My Indian Roots – An Interview with Modi Toys

So thankful to have been asked by Modi Toys to talk about my Indian Roots!  Check out my interview with them below!

Thank you so much for the feature Modi Toys!

What motivated your parents to immigrate to America?

My parents actually had separate motivations that eventually brought them to the States.

My dad moved there first and was motivated by the opportunity to get his MBA while working. His plan was to only stay long enough to complete his MBA before returning to Trivandrum, Kerala where his family was at the time, but life had other plans for him. He went through a rollercoaster of situations trying to make enough money to support his schooling and life in general, and still have enough to send back to his family. Meanwhile, his family was on a totally different page and was pushing him to get married while he pursued his career. He finally consented to marriage when he saw a picture of my mom, but held off for another year so that he could establish the foundation for his career in finance.

My mom was, however, motivated to move to the States due to her interest in psychiatry. At the time, most female physicians in India were “pushed” into gynecology. So in order for her to get to the States, she would need to marry a man who already lived there. She met several suitors, but my dad and his super casual attitude (probably made more casual by living in the States) won her over. So after marriage, she got her visa, went to join him in the States, and became a Psychiatrist.

You’re in your last trimester! How has the thought of soon becoming a Mom changed your outlook on the importance of cherishing and preserving your culture?

Yes! It came so quickly! If I’m honest, I can’t say that it’s changed my outlook at all mainly because I think I’ve always had a strong sense of Indian culture thanks to my parents. But I do hope that she’ll also share a love for Indian arts and fashion as much as I do. Whether it’s dancing or singing or playing a musical instrument, I want to expose her to all of it and hope that she falls in love with something in that realm. And to be clear, I would love it if she loves any type of art, but it would be cool for her to blend it with an Indian art as well. For example, doing ballet to an Indian raag or playing an Indian raag on the piano 😉 Haha I’m starting to sound like my parents!

You’ve really taken the concept of “rewearability” to new heights through your blog, IfStyleDanced. I love seeing how you add a contemporary flair to classic or even traditional silhouettes. In fact, this was partly the inspiration behind Baby Ganesh: it’s an Indian twist on a classic plush toy that sings. What has been your favorite rewearability outfit thus far, that incorporated an Indian piece? 

You’re so sweet, thank you! My favorite rewearability outfits with Indian pieces tend to be those that I mix and match with non-Indian clothes, but my favorite is an outfit that I used for a shoot with Rent it Rani jewelry. I took the blouse of my favorite half sari, paired it with black harem pants from Fab India, added a denim jacket from Madewell, and completed the look with a large Indian nose ring and black pumps. It might not sound like anything that different, but if you’ve watched the evolution of Indian/non-Indian wear combos, it took most folks a bit to accept the idea that you could wear a lehenga skirt with a fun non-Indian crop top, let alone a sari blouse with a denim jacket and harem or wide-leg trousers. Even though the shoot was recent, less than 2 years ago, there were still comments made on my pictures suggesting that the blouse is better paired with a skirt instead 🙂 Each to their own of course, but for me it’s just part of the evolution!

Since your daughter will be growing up in HK (for the time being), what are some ways you hope teach her about your Indian culture?

This is a great question, and I think this question would exist no matter where we lived. But I think my parents did a great job of teaching my sister and I Indian culture, so I think I’d start her with books, stories, music, and dance just like they did. There’s a Chinmaya Mission in HK that I’m planning to check out and would love to take her to when she’s old enough, and if we’re still here.

Generally, I’m excited to for her to be curious about everything, ask questions, and to doubt the norm. I’m sure I’ll be annoyed when actually she pushes back, but it’ll be so interesting watching my culture evolve again as she grows.

What do you hope your daughter retains about your culture once she’s older?

I think “my” culture has evolved from my parent’s culture, but I want her to know how beautiful and diverse Indian culture is. I want her to understand the foundation of whatever arts she chooses to embrace and feel open to combining them with other cultures while also maintaining the integrity of each art.

Roots mean different things to different people. How do you define it?

I’d define “roots” to mean a mix of values, culture, and tradition. I’m lucky that my parents did such a great job of exposing me to as much as they could from both Indian and American perspectives. Over time, I realized that culture is not as one-note as I originally believed. It evolves due to the evolution of arts, history, and the lifestyles that contribute to it.

What are some of your fondest memories of “growing up Indian”?

My fondest memories of “growing up Indian” is related to our exposure to Indian arts and fashion. From a fashion perspective, we wore South Indian pavadas (usually a raw silk skirt and blouse) as young kids until we graduated to salwars, lehengas and saris as we got older. From an arts perspective, my sister and I both were taught Carnatic music vocals, I learned the sitar while she learned tabla, we both took bharatanatyam for different lengths of time, and even though we are Malayalee, danced garba, raas, and bhangra. But the best part of it was how it all came together based on what we were doing. I personally fell in love with Indian fashion and dance, and combining the two based on the type of performance, music, etc. made each performance magical to me.

What do you love the most about the Indian culture – or specifically the Malayalam culture?

What I love most about Indian culture is the diversity of it. I grew up in a Malayalee household that wasn’t actually as “Malayalee” as other Malayalee families that we knew. I say that because my sister and I started going to the Chinmaya Mission in Chicago when we were very young which helped not only expose us to Hinduism but also to other Indian cultures. Because of this, we were able celebrate Malayalee culture as well as other Indian cultures as well, which simultaneously broadened our exposure to various Indian arts.

What is the one thing India has that you wish was here?

Our extended families and cheaper access to the fashion and jewelry!

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