While I write this, my parents are in the balcony— today is Karva Chauth—one of those rare “Hindu-Sikh” festivals where married women fast from sunrise to moonrise whilst praying for their husband’s long life. As always, my parents defy the norm—my mom is a North-Indian Sikh and my dad is a South-Indian Hindu—and define their own version of the festival. Instead of only my mother fasting, they make it a joint-fast and wait for the moon to show up so that they can then feed each other to end their day-long ritual.
My mother and father couldn’t be more culturally different. While my mother is a North Indian with Punjabi as her mother tongue, my dad is a Telugu-speaking South Indian. When my parents realized they wanted to get married, outraged relatives and orthodox families declared: “This can’t work. You belong to different states, you belong to different religions”
“Yes, but we belong with each other”. In a country famous for “arranging” marriages, my parents chose a “love-marriage” that transcended states, communities, languages and religions. They chose the voice of their intuition over the clamor of convention. They chose to be happy rather than “right”.
I’ve grown up watching my parents define a culture. I’ve watched them during Hindu Religious Rites (the chants are in Telugu, and my Punjabi mother is clueless). My dad sits with mom so that he can gently squeeze her hand to tell her it’s time to smash open the ceremonial coconut. I’ve seen the hand-squeeze work at Sikh-Temples so that my clueless dad knows when to kneel down or say Sat Sriakal. There is no her-festival or his-religion, no her-language or his-custom. It is— our customs, our festivals, our religions, our languages —and this is their culture. It is defined by a shared belief that their being together trumps everything else.
Listening to Steve Jobs say “Follow your heart and intuition” is inspirational. What is more inspiring is waking up every morning to watch this tenet played out in your living room. Twenty years ago, had my parents buckled under the yoke of conventionality and done what was “right” I probably wouldn’t exist. My parents give me the courage to tune into my inner voice—like they did, like they do— and to shut out the din of conformity.
I am a collage of cultures. I am a synergy of love. I am the son of my parents and for me life isn’t about settling for the “supposed to”s, it’s about chasing down the “want to”s. When I’m faced with a decision, I don’t choose to be “right”. I choose to follow my heart, I choose to be happy.