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Grandma?s Glory

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October 2002
Grandma?s Glory

By CHAYA SRIVATSA

It was an exciting moment as I walked out of the Newark airport after a grueling journey from Bangalore. I had been warned that there would be some fuss over our visa and our desire to stay in the US for four months may remain just a wish. ?You will get a one month visa and that?s it,? was the depressing verdict of a friend who is a globetrotter and knows everything about coming to the US.

With bated breath, I looked at the rotund gentleman at the counter, as he scrutinized my passport. ?What are you here for?? he asked, with a curious glance at my husband and then at me. ?We have come to be with our grandchildren,? I said, adding, ?We haven?t seen the little fellow who is going to be two soon.? My husband gave me a gentle nudge, warning me not to speak too much as our pessimistic friend had advised. But I was too excited to care. ?Our granddaughter will be four and she is waiting to see us.? The man gave me an amused look, and, with a twinkle in his eye, said, ?I know how that feels; I have one too. Here, I have stamped your stay for six months. But don?t overstay!?

I sailed out of the immigration area with a song on my lips, but also with a few misgivings. When I had first visited my son and daughter-in-law they were newly married and recent immigrants. I had a hidden agenda of persuading them to come back to India, fearing what materialistic America would do to them. To my immense relief, not only had the new country not corrupted them, but also to my surprise, I found them to be very grounded in their heritage.

This time, my concern was for the little ones. Would Kavya treat us like strangers? Would she speak to me in her American accent? Would she be more interested in her toys than us? Would she prefer her cereals and pizzas to my cooking? Would she and her little brother find our presence claustrophobic in a country that puts great emphasis on privacy?

?Graaaaanny,? came the excited cry, as two little warm arms engulfed me in a tight hug. Thanks to Bill Gates and his ilk, family interaction has become so easy and accessible. Sitting in my bedroom in Bangalore, I have kept in contact with little Kavya, who I had seen last when she was two years old and chattering to the brim. Webcams and voice-enabled software have bridged thousands of miles, bringing three generations together and keeping relationships alive and green.

The drive to New Jersey from the airport was peppered with Kavya?s lively commentary on the cars speeding by and their make, and on her school activities and her ?Miss Crissy? who gives her lots of fun things to do.

?I want to sleep with you granny,? declared the imp in perfect Kannada, while we tried to make friends with Surya, the new entrant to the family. He was a little wary of us, but seeing his sister prancing around, decided we were OK after all and smiled. ?Don?t worry Kanna, Granny and Thatha are family,? assured the big sister.

Showing off her ?grown up? status, Kavya gobbled her food fast, much to the amazement of my son and daughter-in-law, who could not imagine how the normally troublesome eater had surpassed herself. Surya, not to be left behind, treated us to some of his antics and all the fatigue of our long journey melted away as I looked at my family here and realized that four months would fly on wings.

Many of the flights from India to the US carry grandparents like us, coming either to help during a delivery, or to baby sit. While kids in India take certain relationships for granted, being constantly exposed to the extended family environment, children in the US are more isolated and seem to enjoy family interaction. When we walk Kavya and Surya to the town center play area, I meet other grandmas wheeling their grandchildren in strollers and we exchange notes. All have the same experience ? the kids love our presence because their parents speak about us, show them our pictures, relate tales of their own childhood days with us and of course, the Internet has helped. The need to keep the relationship evergreen and growing is felt more here than in India, which is perhaps why more effort is put into nurturing it..

While little girls in India are into jeans and short hair, birthday parties at Pizza Hut and french fries at Mcdonald?s, I find the girls here into classical music and dancing, Bal vihar and Indian cuisine. Kavya hovers around me in the kitchen and has become quite an expert in rolling chappatis, standing on the tips of her toes to reach the counter. She wants me to make traditional food and keeps asking me the recipes! A function in the temple excites her and she has to wear the zari langa and choli with ?lots of bangles and bindi?. A music and dance enthusiast, she is a willing pupil as I teach her Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam.

The community is vibrant with the kaleidoscope of Indian art and culture, propagated by the younger generation. I attended the Arangetram of two sisters and was impressed by the dedication of the girls, the guru and their parents. Notwithstanding their rolling their Rs, wearing tank tops and shorts and cutting their hair, the Indian girls here are keeping alive the fading customs and traditions of the India that their parents left behind two or three decades ago.

Yes, I see more of India here than in India! The temples, the community federations, the festivals, the heritage fairs, all point out to one heartening fact ? that India lives in the hearts of even the little ones born here. Having an American passport does not cut off the umbilical cord to one?s motherland. On the other hand, it strengthens the feeling and longing for all that is traditional and value oriented. In an earlier visit, as a mother, I had thanked Uncle Sam for doing my son proud. As a grandma, I salute this country for rejuvenating the glories of my country, in the bosom of the generations to come. Long live America-India dosti! Our children and grandchildren will do more towards this than any political pact or treaty. r


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