A Big Fat Multicultural Cauldron


I am on my way back home, slowing to a stop before a turn when the flash of blue startles me. The bird is tiny, a violent blue against the sea of dull greens, browns, and yellows that greet me these days. I track the bird as it disappears into a tree and makes my turn just before anyone honks at me.

I am on the landing carrying a basket full of folded clothes when the crumpled sheet of paper catches my eye. I proceed to put away the clothes and come back for the sheet. I straighten it out and lay it on my lap. I trace the outlines. I want to smile but I am conflicted. I carry it upstairs to be put away with the rest of the keepsakes from a fleeting childhood.

The year was 1984 (I think). I was amid a clutch of cousins at my uncle’s wedding. I enjoyed being the one whose uncle was getting married. I reveled in knowing I was the one who got to wear a brand new pattu paavadai. Most of all, I loved that I was the one the bride invited into her lap, the one who got to try on lipstick and the one whose uncle lived in America. My memories of the first ever wedding I remember are sepia-toned, dulled by the innocence of childhood and replete with figments that would later fall into neatly slotted spaces in my idea of what a wedding should be like.

In my early twenties, I had definite ideas for my wedding trousseau. Nothing too blingy, classic colors, lines, and textures. Even the saris for my wedding would have none of the designer, embroidered pieces. They would be the rich, vibrant, conservative colors, solid gold zari work and pieces I can wear in my fifties without looking dated.

I was rummaging through Ammu’s school bag this morning, trying to find a pocket to put her overdue library book in when a sheaf of papers caught my eye. I pulled them out and spread them out. Before I could linger on the picture of a bride and groom, Ammu attempted to snatch it from my hands. I dodged, my curiosity getting the better of me. The lines were clean, the bride blushing, the groom dapper. The details caught my attention as much as what the picture represented. I snapped a picture of the paper before her sister grabbed it out of my hand.

The twins were having breakfast as I probed. “Are you embarrassed by the picture?” The answers were noncommittal. Just as they left for school, I pressed my lips to their foreheads and whispered that I loved their art.

All morning I have been going back to that piece of paper. A tangible reminder that our lives are no longer monocultural. Even if I knew somewhere in the recesses of my mind that my children will have a different life from mine, the sharp pencil lines drove it home like nothing else.

I look back over the past seven years and realize we have not attended that many weddings, Our children have no clue into what a real Hindu wedding celebration in India would be like. The one wedding we did attend was a pale shadow of what it should have been. Even if they did, they probably compartmentalize it in their head.

Ours vs Theirs.

American vs Indian.

Hindu vs Non-Hindu.

I have had many conversations in my circles about the merits of involving children in culture camps. I have disavowed them with a fervor that often surprised me. For the first time today, I wonder what it is that shook me. Was it that my child associates weddings with a white dress and a bouquet? Was it that the picture is nuclear showing just the bride and the groom? Was it the absence of color? Was it because it is alien to me?

It will be a while before all of this percolates into something I can grasp and do something with. Until then, I will leave the picture where I can see it. A daily reminder that ours is a multicultural family. That what I envisioned for myself is so different from what my children see for themselves. Most of all, a reminder of the mirage that is childhood.

8 thoughts on “A Big Fat Multicultural Cauldron

  1. The point of a wedding is the relationship. Easy to get married, the achievement isn’t in that but in staying married. However they get there, that is what one hopes for them…that their knowledge that they are loved in two families will transcend into their own families when they make them, however they make them.

    As for Hindu weddings, they are boring. No dancing, no fun…even the nalangu that is one tiny bit of fun is eschewed by most these days. My kids want to get married simple with a big party and maybe a dress made of zari (as is in fashion), a mix of all their influences is what this will be in. Point: fundamentals don’t change, even if form does.

  2. While I never thought about getting married too much, I knew growing up I would have an arranged marriage. I never questioned that implicit assumption that I made in my head. The other day my child was probing about the story leading up to my wedding. He asked me, do you think I will have an arranged marriage or the other kind? I said I don’t know. We will know with time. The point of my comment is I relate to the post although your realization is in a different context. Their dynamics are very different from ours.

    1. Absolutely! For me the shock was in realizing I actually had an idea about how I wanted my children’s lives to pan out. I thought I was objective but I guess not.

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