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Unity in Diversity Special : A Multicultural Mom with raising a Multicultural Baby

As India celebrates seventy years of independence, I thought there was no better way to celebrate our nation, than to acknowledge and celebrate the bonds that bring us together despite our cultural differences. Nobody exemplifies this more than the men and women that have tied the matrimonial knot despite differences in language, food and even religion. Throughout the month of August, the Times of Amma will be speaking to Moms who are raising multicultural children and Moms who grew up in multicultural families. Today in our Unity in Diversity Special Series, Nikita talks about growing up in a multicultural household and creating one of her own.

Where did you both meet? We would love to hear your story. I love telling this story. My husband and I met in 1996 – Day 1 of 5th Standard. He was the new boy in class and so adorably cute that our class teacher decided that such a paavam looking fellow must be made class monitor. I fell in love with his dimples the second the teacher asked him to stand next to her so she could introduce him to the entire class. Of course it was 2009 (over 13 years later) when he finally fell in love with me, and so much happened between those two events, but that’s for another time. I know there’s a book in there somewhere. Long story short, we were a part of the same group of friends and so we stayed in touch after school, and during that time we became friends, which later developed into something much stronger a deeper. For him. I never stopped loving him. Which languages do you speak at home? Which language is your child most comfortable in? My almost 11-month old daughter still speaks gibberish aside from the occasional ‘mamma’ and ‘tatta’, so I’ll be in a better position to answer this a few more months down the line. But I alternate between Hindi (80%), English (15%), and Tamil (5%). Somehow even though I think in English, Hindi comes more naturally to me when I speak to my baby. My husband speaks to her exclusively in Konkani (his mother tongue) as that’s the only exposure she has to the language. My father alternates between Hindi and Punjabi, whereas my mother and maternal grandparents speak to her in Tamil only. I have been told I was speaking in 3-4 word sentences in both Hindi and Tamil on my first birthday, and I heard Tamil only from my mother (grandparents, occasionally). Everyone else at home spoke to me in Hindi, so Hindi was no surprise. What would you call are the family’s favourite home foods? My baby is a foodie. Even though she hasn’t been exposed to “real” food yet, she wants a bite of everything we eat if we eat when she’s around. I have been using this to my advantage to give her a taste of different veggies and textures, but right now, she doesn’t have a preference. Growing up, my mother cooked both, Punjabi food that she learned from my Dadi and South Indian food that she learnt from her mother. So some days we would have roti, sabzi, dal, and on others we would have sambhar rice, avial, etc. And now I cook that and try and learn some Konkani dishes too once in a while. Konkani cuisine is very similar to Tamil food – their food is made in coconut oil, coconut and tamarind are used frequently, and flavours are very similar too. What are some of your biggest cultural differences? My husband and I are very Mumbaiiya, as in we do celebrate our cultures and festivals but we are not very strict about it. But growing up, I loved the Punjabi side of things because (and maybe this is the lazy bones in me, talking) ALL South Indian celebrations – right from Diwali to a wedding to valaikaapu (baby shower, sort of) – start before sunrise. And I love my sleep. Culturally, I still find my father’s side of the family more open and easy going – in terms of showing affection, having fun, compared to my mother’s side, which is more focussed on doing things on time, extreme importance on education and having a degree (rather than on learning), too many rules (which I still defy, by the way.) Which is why I found 2 States extremely funny because even though it was exaggerated for the sake of fiction and humour, there was a lot of truth in it whether about the Punjabi side of things or the Tamil side. Did getting married to someone from another state bring you closer to your parents or did it pose a challenge? Honestly, it didn’t seem any different to me for 2 reasons: 1. I grew up in a multicultural set up so I knew there were at least 2 different styles of living – one relaxed and the other more structured. 2. We started our lives, just the two of us, no parents or in-laws living with us. So we made our own rules and decided we wanted a life somewhere in between the two extremes of totally relaxed and extremely rigid. Now that posed a challenge on its own but those stemmed from issues like “this is where I think the furniture should go” and such, rather than “I want to do things the way we did it in my house.” What have the biggest challenges been as far as starting a bi-cultural family is concerned? We have been lucky to face no resistance from either family regarding our choice in a partner. As far as my parents are concerned, they were relaxed because: a) My parents knew him from my school days and knew he was a ‘padhne waala baccha’ who was serious about doing well in life. b) When I was in 6th standard, I had told my mom (my sister actually said the words because I was too shy) that I liked this boy, and so when it really happened, it didn’t come as a big shock to my mother. His parents were totally okay about it too and the courtship and wedding went off smoothly.

We had a Tamil style engagement, a Mata ki Chowki before the wedding, Punjabi style Haldi, Tamil Kaapu ceremony, Chooda ceremony, a Punjabi Wedding and Bidaai, a Konkani Satyanarayan Pooja the day after the wedding followed by a Pag Phera.

Then when I got pregnant there was a Tamil style Valaikaapu and Seemantham, followed by Konkani style Gurbini Kappad, and a Konkani style naming ceremony for our baby. And now there will be an Ayush Homam on Baby S’s star birthday. The challenge so far has been to keep up and keep every side of the family happy by doing ceremonies their way. What have been your greatest joys as a family from multiple parts of India? More reasons and more occasions to celebrate! We celebrate more festivals than anyone else. Other than the standard Diwali, Dusehra, Holi, we also have Pongal, Kaarthikai Deepam, Lohri, Baisakhi, and now Ugadi.

Thank you, Nikita for sharing not just your daughter's multicultural upbringing but your's as well with us. We wish your family all the very best.

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