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Passing Tradition To Next Generation

My husband and I are blessed with 2 kids – a 15-year-old son – Alok, and a 7-year-old daughter – Anjali. Alok recently wrote an article about why Asian families do not get haunted. There was one paragraph in the article that caught my attention. He wrote about how his mom taught him Gayatri mantra when he was a little kid and how chanting that mantra before bed time has helped him sleep well and not have nightmares. When I first taught him the mantra 10 years ago I had absolutely no idea what kind of impact it would have on him. But when I read his article it made me realize that my simple teaching did have an impact – an impact so big that 10 years later he writes an entire article about it and draws the conclusion that Asian families do not get haunted because of such teachings. I am not a very religious person and back then I hardly cared about chanting mantras. But a friend suggested that I, at least, teach the Gayatri mantra to Alok to take care of bad dreams and scary nightmares that he was having frequently. When you see someone doing a good job raising their kids you feel motivated to listen to their suggestions, even if the suggestion doesn’t make sense! And this is what happened to me. Teaching my son to chant mantra before bed time didn’t make sense to me but I still listened and I am glad I did.

Isn’t this what a community is all about? Being there for each other, offering help when others need it, and accepting help when you need it! You do not have to know everything; everything doesn’t have to make sense to you! People are on different learning paths and spiritual stages in their life journey. Many things that may not be apparent or meaningful at one time could turn out to be very useful at some other time. As long as there is love, respect, and trust among people, you surround yourself with them so that you can be assured that you and your kids will learn basic human values, traditions and culture in all possible forms.

My daughter Anjali follows everything that her older brother does. If Alok chants mantra one time before bed, she makes sure she chants it at least 3 times and brags about it the next morning. Anjali is so convinced about the power of mantra that one day when I caught her watching a somewhat violent movie with her brother, I asked her to stop watching otherwise she would have bad dreams. She responded, “It’s okay Ma, I will do mantra before going to bed!”. So, she believes that as long as she does mantra before going to bed she will not have bad dreams, and monsters will not come out of the closet in the middle of the night, and even if they do she will just chant mantra to gain lots of power, which will scare all the monsters away!

So, do these mantras really have power? Is there any science behind it? I honestly have no idea. But well, it works for my kids. They both feel secure and sleep well at night as a result of chanting mantra and this is all that matters to me. I have very well accepted the fact that there are things that are beyond my understanding, beyond my perception, beyond my logical sense but that is alright. Maybe one day it will all make sense to me. But, for now, I am happy to be surrounded by a community of people that I can look up to and learn from. They are the ones who have already been through life situations that I am currently going through.

Have you noticed that kids learn so many things that you do not directly teach them? Sharmila didi, who is a respected community member, proudly shares this one story with me every chance she gets. One time my son and daughter were hanging out. I was not around. Sharmila didi came near them to say hi. My son Alok did Namaste to her, my daughter who was just 4-5 back then didn’t do Namaste. Alok noticed this and said to his sister, “Anjali, do Namaste to Sharmila aunty”. Anjali listened and did Namaste. Sharmila didi was so happy and proud to see Alok teaching his little sister a very basic Nepali tradition to do Namaste. I remember teaching Alok to do Namaste but I do not remember teaching him how to make his sister do it when I was not around. This is something that he probably observed on his own. This is what a good community does to you – it teaches your kids values and culture even when you are not around. As a parent we think we are the only one teaching everything to our kids. But, in reality, our kids learn and observe a lot from our surroundings, from people that we hang out with, and from the occasions that we expose them to.

There are different flavors of our tradition. What do you teach your kids, what do you not teach? Where do you draw the line? Last year I traveled to England with my kids to attend a family wedding. One day we all were getting ready in colorful outfits. Alok was wearing his regular pant and shirt. My younger brother, who is a computer scientist and a big follower of our traditional values, noticed Alok’s dress up and asked me why he was not dressed up in a traditional outfit. I told him that Alok was not into it. My brother took Alok in another room and started explaining to him the importance of getting dressed in traditional outfit for a traditional occasion. His point was that we are participating in a happy festive occasion; our colorful dress up shows our joy and excitement for the occasion. It brings collective happiness. After couple of minutes of talk he convinced Alok to try his own outfit. In no time Alok comes to me dressed up in my brother’s outfit and a big smile on his face. He said the cloths were really comfortable and he liked wearing them. I had accepted the fact that Alok didn’t like dressing up in a traditional outfit; I never really thought about sitting down and explaining to him why we dress up in a way that we do for weddings. I appreciate having a brother who did my job and spent time explaining to my son the values of dressing up for the occasion. Little explanations about why we do things the way we do can make such a big difference! Recently, we attended another wedding ceremony in Chicago. For the event I took out traditional outfit for Alok and said to him, “Babu, I am taking out this outfit for you to wear tonight”. Alok looked at it and said, “Sure Ma!” There was no struggle or whining about why he had to wear a traditional outfit again! Some interactions can create such a big positive difference and I learned this from my younger brother!

The wedding we attended was on a Friday. An older version of mine would have never allowed my son to skip school to attend a wedding. But the newer version did! I requested Alok’s teachers to give him a day off so he could attend the wedding and I am so glad I did. Seeing my kids observe rituals of a traditional Hindu wedding was worth skipping one day of school. Alok and Anjali both learned so many things about the tradition that they hadn’t observed before or were too young when they observed it last time. Seeing excitement and curiosity on Alok’s face every time he saw a new ritual happening just made my day!

I am not a religious person in a traditional way. Both my kids know very well that there are many aspects of religious beliefs and practices that I do not understand and so I do not follow. But just because I do not understand them doesn’t mean I should draw a negative conclusion about them and fill my kids’ minds with my opinions. Why not let my kids observe and experience all those traditions and let them decide on their own what they want to follow or not follow later in life – especially those traditions and values that bring out the good sides of us, which give us a sense of community feeling, and bring a sense of joy and happiness in our togetherness!

Komal Dutta

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