Once a block of silver, this bowl in my hands, thisexquisite piece of art, is tarnished by the years, but I can still trace with myfingers the engraved floral pattern. A thick, winding vine with lotus flowers andelaborate, spade-like leaves encompasses the bowl. The design is strikinglysimilar to the henna painted on a bride's hand the day before her wedding. Thistraditional Indian embellishment evokes a sense of wonder at the antiquity of myheritage.
My great-grandmother, a woman entirely unknown to me,commissioned the local silversmith to create this bowl. As the village leader'swife, she was highly respected and obeyed; the bowl was designed to suit heraesthetic tastes. The silver block was pounded into a thick sheet and then shapedinto a vessel. The delicate, ornate engraving must have taken tremendous effortand time. When completed, the silversmith presented the bowl to my pleasedgreat-grandmother.
She placed the bowl next to the Hindu shrine in theheart of her villa. The children of the house grew up and moved away; my ownmother married and came to the United States. When my mother returned years laterto care for her dying mother, my grandmother gave her this bowl, which had becomea simple but significant heirloom, as a final gift. My mother placed the bowl inour temple, which is in the middle of a modern house rather than a giantbungalow.
In this modern house, I have grown up with a blend of Indian andAmerican cultures. As an American child, soccer and flute lessons occupied mylife. My alter ego was reserved for Sunday school and Indian functions. I neverrealized how much my two lives were actually an amalgam until a few years agowhen I sat in front of our shrine. After my daily prayers and rituals, Ireflected at the altar. There I was, speaking to myself in Hindi and hoping thePhiladelphia Eagles would finally make it to the Super Bowl.
Iunderstand now that my heritage plays a large role in shaping my lifestyle. Ihave learned to uphold certain values, like the veneration for elders. I don'tcall my siblings by their names; instead, I call my brother Bhaiya and my sisterDidi for respect. I embrace other Indian values, too; when friends went to aconcert on a school night last month, I stayed home to study for a biology test,since education is emphasized in my culture.
As President of the IndianCultural Association, I also educate my classmates about the rich Indianheritage. Along with making students aware of our culture, the group raises moneyfor Free the Children, an international anti child-labor organization. Dressed inlavish saris and other Indian garments, we are the embodiment of theIndian-American. From my embroidered saffron blouse to the colorful jewelsdecorating my hair, I am proud to represent my heritage.
Realizing myIndian background has been internalized along with my American lifestyle, I passthe silver bowl in the shrine every day, but rarely notice its presence. Bychance, I came across it while once again reflecting after my daily devotions.And now, as I actually observe this cherished bowl, I envision the intricatefloral design that will be painted in henna on my own hands some day.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.