“Jasmina, are you ready sweetheart?”
“Mom! Call me Jazz!!”
I holler back and burst out laughing, as I pack my laptop and go to meet her. I know she’s standing in the small gurudwara of our house, in front of Palki Saheb, to pray for me and wish me luck. Although we are residing in proper London, I’m all decked up in a rich typical salwar kameez with all the ethenic Indian jewelry, including dupatta, bindi and paranda in my plat. Obviously, today I’m gonna proudly represent my country India, and I must look like a reflection of it.
Just as I bow in front of Vaheguru, mom asks me,
“All set? Are you ready or are you nervous?”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
My hands are still folded, when I say,
“I’m a dash skittish, but mostly prepared.”
She feeds me a spoon of dahi shakkar and smiles.
“Great! All the best. Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh!”
“Hmm…. Let’s go before I become more jittery.”
We lock the house, sit in the car and take off.
I’m Jasmina Kaur, and have come to England to do my cross-cultural programme. From next week onwards, it’s gonna be different. But for now we are representing our own country and are expected to speak about it and present it in front of a crowd of 200 people. I’ve done a lot of research, worked hard on it, prepared my powerpoint presentation and my speech is in place. Each student will be given seven minutes to talk about the culture of their country. Butterflies are doing somersaults in my stomach and my heart is in my mouth.
We enter the auditorium. Mom kisses my forehead and wishes me again. She proceeds to her designated seat, while I go backstage. I’m the first speaker on the list. The curtains rise and the program begins with a huge round of applause. For a good fifteen minutes the deen of our college takes great pride in talking about this programme. He is a good orator and has the ability to keep the throng engaged with smiles and laughter.
Eventually my name is announced and I gingerly step on the stage walking till the podium. My speech is in my head, so there are no papers. I’ll only look at my ppt and talk. After setting up my presentation on the projector, taking a deep, deep, sigh, I begin.
“Hello everyone. Respected principal, professors and my dear friends. I’m Jasmina Kaur, and I’m immensely grateful to be a part of this wonderful cross cultural programme. I’m here to talk about the culture of my country India. I’d like to begin with a shloka in Sanskrit. Shloka means a verse.
“Uttaram yat samudrasya himaadraishchaiva dakshinam
varsham tad Bhaaratam naama Bhaaratee yatra santatihi”
It means: “The land that lies to the north of the great ocean and to the south of the mighty Himalayas shall be called Bhaarata and its people Bhaarateeyas.”
Yes India, a land of many many surprises, beyond our imagination. During my research, I learnt so many new things about my own country, which I otherwise didn’t know. I’d like to share those proud details with you. We have everything in abundance, like wholesale. An extremely rich cultural heritage of love, respect and diversity. First let’s look at some pleasantly alarming numbers. More than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken in India as mother tongues. Wow! I didn’t even know so many languages existed.
India has a rich history of mythologies which are not only stories of Gods and Goddesses, but they have teachings for all times. Our sacred holy books are invaluable.
Because of the prevalence of diverse religions and groups, 36 popular festivals are celebrated in our country, and as we are a land of agriculture, out of these 36, 18 are harvest festivals. Our calendar is happily filled with holidays all through the year. We always have an excuse to draw rangoli, wear new clothes, exchange sweets and sing and dance.
Indian cuisines are yummy to the hilt. The mouthwatering spices are to die for. The diverse style of cooking brings you more than 2000 varieties of Indian dishes.
Indian classical dance and music is world famous and we have eight different dance forms, wherein dancers narrate an entire story, almost entirely and exclusively through gestures. Bharatnatyam is my favourite.
We are a big bunch of crazy people. We literally breathe and can’t live without the film industry and cricket. They are our biggest sources of entertainment. And of course astrology. Our internet traffic is mainly about these three topics.
But India is much more and above these aspects. We believe in the tradition of joint families and it has proven to keep a person stress free. He has many to hold his hand if faced with a crisis. Respect and reverence for elders is a cornerstone of our Indian culture. Like touching their feet to seek blessings, not sitting in front of them, if they are standing, avoiding the use of abusive language in their presence, these are just to name a few. It is these values that we pass on from one generation to the other.
The most common daily greeting in India is “namaste.” In Sanskrit “namaste” means “the divine in me bows to the divine in you,” and it serves as both a “welcome” and a “farewell.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Thus our Culture is unique and irreplaceable. Today I understand it’s importance as I unfurl and reveal it in front of you. I now understand that it places a huge responsibility of preservation on the young shoulders of the current generation. A Nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people. I have great respect for all the cultures in the world. But my India is in my eyes and in my pride. Thank you so much.”
The flutter in my heart is replaced by profound satisfaction, as I take in the resonating appreciation across the hall. My eyes fall on mom. She is giving me a standing ovation, clapping and crying at the same time.