Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope.
Our story today introduces a second generation South Asian, born and brought up in the US. As a very young boy, Madan got to know and love his ancestral homeland from reminiscences and stories recounted by grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. On his second visit to India early this year, Madan, a bright and articulate 11 year old, penned a travel journal that gives us ‘his’ perspective of traveling to and through India. This narrative is different from our previous ‘DesiStories’: those poignantly painted the lives of South Asians who had moved to the US, after childhoods spent in South Asia.
Madan was born to first generation parents in Columbus, OH, to an endocrinologist mother and ENT physician father. In many ways he is like any other eleven year old, who loves sports, music and playing with his friends. His favorite subjects are Math and Science and he wants to be an Astro Physicist when he grows up. To that end he studies hard, and does advanced classes in Math and Reading (Greek and Latin Roots).
Naturally, given his career aspirations, his favorite book is ‘The Martian’, which delved into the science of survival, and escape from Mars. Madan also explores his creative side with music, plays the Cello with his school orchestra and has participated in Piano Recitals with his group. He is good friends with his younger brother Nayan 7, whose ambition is to be a Chef or a Scientist.
The following, in Madan’s own words, are his thoughts, feelings and emotions, exploring a country that for immigrant South Asians to the US, was the cradle of our youth.
Madan’s Trip to India Journal
I’ve been sitting on a plane for 7 hours. Personally, I don’t feel as nauseous as I thought I would be. To fly to India, our trip consisted of three flights, one from Ohio to New York, then to Abu Dhabi, then finally over to India.
Right now, we are heading to Abu Dhabi and the entertainment system and lights shut down, so for most of the time I tried to sleep or just sat in the dark. It was boring, but I had my ipad to play with so I was occupied. Every time I tried to fall asleep, a bright light flashed in my eyes and I woke up with a start as they tried to reboot the entertainment system. It never worked but at least it gave me a fun white light to stare at for twelve hours (just kidding).
Finally we reached India! As I got out of the plane, heat blasted into my face. I was so surprised that I barely felt tired. It was winter in the USA, so we had forgotten about this nice weather. I was thankful I packed shorts. Next, when I got out of the airport I started to notice that people look a little more like me compared to when I am in the US.
India greeted me with lots of cars honking and lots of people yelling. As we rode in our taxi, I looked around the city. I was astonished that there are so many more cars, and everyone was driving on the left side of the road. What was even more surprising was that the highway signs were in English. I was confused as I thought that people in India speak in Hindi. Then I remembered that the British used to rule India, so everyone probably also learned English around that time.
We pulled into the driveway of Tatamma’s house and I noticed that the houses looked very different. They are more square, older, and run down. On the roof, there is another floor which I later learned was a terrace. I entered the door and was greeted by Ammama (grandma) and Tatamma (great grandma). Even though the house looked different, I felt right at home with my family
For the wedding, we went to a resort called Alankrita in Hyderabad. It was a very nice resort with a nice room and lots of nature. The wedding felt really different from an American wedding. There are four sections to an Indian wedding: Haldi, Sangeet, the Wedding, and the Pooja.
The Haldi is the first part of the wedding, where people put yellow powder on the groom and bride’s face for good luck. We didn’t put the powder on, but we were able to see some family whom I haven’t seen for five years. For the Haldi we dressed up in yellow clothes and went over to the ceremony. I was very surprised with the amount of yellow I saw. I was very excited to see all my relatives. A million ammamas came to greet me. Vinny anna and Anjali akka (second cousins: bride and groom) were at the front of the ceremony, but I couldn’t see them because of the crowd of people around them.
The Sangeet is where a bunch of people perform and dance to songs. The music was super loud and we had to scream when we were only a few inches away. This was the same day as the the Haldi. The food was amazing and there were lots of meals from different countries. After we ate we sat down to watch the dances. I noticed that for some of the songs, some people didn’t know the steps. For one song, no one actually learned the dance but still many of my Tata’s (older relatives) went to the front of the stage and danced randomly and looked like they were having the time of their life.
The wedding was outside, and a lot of things happened there. The baraat started an hour late but I really wasn’t surprised because our family is always late. It was cool to see Vinny anna riding a horse over to the wedding ceremony.
The music was loud, and sometimes I plugged my ears so my ear drums wouldn’t blow up. The ceremony place was beautiful with lots of chairs and flowers. I sat down for a bit, but the heat was too intense and I left to stand by a fan.
After a while I started to get hungry, so I went to an indoor area to cool off and get some food. A lot of other people were there too, but I wasn’t really surprised. Like I said, it was hot. The food, again, was amazing. I had some trouble finding a seat, because of all the people there.
After that we played some American football with my cousins and that eventually turned into ‘Keep Away’. I started to wonder if we were disturbing the rituals at the front of the stage, but then I thought that they were too far away to hear. We made squirt guns with our water bottles and spritzed each other, which really cooled us off. The wedding was like, seven hours in the blazing hot sun. It was fun, but I was relieved it was over too.
I don’t know much about the pooja because I wasn’t there.
Trip to Charminar
We went to Charminar (historic monument located in the heart of Hyderabad) or Four Pillars. I sort of thought it would be more clean and nice but that could never be the case with a 400 year old building. It was old and run down with cracks and holes. As we went in line, I could see many people up on the first floor. Charminar really lived up to its name. Char means four, and Minar means pillar. That building literally had four pillars. Personally, I thought the name was kinda plain but I didn’t have better ideas.
A guy came over and said he was our guide. I think he had lots of experience being a guide because he told facts about the building for what seemed like hours. Then finally he said we were going up. He led us to a doorway with a narrow staircase. The staircase was long, spiraling up to the first floor. The stairs were huge and I had some trouble getting up, but after a long time we finally got to the first floor.
I looked around and there were two signs on the wall. One said “please do not write on walls” and the other said “please do not spit”. People were not following the first rule for sure, there were letters sprawled across the walls saying things like “Joey was here” and “I like cheese”. I wonder why people would do that. As for the other sign, that didn’t even make sense. Nobody would spit unless someone put that idea into their head.
The guide led us around the first floor, pointing out every little thing for us. Every stop he took one thousand pictures from every angle he knew. It literally doubled our time there. The guide told us about secret watch towers to look at the city. He said people had attacked the building, so they built a tunnel to another castle thirty kilometers away. Once he finished talking, he led us down an even narrower staircase. At that point I was feeling claustrophobic. I stumbled once, and sighed with relief when we got down. We walked out of the gates, and I took one last look at Charminar.
Like I said, it wasn’t what I expected but it sure was beautiful.
Trip to Goa
The next day we went to Goa, India. It’s like a beach town. We went with our cousins.
The house was amazing. It was huge, and there were four floors and a big pool. In the pool we passed the football and played volleyball. My cousins didn’t know how to play American football so we taught them the basic rules. We had a football game at the beach and it was fun. Sometimes I got American football mixed up with soccer football. I also jet skied for the first time, which was scary.
The beach was nice, with lots of shells and restaurants at the side. The food and drinks there were really good. They cut a coconut and placed a straw in, which was amazing. It was cool that I was drinking from a real coconut instead of a bottle. The food was very different from American food. Indian food is more spicy and most of the time you eat with your hands. Indian food also involves a lot more rice. I love Indian food so I felt right at home.
Our Trip is Over
I had a lot of fun on our trip. My favorite things were to see my family again, be a part of the wedding, the food, and our trip to Goa. I was sad to leave India but also happy to be back home.
Madan’s Key Insights and Takeaways
** Loved visiting India and was disappointed to leave after only two weeks. Could stay for a much longer time.
** It was different from what I expected, especially the houses and bathrooms, but I had a positive experience.
** There was a lot of pollution.
** Enjoyed the hot weather and wearing shorts in winter.
** The food was delicious and spicier. And I liked eating with my hands.
** There were many different animals around, especially the peacocks on the hiking trails.
** There are lots of people around you, especially relatives and it was great to play with so many cousins.
** People looked different and “Like Me”. I felt right at home.
** Was sad to leave my large extended family, especially my playmates, and would love to go back every few years!
DISCUSSION : Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your comments, either by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’firstname.lastname@example.org’.
AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘ashausa.org’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.
The article is a wonderful read, and Madan’s travel journal provides a unique perspective of India from an 11-year-old’s viewpoint. It is heartening to see the efforts made to connect and establish closer ties within the diaspora of the South Asian community through DesiStoriesAshaUSA.
Thanks so much for your comment. Madan is a wonderful little boy.
Madan’s story was inspirational to me. It was reassuring to read about a second generation American Indian, who has a strong cultural connection with his grandparents homeland. In this American melting pot that he has been born and brought up in, Madan has a deep sense of his Indian identity. It was also great to know how positive his experiences were from his visit. He embraced every part of his two weeks in India and enjoyed his time there so much that he wanted to stay longer. It was important for me that a 11 year old was so articulate about the traditions and culture.