Archive for December, 2010

Happy 3rd Birthday!

Virj turned 3 last month on Nov 20. We had a small birthday celebration for him at home. I wanted to keep it simple this year…well, that’s what I planned for the last two years too but it always ended up being big. This year, the weather forecast wasn’t in favor of an outdoor party, so I was forced to keep the guest list short…can’t imagine keeping more than 10 kids (mostly toddlers) entertained at home. Since, Virj has made some friends in school and day care, I wanted to invite few of them. It felt a little awkward inviting the kids from his daycare whose parents I hardly ever met. I sent out hand written invitations through the daycare provider and called them later to confirm. Luckily, I knew the moms/guardians of the kids from his school and it was much easier inviting them. I was really happy that two of his new friends attended the party along with their families.

As you know, Virj loves anything on wheels but his latest obsession is trains, particularly Thomas the Tank Engine. If you remember, he even sort of wanted to be Thomas for Halloween, which we had then ignored. So, I decided to make up for it by throwing him a Thomas party! I started off by sending Thomas invitation cards to his friends in school and daycare. The rest of our friends received a train themed Evite invitation. I used Thomas the Tank Engine wall appliqués to decorate the main party area along with red and blue balloons. I set up his old wooden train sets on the selves around the wall decoration to create a miniature train town feel. Virj’s birthday gift from us was a train table with a 100-piece train set that was laid out in the living room with a happy birthday banner and balloon in the background. We waited till the night before to assemble it so that Virj had a nice surprise in the morning. We also wanted to make sure he didn’t wreck it before his birthday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an easy IKEA kind of furniture assembly and Soam only managed to set up the the table before the next morning. Needless, the kids had a great time with the loose train pieces and one of the parents even helped us put together some of the structures/bridges during the party itself.

Evite invitation

Each kid got a Thomas train party visor/hat and Thomas whistle when they arrived. I arranged for various indoor activities and crafts to keep the preschoolers occupied. We bought a lot of art supply from IKEA and some last minute ones from Target. Besides, there were lots of toys to play with and of course the train table to keep the boys busy! The kids had a great time and it helped them work up the appetite for their pizza lunch. Even Virj was asking for food and gobbled down a whole slice in minutes! There were cheese and pepperoni pizzas for the kids and mixed vegetarian, meat and a soy cheese pizza as well as salad, for the adults. And, of course a Thomas the Tank Engine cake at the end. The kids were super psyched to see the cake and it was hard to keep Virj from grabbing the Thomas train off the cake before it was laid out. He had a big smile while everyone sang for him and Soam and I helped him blow off the candle and cut the cake. Every child got a goody bag on their way out, some of which had train puzzles, books and candies. For the little ones, I bought toys that were more appropriate for their age. The adults had a good time too and we had a quieter after party for some of our friends without kids!

Virj later enjoyed opening the “pasants” aka presents, another new word to add to his vocabulary. He subsequently had birthday celebrations both at his preschool and daycare and came home with more “pasants”. Here are some fond memories from the event!

Thomas the Tank Engine party

Train table gift from mom & dad

Hmm...nom nom picao (pizza)

Thomas the Tank Engine cake for 3 year old Virj

Cake cutting

Party accessories


12 2010

Yoga & Hinduism

I have practiced yoga, on and off, for the last 20 years and grew up hearing about yoga philosophy, astrology and ayurveda. The later happened quite naturally growing up in India in a practicing Hindu household. When I first started taking yoga classes at a local gym in Calcutta, I considered it to be a form of exercise, the best recommended workout by my then yoga certified instructor. Apparently, he trained with the same guru as Bikram Chaudhury of Bikram Yoga fame. Anyway, my point is that I never consciously associated yoga to Hinduism growing up in urban India, but in retrospect, I realize the connection was always there, it just was never made explicit. By itself, yoga is not a religion to me except for the lotus pose my grandmother said was essential for meditation, and unquestioning, we sat that way every evening during prayer time. I did see my dad do pranayama during religious ceremonies. And, of course every move in our life was “supposedly” governed by the location of stars in the Universe, aka astrology. Overall though, our generation was not particularly bothered with ancient Hindu philosophy nor did our elders teach us about our long history. We were too busy following western culture! I loved my all-girl catholic school and I spent more time in church masses than in meditation!

I was reintroduced to yoga after taking a yoga class at San Francisco State University, where the instructor talked about astrology and quoted Hindu philosophers I’d heard of only in passing while growing up. It made me a little uncomfortable…it was like she was lecturing me about my own culture! I have taken a lot of different yoga classes in San Francisco and the Peninsula since then, often being the only Indian in the class and struggling to keep up with her fellow American students 🙂 I kid! Honestly I’m not that bad, thanks to my yoga training earlier on in life 🙂

I admire the dedication of a lot of yogis I met in America and honestly learned so much more about yoga here. I also met some genuinely nice people through yoga who I hold in very high regard. But, I am still baffled by the lack of acknowledgment to the country from where yoga originates and the commercialization of yoga. Have you noticed that the yoga magazines hardly ever feature any Indian faces other than the few old bearded sadhus (Indian priests) with a tower of dreadlocks on their heads? On the other hand, most yoga brands and accessories revolve around Hinduism and Indian culture. For example, pictures of Hindu gods like Ganesha and symbols like Om are abundantly used by yoga brands. I’ve even seen Sanskrit alphabets and henna designs on yoga clothing! But, people can’t make the connection with Hinduism because there is very little knowledge about it. Most still can’t tell the difference between the words “Hindi” and “Hindu”— the former is a language and the latter is the religion! Just the other day, I even overheard a lady ask the receptionist at my local Bikram yoga studio whether yoga originated in India or China?

Ganesha on yoga shirt

Ganesha on yoga pants

Hindu goddess on yoga shirt

Om, the most common symbol used by yoga brands

The 7 chakras with Sanskrit alphabets that forms an integral part of Hinduism

Henna designs on yoga brand

By now, you must be wondering why I started this controversial topic? Well, The NY Times article, Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul, is to blame for it 🙂 It did stir up some sentiments! I absolutely believe what Debbie Desmond, a yoga instructor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn says:

“Nobody owns yoga.”

But, then again, isn’t that the core business model of Bikram Yoga (which I now practice regularly) — owning 26 yoga poses done in a particular style?

A yoga class being held at Saraswathi Hall in Flushing, Queens.
Photo courtesy: The NY Times

On the other hand, being a parent I can also relate to Dr. Aseem Shukla’s (co-founder of Take Back Yoga) sentiments:

“We started this, really, for our kids,” said Dr. Shukla, an urologist and a second-generation Indian-American. “When our kids go to school and say they are Hindu, nobody says, ‘Oh, yeah, Hindus gave the world yoga.’ They say, ‘What caste are you?’ Or ‘Do you pray to a monkey god?’ Because that’s all Americans know about Hinduism.”

There will always be wars on patents and branding, whether it’s yoga or neem oil. It’s for the governments and corporations to fight, and honestly, whoever has more money/power will win. In the meantime, however, us Indians would definitely like a little more recognition in yoga, ayurveda and all the cool Hindu stuff! Please don’t box us into arranged marriages, outsourcing, call centers and Bollywood! We have some fun things to offer too. If you are nice to me, I might even give you the secret recipe for the herbal concoction that makes your skin glow! 🙂


12 2010