By Falu Shah
As cliched as it sounds, motherhood is definitely a life-changing experience. But for all the romantic notions that are often presented, not much is spoken about the gamut of feelings a mother-to-be experiences. At heart, I am a simple Indian girl who’s proud of her roots. I’m committed to taking on the world while retaining my cultural ideologies. And once I became a mother, I wanted to ensure that my son, Nishaad, was aware and proud of the culture he was born into.
I had once read: when a child is born, a mother is born. I fully realised the meaning of this when I became a mother. A child teaches you many things; he keeps you on your toes with his inquisitiveness and you have a constant drive to instill the right values in him. My parenting ideology was quite clear — raise a child who’s rooted in Indian values while preparing him to be a global citizen who could survive and shine in any part of the world. But my son was growing up in the confluence of an Indian home located in the USA. As he began to see the outside world, he started observing the difference between life at home and kids at school. This inevitably led to a barrage of questions.
The family that stays together
I believe it is a blessing that my son grew up under the care of not just his parents but also his grandparents. Nishaad says that he has learned the true meaning of love by looking at his grandparents. He often says, “I don’t think my friends know what love is, Mom. My friends’ parents say ‘I Love You’ to each other but the next day they fight so badly. Nana and Nani don’t say ‘I Love You’, but if Nani gets late while coming from the market, Nana will be sitting beside the window waiting for her. Nani makes sure she gives Nana his medicine on time. I would like to be like them when I get married.”
Growing up witnessing such an example, he too learned compassion and how to live in harmony as a family. Despite his young age, he’s always looking out for the small needs of his grandparents, be it their medicines, batteries for their hearing aids or ensuring that the cable TV is working so that his grandmother can enjoy her Indian shows. This is one of the beautiful perspectives he is getting from growing up in an Indian household.
Understanding cultural differences
My son’s American friend came home once. He wasn’t used to seeing so many people in one household, and said, “Wow, Nishaad, your home is quite crowded.” My son proudly replied, “That’s because my two parents are not enough to look after me and love me, so I have been blessed with four elders. When I am sad, my grandparents open their arms and hug me, and when I go to bed, my parents tuck me in and give me a kiss.”
In order to inculcate responsibility in children, many American parents assign them household chores to earn their pocket money. Nishaad observed that many of his friends would complain about their parents not giving them adequate pocket money. So, one day he asked me why I don’t give him pocket money in exchange for doing household chores. To which I replied that our family handles a household together as a team. We do things for each other out of love and affection. Pocket money is for managing personal expenses and money is a household matter that our family looks after together. He understood the difference between the cultures and has been taking a familial approach in his life.
Discovering own identity
While Nishaad understood how our household, lifestyle, and culture was different, my biggest concern was helping him understand himself and developing his identity. He found it difficult to understand whether he’s an Indian or an American. From food to skin colour, Nishaad felt he was not like his other friends and struggled to fit in. His friends would have sleepovers, but given Nishaad’s age, we wouldn’t let him stay over elsewhere. However, we would let him have sleepovers at our place so that he didn’t miss out on the experience.
With Indian food being flavourful, Nishaad felt awkward opening his lunch box because of its overpowering aroma compared to his friends’ lunches. However, when I explained the difference in cuisines and the importance of eating healthy, no matter the aroma of the food, he understood the point and stopped feeling awkward.
I always tell my son one thing – skin colour doesn’t determine whether someone is good looking or not, it’s the strength of his or her personality. You should embrace your differences and be proud of yourself. You are lucky to have the best of both worlds by growing up in an Indian household in America.
Nishaad has a lot of questions, but I have found that if you give children a chance, they will speak openly and understand so much more than we might assume. He made me realise that while it’s been challenging raising him with the value system that has helped me become a successful person, it’s been worth it. My most prized element of my India-inspired legacy is my son – Nishaad reminds me daily that among the many forms the world has seen of me, being a mother is the most fulfilling role and reward I could ever have.
(The author is an indie Hindi singer-songwriter, whose music has a flavor of both Indian Classical and popular American culture. She has released three albums FALU, FORAS ROAD, and FALU’S BAZAAR, and was recently nominated for a Grammy too.)