What's a Chai??

“What’s a chai??” said my 8 year old son. That was is it. That was the moment.

I looked at my husband, and he looked at me, and we knew. In those few seconds I felt, embarrassed, ashamed and a failure. I was angry with myself. How did this happen?

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s was not easy! As a teenager, I HATED wearing traditional clothes! I hated always smelling of curry. I hated that I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. I hated being compared to my cousins. I hated never having a “proper” birthday party with friends that wasn’t at home. I hated never going on a holiday abroad like others - a holiday was a week at an aunt’s house or “back home”. I hated never being able to do any extra curricular activities like brownies or music lessons. I hated never being able to go out with my friends, even to the cinema. I hated getting hit with THAT brown leather slipper when I was naughty or worse being locked in the wardrobe. I hated eating roti every single day, ok that might be an exaggeration, we did have rice, and on occasion fish and chips (best day ever). I hated having to make those phone calls to companies because my mam’s English wasn’t great. How ungrateful does that sound now? Of course I was ungrateful, I was a teenager. And I know it all shaped me and made me who I am, NOW I AM grateful, but, I’m telling you, us British Born Desi’s who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, we had it tough.

HAVING SAID THAT, I’ll tell you what I LOVED, I loved family gatherings, I loved getting together with my cousins and causing havoc, I loved seeing my mum and aunts in the kitchen all pitching together making the meals, the smell in the house of the desserts, my dad and uncles always is the other room talking about “men stuff” and the cloud of smoke that seeped out from the room every time the door opened. I loved the Bollywood movies!!! I loved singing the songs from Amar Akbar Anthony with my cousins and I remember when Naseeb came out! We borrowed the videotape from our friends, they would rent it from a video store, but that one videotape would visit, I swear, about ten households before it was returned back to the video store. I loved when family was over and it was time to go to sleep, there would be ten of us in a room sleeping on the floor! So much fun!! So many memories! The best times ever.

All those things are the BEST things about our CULTURE. Family, food, arts and entertainment, fashion, the sense of humour! You just can’t beat it. Now, back to my son. Last weekend we came home after a busy day out, I said to my husband (in the cheeky hope he would make it), “I’d kill for a cup of chai” and that’s when my 8 year old son said, “What’s a chai?” How can he not even know what a TEA is?? AND he didn’t say “chai”, he said “chy”…..like Captain Russell from Lagaan with that twang….

Growing up I was as desi as they come, how could I have got it so wrong with my children?! I remembered growing up the term “coconut” was used all the time – is it now the standard for the next generation? They don’t speak the language.

When we go out, if they have the choice between desi food and something else – it will always be the something else. The only time they wear traditional clothes is at weddings and religious events. The last time they saw their cousins was in April because “everyone is too busy”.

We don’t have any family who live nearby, that doesn’t help, our closest family is almost 2 hours away, it’s not an excuse, it’s a fact, a fact that had we been closer PERHAPS things may have been different…..?

Overall, I know it is my “fault” and I take responsibility and have to live with that, but my grievance remains with the question HOW and WHY this happened?

The good news is, I think I know the answer…..

At the beginning, I told you everything I hated about my culture growing up, “When I have children… it will be different,” I thought to myself. And it is. My children have been on holidays, they get to eat out, they’ve had various birthday parties (outside of the house.) They saw Sonic in the half term holidays at the cinema and have regular play dates. My son is in cubs and is learning guitar. My daughter is in guides and learning piano. Obviously they’ve never encountered the brown leather shoe beating session, because God forbid I strike them, why that would be “child abuse”(ahem).

So here it is, I have concluded that while I have been so busy giving them what I DIDN’T have, I forgot to give them what I DID have - all the things I LOVED about my CULTURE – unintentionally and sadly, they have slowly been diluted and now I can see them gradually slipping away. The one thing that reassures me is that it’s not too late. For those of you who HAVE kept the culture alive, I commend you and respect you and aspire to be like you….

I don’t want my culture to be forgotten! I truly believe I have time to refuel the culture tank. I don’t want all the values and best parts of everything my mam and dad instilled in me to have been in vain. There is time to make an intervention - I know this sounds very dramatic, but I keep thinking, if someone expecting a child is reading this, they may be able to learn from these experiences and do things differently with the next generation, our future “cultural representatives”!

For those of you like me who want to make a change before it’s too late, let’s do it! Let’s schedule more family time with our relations, watch a Bollywood movie (probably with subtitles at this stage lol), lets make an effort to wear our traditional clothes, why don’t we assign a day?? - Make it part of our weekly routine, for example Desi Saturday! Wear the clothes, invite family, eat roti and watch a Bollywood movie! If every Saturday it too much, then once a month, but do SOMETHING….

If the clothes go, and the language goes, and the movies go, and the songs go, and the food goes – what will be left? Lets do what we can to keep our culture alive, before it’s too late.