One sunny afternoon a couple of summers ago, my husband and I were strolling along the boardwalk at the Beaches, and paused at a bench to soak in the sights and sounds of summer. A young woman, the mother of three energetic little kids, paused to catch her breath at the same bench, and it was not long before we struck up a lively conversation. She was of Greek heritage, we told her we were of Indian heritage.
“Oh,” she exclaimed and began singing, “Aap Jaisa Koi Meri Zindagi Mai Aye….”
The 1980 hit movie Qurbani.
Nostalgia. A flood of memories.
As a child growing up in an Indian household, Bollywood films (though we never referred to them as such back then, they were simply ‘Hindi movies’) were a staple source of family entertainment. We would gather together on weekends when we could spare the three-and-a-half hours, my mom would make hot fried pakoras and chai for our intermission snack and we would watch predictable though delightfully entertaining plots unfold. We enjoyed those cozy family times filled with the simple joy of togetherness, while invisible threads drew us closer to a culture that we had mostly only known remotely.
Sometimes we would gather at friends’ homes and enjoy the hullaballoo of a Hindi movie playing amidst the laughter and chitter-chatter of all our Aunties (the Uncles were usually absorbed in a serious card game).
And on the rare occasion, when we visited India, we would go to a cinema with relatives and enjoy the authentic experience, complete with an intermission in the middle of the movie when everyone would get freshly fried hot samosas and mingle with friends.
Wonderful meaningful memories, to be sure, but in the end was it all just empty, mindless entertainment? Sitting on that park bench and hearing about the Saturday night tradition that this Greek family had created for itself during which they would watch Hindi films and eat Indian food caused me a moment’s pause to reflect on the impact that Hindi films had had on my life.
They have given me some of my favourite songs of all time, the kind that speak to the soul from movies like Kabhi Kabhi and Umrao Jaan, the kind that compel me to dance with abandon like Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe, and the kind that make me want to sing at the top of my lungs like Kajrare.
They have dazzled me with the breathtaking array of exquisitely designed outfits and jewels that continue to inspire fashion trends in the global diaspora communities.
They have given me an understanding of the Indian culture, celebrations, rituals, values and traditions that define who we are as a people.
They taught me Hindi in the best classroom of all, the family room of my childhood home.
They inspired the Classical Indian dancer in me.
But it goes even deeper than all that.
They reinforced a profound sense of pride in calling myself an Indian, and emotionally bonded me to India forever.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to fry some pakoras for my kids before intermission is over.
* Originally published on The Agenda with Steve Paikin website:
Related videos on The Agenda with Steve Paikin:
1. On being a Canadian-born Indian: http://bit.ly/kX2vjl
2. Hooray for Bollywood: http://bit.ly/kg1ign