Voice of the Next Generation: A Response to Deepak Kotwal’s Article

By Sridevi Rao James, McDonald, PA
Email Sridevi about this article.

Sridevi is daughter of Vijaya Rao and the late Raja Rao. She grew up in the Eastern suburbs. Now married and with a daughter and residing in McDonald, PA, Sridevi is pursuing a second career in nursing at the Heritage Valley Health System.

Mr. Deepak Kotwal’s article in the July issue on Hindu-Jain Temple’s 25th anniversary, while complimenting the founders for the excellent job they have done under trying circumstances, also raises important issues that we all need to collectively address.
 The article made me think on many issues. My parents were immigrant Indians who came here in 1969. They were very involved in the building of the Sri Venkateswara Temple in 1976. I can still remember all those planning meetings in someone’s basement.
As Mr. Kotwal states, as the first generation of founding Hindus slowly fades away, the mantle of leadership will have to pass to the next generation born and raised in the US. These youngsters are quintessentially Americans in their tastes, priorities, attitudes, and pursuits — even in values to a great extent.
That generation is my generation and faces new challenges. Most of us only speak English as our first fluent language and nod our heads when our grandmothers speak Indian languages. As an adult with my own family now, visiting out-of-town relatives or temples is not a “family vacation” we did with our parents. Most of us don’t travel with other Indian families all in one van, stopping at a rest area to eat a nine course Indian meal that came out of one cooler.

Now our vacations involve beaches and amusement parks.

When I was young I spent my weekends at the temple at Bharathanatyam dance class, youth groups and programs that involved singing, dancing or acting. Now my weekends are spent at kids’ birthday parties, softball games and watching the Steelers. I have performed pujas with my parents and still observe Indian holy days. I can recite the Satayanarayan Katha verbatim and tell you the meaning of “eating the prasad” but don’t ask me the recipe for the prasad. I’m not sure that is enough to keep the flame going for years to come.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m not sure my generation will know what to do with that baton if it is passed to us. This is sad but true. Hopefully it doesn’t mean the end of temples or Indian cultures.

One trend we all see in temples is that only new Indian immigrants are getting involved in running the temples. But depending only on new Indian immigrants to take care of the temple is not only shortsighted, but is also likely to further alienate the already disengaged Hindu Indian-Americans born and raised here.My parents tried to make sure I knew about Michael Jackson and Amithabh Bachchan. They made sure I liked Pepsi and Thumbs Up but in raising my own daughter, I haven’t put very much emphasis on her knowing about Hanna Montana and Aishwarya Rai. I take her to the temple for special holidays but we also trick-or-treat, have a Christmas tree and see the Easter Bunny.

We need to find a way to bridge that gap between generations. Mr. Kotwal’s article has given everyone, both the current managers of the temples and youngsters like me, something very worthwhile to think about.

Maybe if we raise and address the issues in open forums, we may be able to redefine the scope and function of these places of worship.  
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