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 This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I think the people in my life are just going to have to accept that I'm eccentric. They can roll their eyes behind my back if they want to, but this is simply me being true to myself.

I have continued to think about the regions of India and I made a list of aspects of Indian culture that I have been following and where they are from:

I follow vedantic Hinduism, also known as advaita or smartism. Advaita is the word I use most often to describe it, the word means "Non-duality." It does not seem to be associated with a particular area. There are, ideally, four Shankaracharyas (ultimate gurus for this branch), one for each compass direction.

So with everything else, a pattern emerges. North Indian seems to be what calls to me the most with the exception of my beloved classical dance.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out when I have children. I will raise them as Hindus and I will raise them bilingual, speaking Hindi. I will bring them to temple and have the girls in Indian dance classes, etc. And I plan to give them Indian names, though also a middle name or nickname variation that is regular American.

I wonder how they will incorporate the culture I give them in their adult lives. I imagine they may go the opposite direction as me. It seems to happen that way with children. They may wonder why I gave them Indian culture and religion when they are not Indian. But to my mind, it has to be better than being raised in confusion as I was, having no sense of culture at all.

These are my beliefs and I will do my best to instill them in my children, though I hope to always leave room for them to come to their own interpretation of the world.
And they will roll their eyes and tell people that their mother is eccentric. Hopefully, a lovable eccentric.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dance class

I finally have a dance teacher again.

When I was a kid, our community occasionally practiced a dance they called abhinaya. I later learned that it was watered down bharatnatyam, a classical Indian dance. For us it was about practicing focus because there is a strong emphasis on the deliberateness of every movement, including where the eyes are looking.

In elementary school a girl in my class performed a bharatnatyam dance for a talent show and I was mezmorized. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. But I thought I couldn't do that because she was Indian and I was not.

In college I wanted a dance that I could do solo without needing to drag my boyfriend to it. I remembered seeing that girl dance and decided not to worry any more about not doing something because I wasn't Indian.

I found a teacher and began to study bharatnatyam. It is an ancient dance and it is used to tell stories about the gods. It is an exercise as well as a religious experience.

Last year I moved to a new state and had to leave my dance teacher behind. I've been looking for a new one ever since.

It can be very difficult to find these things because they really don't advertise much on the Internet. It's word of mouth and you have to be taped into the Indian community.

I finally had a breakthrough when I went to dinner at an Indian restaurant and the owner saw me copying a name from a bulletin board. He asked what I was looking for and gave me a couple of names and a phone number for classical dance teachers.

I called the number right away and the woman was beyond startled to hear from me. She wanted to know what my interest in Indian dance was. I don't know if she thought I wouldn't be dedicated to it or what. I stumbled through a not very coherent explanation and I told her that I had done it before for two years. She was going to India and told me to call her when she got back.

When she got back I called and she didn't answer. I left three messages over the next two weeks and she never called back.

I was so hurt. I wished I had an Indian name because it seemed to me that she would have taken me more seriously if I did.

But I tried the other name on the card and it led me to a list of several teachers. I contacted five of them and only one responded. However, she responded that she would be happy to teach me and I went to her house yesterday to show her what I knew so she could place me in a class.

She's going to be a great teacher for me. She critiqued little details that will make my dancing so much crisper. And I didn't realize how out of shape I have gotten over this past year!

She actually has adult classes, which is great. I was used to being the only adult in a group of little girls because this dance is to Indians like ballet is in the west: it's the dance that all little girls do and most eventually outgrow.

I'm so happy to be dancing again. Especially because I've just experienced a devastating personal loss and the dance is a deeply religious experience for me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


The Indians that I know are completely mystified by my interest in their culture. No one seems to have a problem with it, though some have suggested (as previously mentioned) that I may be romanticizing it.

A collection of reactions:

I was running into a 7/11 because I needed to buy a pen to write a note for a person whose car I just hit. The Indian guy behind the counter was intrigued by my Om necklace and wanted to know if I knew what it was. Didn't have time to explain to him that I know exactly what it is.

During an Indian dance class my teacher started explaining the story of the dance, which is based on a story in mythology in which Shiva drinks an ocean of poison to protect the earth and his wife keeps him from swallowing it. It's a really famous story. My teacher was stunned that I knew it and couldn't seem to understand how it was possible that I did.

I used to work at a place where people take exams, such as the English as a Second Language exam. During a break in the exam I was chatting with an Indian girl. I asked where she was from and she said, "India." I asked where in India and she was skeptical that I would know the parts of India. She was from Gujurat and I surprised her by knowing exactly where that is. I told her I was trying to learn Hindi and she stared at me. Finally she said, "Why?"

That is pretty much the universal reaction. Why would I be interested? Why would I know these things? Why would I care? How could I know anything about their culture?

I don't know why. I wish people would stop asking that. I wish it would just be okay for me to follow my heart. Brings me back to the possibility that what I really need is probably to stop being so consumed with what other people think.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Caste, I think, is the trickiest thing about this idea of converting to Hinduism. One cannot choose one's how does a person born into a country that has no caste system (or no explicit caste system, anyway), get one?

Supposedly caste is not as important in India anymore, but I'm pretty sure it still has a lot to do with who people marry, what kinds of jobs they do, and what their names are.

Caste and region both play a part in how one would express Indian culture.

India is a huge place and there is great regional variation. How can I behave with an Indian culture if I don't pick one of these regions to focus on? The food, clothing, language, and dance are all different.

Imagine someone outside America who loves American culture and decides to emulate it. Would he choose mid-west? South? North-east? West? All are tremendously different. Of course, living in his own country, where his neighbors probably know as little as he does, he could blend them all however he likes.

That's mostly the direction I go so far, but I'd like to focus more.

As far as the caste goes, I do not think I can just pick one. If left to pick, wouldn't all converts pick the most revered one? Could I look at my family and where I came from to determine what caste we might be labeled as? My own immediate family are intellectuals, however their parents were more working class. In America these things change too much based on the individual.

This problem of being too spread out will really come into play when it comes to ceremonies. Weddings, baby names, things like that are affected by region and by caste.

If I can become integrated with a particular temple then I can take on the culture it comes from. That's my general plan, but I still have not been brave enough to go to the temple I found online. I was supposed to go tonight, but I already know I will not have the courage.