Monday, May 15, 2006

essay of an ABCD

Caution: the following is going to be one of those touchy feely Ethnic Moments, please feel free to skip. In fact I'm not really sure which reader this appeals to. Oh well, c'est la vie, I guess it is my blog...

To grow up in an Indian household is to be in touch with roots that came far before you. While i could wax poetic about all sorts of tangents on such a vague opening, I'd rather think about the most superficial and easy to understand, music.

Knowing music is more than just loving current Hindi movie songs, it's about knowing songs decades before your birth. I'm not talking about being a teenager in the mid '90s and discovering Zeppelin or Hendrix for the first time. Desi kids have Indian songs ingrained into them from practically the first time they can hear. I'm continually shocked how my younger cousin recognizes an endless array of old songs I do...but I guess it should be more shocking that I recognize them because I was brought up in the U.S. of A. In fact my dad once mentioned that he was shocked that I recognized some obscure song from 50 years ago and my only response was "I learned it from watching yoooou" (spoken in the tone of the old drug ad).

I would argue that most desi kids brought up in America can recognize tons of Hindi songs from the 50s and 60s...and we usually recognize these songs before having our favorite English speaking groups. Furthermore it is more than mere recognition, it's a combination of momentarily sitting in your parent's shoes and touching their youth...wondering where they were when they first heard these songs which they voluntarily sing along to.

If this all sounds absurd and overly dramatic, well maybe it is. If you don't want to play along then so be it, but if you're still reading and just need something concrete to point to then think for a moment of how you felt when you watched Monsoon Wedding for the first time and the old 1960’s Mohd Rafi song "Aaj Mausam Bada Beimann Hai" played during the romantic scene between PK Dubey (the wedding coordinator) and Alice (the servant). If you didn't feel you heart skip a beat during that scene then you probably don't have a pulse. Part of it was the fact that the scene itself was touching and the rest...well let's just say it's something else to unexpectedly hear an old song .

Why should a song made almost 20 years before I was born strike me with a nostalgia for a time that I wasn't alive for and a place that I haven't lived in?

In the middle of hearing that song I stopped paying attention to the screen and was immediately drawn back to all the countless Saturday mornings I would awaken to my mom playing the Indian program on some AM station in the kitchen (why do parents always boost the treble to the max and remove any bass?). It used to be annoying… who wants to wake up at 8am on a Saturday like that?… but I swear, if you ever came home from college on vacation, it literally was music to your ears. Plus you almoooost wouldn't mind watching Namaste America with your parents either.

As I've gotten older I find myself listening to old Hindi music on my volition rather frequently, but the timing of it is very curious. Let's just say it's when I'm at my Ethnic-kyest: driving to Edison (aka Desiville USA) or Jackson Heights, going to the temple, or just during Indian holidays. I don't know how to say many Hindu prayers, I don't know the names of all the incarnations of my gods, I don't know how to cool any Indian dishes, and I can only speak broken Hindi & Marathi. These are things I'm flooded with at home and I am unable to independently create any of it. So for me I turn to these old filmi prayers over and over when I want to invoke the feeling of Home.


culturedrone said...

actually i think that all makes perfect sense shakes.

also, will you change your "name" to scshakes now to recognize HB's official claim to the title or what?

Swathi said...

glad to know that u know so many of those yesteryear's golden memories 'coz often i come across ppl in india who dun know too many of those.

Shakes said...

i think it could be one of those things where parents who leave their homeland end up holding onto their past a lot more strongly than those who still live there. i guess they locals don't ever worry about losing their roots, whereas the ex-pats do.

as far as changing my name from hbshakes to scshakes, sorry but no dice...although oddly enough "sc" could also stand for "safest city" since huntington beach was named as america's safest city in like 1995....then there was some random hate crime the next year and that kinda hurt our rankings...

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Anonymous said...

Hi Shakes,
I'm sure a lot of us can identify with what your observations. And I totally agree that ex-pats do tend to hold on tighter to the "old" traditions, songs, culture, etc. I always found that my cousins in Bombay were allowed to do many more things and lived a much freeer lifestyle then I did as a teenager.

Now I'm older with small children and I am struggling to figure out how to pass those same feelings of cultural belonging to my kids, who essentially are once removed from it all.

I'm finging a lot of people in my situation who want to pass on culture, tradition, language, but how do we do that when often times we ourselves only know how to speak broken Hindi. Are we going to have to rely on Bollywood to teach our kids (that would be really sad considering the state of most films these days. Also how appropriate is it to have our toddlers watch these racy videos on Namaste America??

I just read an article in Little India magazine about some people trying to make a change -, they seem to be on the right track, I'm going to order what they have to see what it's like, if it's worth it or not. I'll let you know.