular family traditions. A kin to how in America Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July celebrations have different 'traditional' menus, each of these holidays have unique sweets, savories, and menu items unique to that festival, some only prepared once a year- and all from scratch! This is why continuing these traditions is becoming a thing of the past- even in some places in India because the lifestyles in big cities is becoming so fast-paced and reliance on convenience foods, fast foods, and microwave foods is increasing. At least, in India the ingredients are not as difficult to find, as in America, where some are not available at all, especially for true 'pakka' ethnic dishes. So, for an Indian moving to America doing this - continuing these culinary and cultural traditions is quite remarkable - even to Indians living in India!

Here are a sampling of meals made by NRI Maami.... with a little help from her friends and family! (Click on photo to see a bigger size.)

Krishnar Naivedhyam

Ganesh Chathurthi

Avani avittam

The festivals of Krishna Jayanthi (birthday of Lord Krishna), Avani Avittam (changing of the sacred threads that go on the torso, seen in this photo), Ganesh Chathurthi (birthday of the much loved elephant god), Navarathri, and Deepawali are a slew of festivals that occur in the span of about 2-3 months between mid August and late October to mid November. In this time period, it seems there is a festival almost every week as some of these festivals last for more than one day (Navarathri is 9 nights, ten days), and (Diwali one to five days depending on the family tradition). Like Navarathri has some decor in addition to tasty treats. With a paste made of rice and regular flour, ladies create a design on the floor that looks like baby footprints. Some use small babies to do this if babies live in the house- they love it! This symbolizes baby Krishna coming into the house and entering the prayer alter. young girls also dress up like goddess in some houses to celebrate this festival. Additionally, during Krishna Jayanthi mothers dress up their young child, be it a girl or a boy, like Lord Krishna as photographed below.

The third photo again highlights ingenuity in using locally available products for ethnic displays. I had seen the photo, and became very curious. It again looked as though she had created 'steps' out of maybe nesting tables or random unused shelves to fashion this prayer alter. When I asked her, I was blown away by what this photo doesn't show or tell- the rest of the story! It was not what I thought it was at all- it was a computer desk/armoire. Take a look at it to the right- what do you think?! I thought it was pretty ingenious.

I am quite sure NRI Maami is not the first, nor will she be the last to implement these creative solutions to create a more Indian feel here in the shores of America- but to me, I have learned something new and been so inspired by her creativity, out of the box (or with the armoire, is it in the box?) thinking, and dedication to living a passion filled, authentic life! Like the golu steps- creating from odd furniture to a standard size steps set readily available in the market- she has evolved - learning how to adapt and build on what's available here in this country. I am sure in creating new ways to approach life- it can be challenging and even frustrating at times- but she has made it look so effortless to me, leaving me more inspired than ever!

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us NRI Maami!

**All photos in this post used with permission. Do not reprint without permission.

Read NRI Maami's blog

This post is a one in the series of Inspirational Blogger Interviews

Related Posts/Links:

Do you want to be a part of this interview series? Join my Authentic Journeys Facebook Fan Page and be featured! :)


Would you like to participate in the cross-cultural interviews here on Alaivani!? We'd be honored to showcase your life story here!
More information on this post, "Teach Us About Your Culture".

See an archived list of cross-cultural interviews here.


Author and interviewer, Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural coach. See her website here.


Related links in Alaivani

India and America Spiritual and Secular Holidays Calendar

An American Pongal
Diwali Celebrations 2001 in India: How to Celebrate Diwali like a local in Six Easy Steps!
Karthikgai Deepam: Festival of Lights
Krishna Jayanthi - Birthday of Lord Krishna
Nothing Like Navarathri: Preparing for Festivities

Thank you for reading and spending your time on Alaivani.com

 Updated July 2011

Copyright ©2009 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar


3 comments so far...

Re: Inspirational Bloggers: NRI Maami's Expression of Indian Culture in America

To be frankly, NRI Maami's blog and descriptions of some things reminds me of some typical situations that happen and how the NRI maami is keeps the Indian culture alive in america.


By NRI on   Monday, July 04, 2011

Re: Inspirational Bloggers: NRI Maami's Expression of Indian Culture in America

your blog was quit interesting to me as you have given a lot of pictures on your site.

By nri on   Monday, July 04, 2011


The NRI and PIO population across the world is estimated at over 30 million. As per a UNDP's 2010 report, after China, India has the largest diaspora in the world, estimated at 25 million,

By Nri Blog on   Monday, July 04, 2011

Your name:
Security Code
Enter the code shown above in the box below
Add Comment    Cancel  
Search For Articles on India/Hinduism/Indian Culture

Copyright 2007-2011 by Jennifer Kumar