On Staying Indian while Being American

posted in: News / Blogs | 0

by Anvitha

Kaju Katli

I am standing in the middle of a beautiful pathway lined with palm trees and dozens of white flowers. Here in the village, I saw many familiar faces. I even saw Pedanana, my father’s cousin, fly past on his roaring motorcycle.  His black and red helmet covered his face, but I still recognized him immediately. I’m holding fresh kaju katlis with foil wrapped around them to keep them  hot for my grandmother, a gift from my mother. I see my grandfather’s white car. He’s coming home from managing the fields. He stops and I hop in. Once we get to the house, I see Grandma in the middle of her morning puja. I don’t want to disturb her, so I leave the sweets on the kitchen counter.  I am at my grandma’s house to pick roses. An amazing variety of flowers surround her house. Grandma told me to come pick flowers to do puja.


When I go back to our house, I place the flowers next to the silver-colored statue of Krishna  before the start of the Janmashtami puja, Krishna’s birthday. Relatives and other villagers are coming to the puja. I start pouring the oil in lamps and pouring turmeric in small glass bowls to get ready. In India, you don’t have to be invited to a puja; you are just welcome to attend. You will know there is a puja through word of mouth and through the sight of people putting up flower garlands and bringing milk, bananas, apples, coins, etc. to place next to Krishna. I  look forward to my grandma’s arrival, because she brings different types of yummy food to share with anyone who attends. Everyone who attends puja will get prasadam, a bag containing a fruit or sweet, a blouse, and a little figure of a god or an item that can be used during a puja. After an hour and a half, the puja is done. My grandma comes and greets  me. She asks me if i picked enough flowers for tomorrow’s puja. When most people start leaving, some stay because they can’t afford food and  it is traditional to give  food to everyone afterwards. Others stay to continue praying.

In an Indian village, everybody knows one another and feels responsible for each other; I feel safer there. In America things are more convenient: the tap water is drinkable, there are more hospitals, and the food is safer. But I feel the physical convenience sometimes comes at a cost. 


What I value most about India is the way it treats the sacred. In America, it’s common to talk a lot about prayer and religion, but too many people in America put spiritual matters aside for work and measure their success with cars, houses, or jewelry.  In India, the order of priority is family, worship, and then work. It is not enough to say you believe in something; you must also keep up with it. God made us and the earth, so we organize our day to include thanks and prayer.  Even if you organize your day in America to include prayer, you still need the people around you to understand that you need to pray.


If you come to America from India to work, family, friends, and worship must stay priorities. While mastering English is critical, keeping one’s native language–in my case it’s Telugu–  is equally important. For instance, the Telugu word ‘’bandhuvu’ loosely translates into English as   ‘relative’, but it has a deeper meaning than just relations through blood. Everybody in the village calls each other ‘bandhuvu’, because they are good friends. The word ‘puja’ translates as ‘prayer’, but the American concept of prayer is a few solitary minutes of asking for help from God or saying thanks. In Telugu, the meaning is deeper and symbolizes giving sacrifices to god, praying continuously for 30 mins, and sharing with one’s community.   

I still expect to spend my adult life in America as an American, but I want to make my America a little more like India.


Anvitha is a middle schooler who lives in Cary with her family.