Dr Bigyani Das

American – Odias

The holiday season has already started from November 28, Thanksgiving Day in the USA. The season is for family, friends, food, and fun. Everybody is excited and at the same time is also stressed for so many associated holiday etiquettes such as managing invitations, buying the right gifts, preparing the right food, having the right amount of sleep and managing money.

Twenty-nine years back when we moved from India to the USA, we had very few friends. We always felt homesick and lonely. There were only a handful of Indians in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and only two Odias, one Odia student, another Odia postdoctoral researcher with a wife who was Punjabi. In 1994 we moved to Maryland, Washington DC area. I had a postdoctoral position offer from Johns Hopkins University. There was an Odia communication medium Ornet in which I wrote about our move. Srinivas, one of the people from Maryland replied to my email and gave a few contacts in Maryland. When I communicated some of them by calling, there was a very lukewarm response. Of course, I was helped by my department staff and students in finding an apartment and starting my work.

It took me some time to understand the people then and the lukewarm response. When I arrived in such a state that I could take no more sudden responsibilities, because my responsibilities were plenty and they were consuming me, I was able to relate. A few years back, I realized that I was supersaturated with work, family, friends and community commitments. This realization was very vivid when I was making a list of invitees for my eldest daughter’s wedding in August 2019.“You are making a list that is more than 600 people”, my daughter rolled her eyes.

We all reach such points in life. Nowadays we are also consumed by other attractions/distractions such as cell phones, the internet, twitter, facebook and so many other things. In 1994, after we moved to Maryland, we had a few friends within driving distance, like in New Jersey, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, etc. We were all young, about the same age, had small children and still trying to settle in career. Sometimes we drove miles to meet each other. We would all pack up in somebody’s house sleeping on the floor by putting a bed sheet, multiple people being covered under the blankets. We ate potato chop and pakoda at 2 am in the night and sometimes our gossiping ended at 4 am and we only slept an hour or two before driving back home the next day.  Most of us had old cars, had road troubles, yet we did enjoy our togetherness and looked forward to meeting each other during the holidays.

American – Odias

The friends created their rituals of inviting other friends. Somebody picked up Christmas time, somebody picked up New Year’s Eve, some other people picked up in-between weekends, etc. After we purchased our house in 1995 December, we created the ritual of hosting a Thanksgiving party every year for our friends. We started making some friends in Maryland. Sometimes we met some people in another friend’s house, got to know each other, invited them for an informal get-together and became friends with them. We were very excited to make new friends because we did not know many people then. Our Thanksgiving parties were held on Thursdays. Then the next day we planned for some outing with out-of-state friends.

As the years passed, thongs changed. Our children grew and as they entered high school, their responsibilities increased. Parents were not able to gather as much as they would have liked to. After the children went to college, they came to meet parents during the holidays and the parents wanted to spend quality time with children after long breaks. Thus, we could not gather during the holidays as we used to do. Our Thanksgiving gathering could not happen on Thursdays as some of our friends started observing “Manabasa” on Thursdays. Some years we organized Thanksgiving gatherings on Fridays. That also did not become right for the people who observed “Santoshi Mata” fasting. For the last 8-9 years, we made it a standard to have Thanksgiving gatherings on Saturdays. We reserved the real Thanksgiving Day Thursday for family and Saturday for friends.

Our Thanksgiving gatherings initially had started with just food and conversation. Then we added a program time where everybody can be in a circle to know each other better and showcase talents. Some years it had performances by children who were learning dances, music and other art forms. We also had antakshari, bhajan and table topics. Our food also evolved as we learned new dishes. Many talented cooking prodigies contributed unique Odia dishes such as Enduri Pitha, Rasagola, Khaja, and some contributed fusion dishes. When children grew up, they made the real Thanksgiving dishes with some modifications added for vegetarians. One of our friends last year came up with the idea of fruits Turkey. Nowadays this is also time for grown-up children to meet each other after long breaks. Life went on and is still going on.

american odia

Over the years we also made many local friends. Odia community in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington DC increased exponentially. We reached a saturation point where it felt like there is no time that we could commit to more friends. People celebrated birthdays, baby showers, bridal showers, wedding anniversaries, weddings, high school graduations, and dance graduations and so on. Then we also had all these holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Added to the American holidays were Indian festivals like Diwali, Dashahara, Holi, Bollywood star appearances and visiting dance troupes. With the increase of Indian people in the area, Indian festivities also increased.

When the children were small, we always took them to the Potomac ISKCON temple for Dashahara festivals. My husband was always excited. This year Dashahara just passed like that. We had no time to go anywhere. There are so many temples now. When we came to this area in 1994, there were only 3 temples, 2 of them ISKCON temples and one Siva-Vishnu temple. The temples were also not fully formed. There was always some construction going on. Now there are 12 temples around us and most of the temples have grown in space as well as in facilities. We have also grown in friend circles and community events and activities.

Now, in this state of supersaturation, we decided on some control points. The first control is to say “NO” to anything routine. Like somebody’s yearly birthday. It is just a birthday that can be skipped. However, if this is a milestone event such as the 25th birthday, 50th birthday, then we would try our best to be a part of the occasion. We also set control points to avoid long driving, night driving, Friday night events, and Sunday evening events. After setting up the control points, we became somewhat relaxed. At this stage in life, we like to have relationships that are less saturated, less stressful and more fulfilling. We would like to have a few friends that we can manage well, be able to accommodate them in all circumstances, happy moments and challenging times. We like all our relationships to be high performing and quality relationships.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

(Dr Das lives in Dayton, Maryland, US)