The White Hindu has moved

The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Monday, September 6, 2010


I was able to spend a lovely afternoon yesterday with a friend from the Hindu Student's Organization at my graduate school in California. She has moved closer to my area and I'm thrilled to have her here.

We talked about religion and life and lots of things. I told her about this blog and about my continuing journey to mesh my ethnicity with my religion. She didn't think there was any issue with me being culturally Indian and thought it was great that I wear a bindi now.

In some ways, I'm more culturally Indian than a lot of the second generation Indian Americans here. Probably because being cool and fitting in have never been on my list of priorities!

I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart. I like tradition and I'm slow to adapt to change. While some people go through their teenage years and want to fit in and look like everyone else and not be labeled "weird", I am not one of them. I don't really understand the fear of being labeled "weird."

I don't need to have designer jeans or wear the right kind of clothes or have the right kind of hair style. I don't need to rank on the social ladder at all. I don't need to be thought of as "modern." And so I am free to follow my own instincts and wear things that others my age find hopelessly old-fashioned.

I guess it helps that my mother is not an Indian mother, so though I often dress like an Indian woman of her generation instead of my own, I'm never in a position of feeling like I'm too similar to my mother. I don't need to rebel in that way.

Now, I only know that it is rare for young people who grew up in America to wear "ethnic" clothes and be traditional. What is it like in India? For those who live there, do you feel like many young people are trying to be cool and look Western or are many of them wearing suits and bindis? Do young married women still wear kumkum in their part or is that something that only grandmothers do?

I get the impression that I might not be so out of place there with my old fashioned look. I often see recent immigrants from India who are my age and who are dressed very traditionally (though I'm sure for some of them it is because their in-laws prefer it that way).


  1. In my opinion (having lived and worked in the US for a while before returning back home), I feel Indians (especially those in their 20s and early 30s, and those in urban cities) in India pick and choose to adopt "cool" ideas from the US. These include immersing oneself in the "pub-culture", "we work hard, and party harder", etc., without learning the good aspects of US culture, such as respect for all types of labor, professionalism, etc. These things are more difficult to cultivate. It also helps that there are so many TV channels that beam US sitcoms directly into Indian homes. Sitcoms like Friends, How I met your mother, etc. where pre-marital sex is depicted quite naturally appeals to the "modern" and "broad" mindset of these folks. It is not that I consider myself a prude. But America developed its current culture after going through generations of struggle. Women in the workforce emerged after feminism (in the US) helped women win suffrage. Civil liberties were extended to Blacks and other minorities after America went through gut-wrenching soul searching and after America shed blood. In India, unfortunately, there are rarely such grass-roots movements that gather steam and make the collective nation think deep and decide to go one way or the other. There is so much chaos at any given point of time in India. For a vast number of folks the biggest thing is to be able to find the source of their next meal. Unless India finds a means of lifting a huge number of its citizens out of soul-crushing poverty, she will never realize her potential. At one point of time, India was admired all over the world. Columbus set sail to find India! If she achieves her past glory, only then will our youth understand the beauty and depth of her culture and be proud of her again.

  2. With respect to India, I don't see my generation of yuppies taking a lot of pride in our appearances. I don't think it has much to do with trying to look cool or Western or "modern". It's just more convenient to hop in to the shower and throw on a loose top and jeans to go to work. Wearing traditional clothes etc. takes a LOT of effort and is more expensive to buy/launder.

    Young married working women in India do wear kumkum & bindis. Although in the USA they get stared at a lot, so most of them chicken out.

  3. Good point, Satish, I didn't think about the convenience! To me suits are the most convenience thing ever (I don't even have to worry about what matches!) But I also really like jeans with a kurta. When you have a hectic life and you're working long or strange hours, how much thought are you going to put into what you wear?! I can understand that.

    And also good point about being stared at. Standing out can be hard. I would like to do my part to make it more "normal" to wear bindis, etc.

    In regards to what KalBhairav said, I guess it's a case of young people being the same all over the world. Some really love the idea of partying and doing their own thing and others are like me, more quiet and traditional.

    I think most of us end up in the same place in the end, settled down in families and hopefully happy with it. For the most part in America, by the time people reach about thirty, you can't tell who was a stay-out-late-and-get-drunk type of person in their college days and who was a in-the-library-all-night type of person.

    On the other note, I wish there was more we could do to help raise up India's poor, but I always have a hard time figuring out what the best step is and, of course, it being a political issue, there's a lot of disagreement about the best way to help.