Sunday, October 31, 2010

My First Halloween

I came to this country on October 30th, 1976.  Being one of  only a handful of  non-white children, I had the privileged opportunity of being  initiated into the American mainstream by being pummeled by snow balls, asked why I was so dark, and my all-time favorite, being called a camel-jockey.  Yes,  a camel-jockey! How could I tell these children that I had never even been close to a camel before let alone ride one. 

The fact that I had a small nose ring at the time, didn’t help me blend in either .   Today I would have  fit in with the bohemian, hippie type crowd but in those days  having a nose ring was considered strange not fashionable.  Children would look at me  quizzically and ask, “Why do you have a ring in your nose?”    Needless to say, I had my parents  let me take it out. 

While  all the American  girls had beautiful flowing  blond or brunette hair,  my mom would put my hair in two long braids on the sides of my head, very much like Pippi Longstocking, and  stick a bindi on my forehead.  How could I   escape answering the question, “What’s that dot  on your head?”    It was futile to point out that it wasn’t on my head.  It was on my forehead!!    I survived without any  scars or trauma, thank God, and in fact I can  laugh  about it today.

I still remember my very  first Halloween.   My mother had decided to dress me up as an ”Indian Princess.”  Dressed in one of my  Indian chaniya-cholis* ,  with my midriff  showing, I looked  like Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie  Aladdin .  Only thing I was missing was a veil so I could  hide my  face.  The following year my parents splurged and let us buy  facemasks.  My brother and I would improvise and put together the rest of the  costumes from old clothes or from brown grocery bags.  One of my favorites, ironically,  was being an American-Indian.  It was fun making  a fringed Indian vest and my very own feathered headband. 

Halloween on the Northwest side of Chicago in the 1970’s  was different.  Parents were at home passing out candy while the kids trick-or-treated.  We were out for hours and came home with literally  a pillowcase full of candy.  Those to me were times of innocence and goodness,  before people figured out how to contaminate candy  or stick needles in apples to hurt children.  Those were also less commercial days when people did make their own costumes.   I remember my friend Andi’s mom   stitched adorable costumes for her and her sister which could probably be sold at Pottery Barn Kids today for $100. 

Every year the PTA held a fair during the different holidays.  These were simple fairs with everything from cupcakes to planters homemade by the PTA moms.  My parents usually gave us no more than  $.40  but we were still able to get something.   I remember buying cupcakes for 10 cents apiece. Today  when my son has a fair at his school,  he needs at least $ 5!!   Also,  I don’t recall any mom wearing plastic surgical gloves so as not to taint my cupcakes.  There were no allergy alerts.  And no one cared if the toy had small parts that could be swallowed.   Somehow  we survived . For better or for worse, times have changed.   I still like to look back to a time when life was less complicated, less commercial and childhood was pure and fun……………

*Chaniy choli-a long flowing embroidered skirt worn with a short top

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A lost Art

 My son Nikhil recently turned 8.  The night before his birthday, I wrote a short letter to him telling him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him.  I placed the envelope  in his homework folder so when he opened it up in school, he would  get a surprise.   The mothers reading this are thinking, "Oh sooo sweet!!"     The men reading this are saying, "God help her son!"   

When Nikhil came home from school that day, I asked if he saw anything special in his bag.   As only a typical male would respond, he said,  "Oh yeah, thanks Mom."  So much for my tears and staying up at night writing the letter.   But I'm glad I did it!  As a matter of fact,  I'm going to do it every year on their birthdays, even when they say "God, Mom really?  I'm not a kid any more!"

During the summer of 1928, the late Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal  Nehru wrote many letters to his then 10 year old daughter Indira (Gandhi).  

"  I am going to write you short accounts of the story of our earth and the many countries, great and small, into which it is   divided  I hope [these] will make you think of the world as a whole and of other people in it as our brothers and sisters . . ."

In all,  he wrote some 30 letters to her that summer .   I can't image the thrill she must have felt while  tearing open each letter knowing that her father,  who was  hundreds of miles away,  had sent this personal gift to her.  It contained his writing,  his emotion, his love.  Imagine looking  at the letters years later, after her father passed away and  thinking back to the day when she actually received it.   What memories and feeling it must have evoked.  I love history and nothing teaches more about the past  then old letters.   They take us back to a time….to a place…to a life.

Today it seems everyone is too busy to write letters anymore.   Letter writing is an old lost art.  Except for the quick email or text, most people don’t  actually put the pen to the paper anymore.   The most thought or emotion we  show is in our preprinted  Hallmark cards are,  “Love,  John Doe.”    And oh, and let’s not forget the very heartfelt and classy, ”XOXO!!”   Are we really that busy?  Or have we just forgotten how to write? 

The  Hallmark company has become very profitable.  The irony of it all is  that if someone today were to take time and effort to write us a short letter rather than buy a card, we would be inclined to believe that they were just being frugal…to put it nicely.  Cheap is the other word  I was thinking!    Come on now, be honest,  how often do we flip the card to see how much the  card cost.   I have to be honest and say that  I always go for the cheapest one….because I know it’s going in the trash anyway!!

This might sound silly but I still have an old note that my sister wrote to me when she was about 6 and I was 16.   She had  jumped on me while I was laying on the bed and I got very upset with her.   She wrote that it was an “axcident”  and  I was to circle  “YES”  if I forgave her and “NO”  if I didn’t.    I chuckle, at this moment, as I write this because I can actually remember that day .   I really beat her.  (XOXO Bina!!)

That’s the beauty of  a handwritten  piece of  writing.   I might be able to save all  the cute  emails I get in my “SAVED” folder  or on my  computer.    But nothing can compare to the joy of opening an old letter written by a father to a daughter, mother to a son or a friend to another friend.   Touching those old  letters is like being with and touching the person who wrote it. 

 It saddens me to think of what the implications of this new trend in our society means to the future generations.  I hope my sons will save whatever letters I write to them and be able to talk about how mom was so mushy!!