Friday, April 27, 2007

Life, death, and everything in between

Being a fairly young Indian couple in the US, hub and I were friends with people in similar age groups. In fact, I think the oldest person we were friends with in the US was in his late 30s! I doubt if we socialised with anybody in their 40s or older! This was not by design, but just the way things ended up being. Now, obviously death is not a very 'in the face' thing for people in that age group. All we spoke about was the opportunities in the tech world, start-ups, stock market, kids, schools, day-cares, weekend getaways, and the like. Not really vain, but definitely not covering the gamut of life. The only older people we got to mingle with were the older parents of our friends and relatives who were there on a vacation. And even then the topics spoken with them were fairly limited. It would typically be about their tickets, airlines, air travel experiences, immigration, comparisons between India and the US, their failing health, etc.

When it was just the two of us, all this was quite perfect for us. And, because we spoke often to our own parents back home, we would hear of other happenings in our extended families, and neighborhoods. But, after my daughter was about 2 years old, and when she started grasping things around her, I was quite sure that the limited social exposure was just not going to be enough in the long run. Yes, she was going to grow up and meet her own friends and get involved in their lives, but still I really wanted the kids to get involved in the myriad of life's experiences that a place like India offers, more so because we have our family in India. One of the very important events that made this a certainty for me was when one of my uncles in India died. Typically, there are multitudes of ceremonies and rituals that happen after somebody passes away. And if you are in the immediate family circle, you take part in most of these rituals. Now, why are these ceremonies important? I am not sure I am aware of the significance of the exercises themselves; however I know that these events make strong impressions in our minds, and such impressions are very important to our own growing self. When I was a young child, I lost my grandfathers, both in a period of 2 years. I was at an impressionable phase, and I was part and parcel of the happenings around me. When my paternal grandfather died, we had to rush to our native place, because my dad was the eldest son, and hence he had a lot of responsibilities back home. This happened in March, just before my 6th standard exams were to start. Now, I was one of those school toppers, and academics was the most important thing in my life or that is the way it had been laid out for me. But, when my grandfather passed away, we dropped everything, took permission from school and just went. Somehow, that helped put certain things into perspective then, and continues to even now. The entire family had gotten together under one roof and we all went through the motions for those 13 days. I was just a child, but a very observant one. Death is anything but scary even to this day because of those few days in my life. And personally for me, I did not want my kids to miss out on such of life's experiences. There is more to life than what meets the eye! Death is definitely one of the vital aspects of life. I definitely didn't want 'death' to be just a concept; something that happened to distant relatives in a faraway land called India, or what happened to innocent victims of random crazy acts in the US.

Another big factor is, in India, not everybody we know is in the tech industry. We know different kinds of people having different kinds of successes and struggles in life. Again, in the US, within our own immediate tech circle, it was going to be very difficult to bring in a variety for our kids. There were probably 2 kinds of people we knew amongst our bay area Indian friends - the fairly well off and the very well off. But here, I am glad that we know people in all strata/classes of society. My kids get to see my maid and her family at close quarters, and then some relatives who continue to live in our native places and leading very different lives than ours, and yet some that are right here in the city and still leading a very different (read non-tech) life. I cannot be anything but thankful for this exposure that they are able to get without any added effort. I really wanted the kids to grow up with empathy. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to provide the required environment there.

In the bay area, almost all of us threw wonderful birthday parties for the kids. The kids, like butterflies, could flutter from one party to another. Each one giving and receiving tons of wonderful gifts. Every kid’s parents being able to afford it all. That was limiting, very limiting. Also, one of the reasons to return back when the kids were really young; before they start missing out on the "good" things after we returned to India.

The uniformity of every Indian family we knew in the US was very good in its own way. We didn't have to think twice about what was appropriate and what was not. We could talk the same kinds of things with everybody, and have "intellectual" conversations with everybody we knew. That had its own charm. But when it comes to raising the kids, we do have the responsibility of exposing them to varieties of things. Also, the reason why I am not ticked off at the lack of infrastructure here. I really think it is alright to grow up with some short-comings in our immediate surroundings. Nothing wrong with that! We grew up with many, many more, and turned out fairly balanced, IMHO! To not have a little electricity from time to time, to use water wisely, and to not have everything great around you in general, can only add value to their little lives.

All that said, there's really no easy formula to raise kids. Here or there, as parents, we have to go through our own battles to raise our kids, and to raise them well. Hopefully, this decision of moving back will be one of those factors that helps us. Keeping my fingers crossed...

Would love to hear your thoughts.

23 comments: said...

"Death is definitely one of the vital aspects of life." good, thoughtful comment. every stage in the process of 'aging' is enjoyable, every situation is enjoyable.

i think the circle of touch points that each of us crave for like people, events, newspaper, mindsets, products, everything.. is hard to get in an alien culture, and that's the reason we all gravitate towards other desis during weekends. it satisfies the thirst for 'our kind' once a week. these are readily in india. rare here.

Ramg said...

A nice post really covering a very important aspect of life - Death and i really enjoyed this.

Debbie Ann said...

It seems to me you could have all of that for your kids in the US - in fact I think most people in the US do have that - maybe it would've involved moving into a different community or broadening yr circle. I know I see this through American eyes, but I think what you describe is not really about India, but maybe about knowing more people. I lived in SF and saw all strata of society and knew people that died and had non tech friends.

Poppins said...

Just found your blog and I love it ! I feel most things that you do too. Life was/is just too limiting for us techies in the US. Maybe the solution would have been as a commenter pointed out, to get to know more people from all strata of society.
But having gotten into a comfort zone in a foreign country, it's hard to break out of the shell.
And heck, there are way more bigger reasons to move back, but these are also pretty significant.
BTW, in response to a previous post, you get fitted sheets and other gorgeous bedding at Maspar (Forum Mall).

nags said...

Having lost my mother just 2 months back (in India), I can relate to this blog very well.

However, as another person commented, I don't think you will miss these things completely if you are in close circles of other ethnic groups and commnities in and around you.

A couple of months back, a colleague of mine (American) passed away and we attended his memorial service and came to know about the rituals they follow here. Just a month before that my friend's father (Indian American) passed away and I attended the memorial service. It was in a temple and again a mix of both American, Indian traditional rituals.

Usha said...

Every time I read a post of this kind from you I am amazed at the way you and your husband chose to look at things and the kind of choices you made. Bravo!

Chitra said...

Anil, thanks! Interesting point there about 'circle of touch points'.

Ram, thanks!

Debbie Ann, what you say is true about life in the US. It is true about anywhere in the world, really! I guess my post doesn't bring out the family part too much, but that was what made the coming together during the mourning stronger for me. And what Poppins says is true about the reluctance to get out of one's very comfort zone. Here, we already have a framework!

Poppins, welcome to my blog. You are right about the comfort zone. Thanks for the Maspar suggestion. Will check it out.

Nags, you are right about getting an opportunity to attend the memorial services while in the US. However, personally for me, I would prefer the 13 days with the extended family.

Usha, thanks! Coming from you, it means a lot.

nags said...


Yes. I agree with you. In fact, Even 13 days are not enough to celebrate (if that is the right word) the life of a person.

Lot of local people here in US understand that and they feel sorry that they are not having these type of rituals that go on for more than 13 days.

bangalore_zen said...

My experience while in the US was similar. It seems like most Indian techies in the US seem to have only Indian techies as friends. Surely, nothing prevents them from having people from other walks of life and ethnicities in their social circle.

Indians there hardly seemed to take part in activities such as mountain biking, rock climbing or even plain hiking or camping. I'm sure they would have a more diverse social life if they do so.

I still don't get the point you tried to make about Indian ceremonies related to death. I would rather grieve privately and get over with the formalities as early as possible. I don't see the need to make a big issue out of it.

SS said...

Hi, Thanks for stopping by at my blog. This post really hit home .. our social lives here somehow end up being limited to other Indians ... I am not saying that it is a bad thing but it is definitely limiting and somewhat unhealthy too (this is my personal opinion, of course)

I find your blog very informative and insightful and am here a lot .. do you know of anyone who has a R21 Madras blog going ? :-) That would really help me lots!!

Taraa said...

Hey Chitra, got here from SS's blog, and very glad about that.

Well i personally believe that the kids shape out the best when they grow up in a small town that has a close-knit community, less than 100% infrastructure and a medium pace of life. I have come to this conclusion after many, many observations.

So in a way i know what you're saying, and i agree with you. I really believe you will not regret bringing you kids back to india and letting them grow up here. When they're ready to leave home, they'll love India and will go find new reasons for loving another country too.

Chitra said...

bangalore_zen, welcome to my blog. Actually Indians do take part in a lot of outdoor activities, especially the younger crowd. My husband and I did a few of those ourselves. We hiked plenty, went white water rafting, ocean kayaking, skiing etc. However, we stopped most of these after having kids. With 2 young kids, we didn't do much of our earlier activities. Now, those activities were fun by themselves, however, it didn't still replace the need for things Indian, especially after the kids were born.

About the ceremonies, look at it from a child's point of view. Imagine if all the adults had chosen to grieve privately and to just get done with the necessary formalities ASAP, the child will most likely be left confused and in the dark. Instead, bawling loudly, and going through the ceremonies helped me as a child, to grieve with the others and to somewhat get it that my grandfather was not going to be around anymore, but that was okay and we were doing our bit to help him RIP. I get what you say from an adult's POV, and I wanted things similar before I became a mom myself. However, now with my kids in a very tender age, I would rather they get the essence in this way, the way that helped me when I was young myself.

SS, welcome. I am glad you enjoy the blog. As for Chennai, let me look around.

Taraa, welcome to my blog. Interesting observation there. Bangalore, unfortunately, is neither small nor medium-paced. I would have liked it otherwise, but this is what we have now. We considered a lot of other mid-size towns to come back to, but nothing suited our needs like Bangalore!
You are right about loving it here and elsewhere, because that was true for us too. I was afraid that they may not care/like India too much if they were not raised here. :)

Srivathsa said...


Loved reading your blogs. This sort of stuff has bugged me for a couple of years and now I have decided to return to India from Singapore.

Life is perfect here and that is what is scary. It is not natural.

I like the optimist in you.


Chitra said...

Thanks Srivathsa! Welcome to my blog.

bangalore_zen said...

I was fortunate enough to have not lost a near one during my childhood.

But when one of my neighbours (a Tamilian) died at a young age, I got to witness the occasion through a window. That evening old women were all seated on the floor in a room, beating their chests and wailing loudly for like half an hour. I had seen such scenes in Tamil movies, but was shocked to see it in real life. I felt dissappointed that we Indians cannot behave a bit more civilised and handle a tragedy in a more dignified manner.

Even Indian weddings were a lot less civilsed till recently. Everyone had to leave their footwear outside the mandap which would be an eyesore for anyone entering the place. Thank goodness, these days they allow people to wear their footwear inside.

Chitra said...

'beating their chests', well I didn't see any of that. What I did see was open crying, hugging, and consoling, in other words, a lot of love.

I am sorry that you are disappointed with some of the Indian ways and don't find them 'civilised and dignified'. To each, his own!

Veena Shivanna said...

Came here through Vijay's blog. Lovely posts... Very practical yet so positive...
Very free flowing write up, infact will come back & catch up on few older posts!!
Appreciate your attention to details.

Chitra said...

Veena, thanks! Welcome to my blog and do come back.

Padma said...


I live in the same community that you used to live in the bay area and we met a few times at park etc.. got your blog info from a mutual friend.. i read all the blogs you wrote.. looks like you are enjoying your R2I.. we will follow you soon...Keep writing... love to kids...


Chitra said...

Padma, welcome to my blog. Of course I remember you! How are you? Love to your kids.

PS: I was quite sure that I had responded to your comment earlier. I am surprised to see nothing here today! Please feel free to email me if you need anything.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

just stumbled upon your blog. very nice post! i hope to make use of all your r2i info in the future :)

Lavanya said...

Hi Chitra,

Found your Blogs on R2I fairly recently. I am really amazed by the way you put your thoughts into
words. It is a delight going
through your posts. As a child I was always shielded by my parents from anything
remotely linked to death. But as you said death is a
vital aspect of life which needs to be accepted by people. I would definitly want my kids to be able to handle anything in life way better than I can..

keep up the good work,

Unknown said...

Hey Chitra.. i cannot express hw grateful i am to you for penning down those exact emotions thats going on inside me for the decision to R2I. We are planning on R2Ing in 2 years and started looking around for more insights from R2Ied folks and hence came across this. This post seems to be from a while ago, so not sure if u still access it. But i cannot agree more.
I think only an immigrant living in a closed techie family/friends groups could relate completely. Before making our decision stronger, one thing that struck me deeply was how much i miss those elderly touch- for me and for my daughter. As u mentioned, the whole Indian circle that we interact here are between 20-35 yrs adn everybody with almost similar mindset. Evrybody are reltively newly-married/with young kids, they engage with our kids but the kind of affection that we usually get from an older age group- my mom, aunts, our neighbour aunties and grannies in India. Its a very special type of affection that u our kids very very seldom gets to experience. i dont know if am able to pen down what i really mean.. Overall as u mentioned, our kids are missing the wholesome package that we get in India. As many commentors said, its not about India but any countery.. but generally as immigrants, we tend to get to that comfort shell adn we dont get it there.

Thanks soo much so the post. i may share ur post and link on my G+ community if thats okay with you.