This Mother’s Day, we are sharing a series of letters written by mothers for their daughters and sons as they share hopes and dreams for the next generation. Our fifth (Sheena), sixth (Nina) and seventh (Dipti) letters are written by the three sisters of Love, SND. They are first-generation Indian-Americans figuring out life as new mommies to eight kids and a pup!
There are so many things I want to say to you boys, but the most important of them all is to always, always, always have each others’ backs. Even though the older two of you are twins, you three are my unofficial triplets. There has never been an “I” in this TEAM, and that makes your dad and I prouder than you will ever know. The bond that you share since childhood is God-given and I want you to cherish that forever and never take it for granted. Life is just too short to believe otherwise.
The world in which you three will grow up is VERY different than the one your dad and I grew up in. We try to teach you every day to stay true to your values, beliefs and your culture. We do our best to make sure we raise you as honest, loving, and all-around good people, the rest will be up to you. I want you to keep a few things in mind as you navigate through life: you don’t have to fit in, you don’t have to give in, you get second chances (and third and fourth), always keep God close, you have great men in your life as role models, and always speak your mind – it is your greatest gift.
My wish for the three of you is to use your mind, spirit, and soul to make a positive change in this world. Contribute to empowering your generation to look forward with excitement, hope, and success. Make the changes in the world that you wish to see for your own children one day. It will make life worth living.
“What you give, God gives you double back.” These are the words my mom has said to me growing up and I want you to always remember them too. Whether it be monetary, emotional, physical, mental, with friends, family or in religion, this is something I want you all to adhere to. It will not always be easy but I promise you, it will always be worth it.
My three lovely girls. I write this letter to you when you are still little girls. You have so much to see, things to learn, people to meet and places to go. Through all of life’s journeys, always be confident, strong, assertive and do things because you want to. Society may make you think you are not good enough – but guess what, you are! Don’t let anyone or anything around you forget that. You don’t ever need to prove your worth to anyone because you are already mommy’s golden charms!
One thing my mommy has taught me is to always remember that family is everything. People will come in and out of your lives and try to shake your bond. But know that you three have the same blood running through your veins and that means you are connected for eternity. No one can ever come between that. You three will experience life’s happiness, sorrows, successes, and losses – and each step of the way just remember you have each other who will always be in your corner to celebrate and support you.
Always remember to stay humble and be generous. We are blessed to be in this country and have opportunities for you three that are far more than many others. When you grow up, try to give back to those less fortunate. Making a difference in just one life can be the change we need in this world.
The last thing I hope is that you enjoy the journey called life. Do not chase the reward, it will come. Work hard, work smart and be kind. The most enjoyable moments will be when you think back to all the things you do/did to reach your goals. And when that day nears and you get close to that victory, reach just a little higher, do just a little more, and you will win! You are my girls, and if mommy can do it, you can do it better! Continue to be strong leaders and surround yourself with positive people. Continue to dance to the song of life. Continue to read because you will never know too much. And continue to love, because the world needs beautiful people like my three princesses. Love always and forever and ever, your Mommy.
To my boys,
I write this letter filled with so much hope for both of you. I hope you boys are best friends like I am with my sisters because there is no greater bond than that of brothers. I hope you two confide in each other when it comes to everything and anything – love, careers, family, and of course, sports (can’t hide from that one, it’s in your blood). I hope you boys are traveling on paths you love while at the same time remembering that no path is set in stone and you can change directions at any time. I hope that I have raised you both to respect and love and admire women as your equals (except me, I am above any woman that will ever come into your life!!!). While the people around you may act differently, don’t succumb to hate or violence or ignorance. And while it may feel easier to turn your head and move on with your life, try to change the negativity around you. Remember God, all the time, always.
Diav, I hope you remain as confident and uninhibited as you were when you were just 3 years old. Your personality and voice have made us fall in love with you more and more every day. Kallan, your smile, and joyfulness are your strongest allies. When you were just 9 months old you were already marching to the beat of your own drum and I hope you never lose that rhythm.
Something your Nani always told me was to see the positive in everyone and everything that happens to you. It may feel like the hardest thing to do, but try not to let yourself get down on things that don’t go your way – try to make it a learning experience as it will only make you stronger. The one thing I hope you both have learned from me and Dad is that life isn’t that serious. Have lots of fun, laugh at each other and at yourselves, try not to dwell on failures, don’t take success for granted, and just be happy.
Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of spring and is observed near the end of winter. It’s also referred to as the festival of colors or the festival of love. Although my daughters and I are not Hindus, (we are Sikhs) we still celebrate Holi. Our Holi celebrations always include reading about this festival, making colorful art, playing with the colorful powders, and making some delicious, traditional sweets. This is always such a great occasion to discuss the diversity of Indian culture with my daughters. I use this opportunity to teach them about inclusivity and respect for different cultures around the world. All across India, different states celebrate this festival in their own meaningful ways.
My first experience celebrating this beautiful festival was in university. My roommates, friends and international students put together a lovely day of Holi celebrations outside. We were completely covered in variety of colors — pinks, purples, and blues. There was music, laughter, dancing, and an overall joyous atmosphere (including bhang, which is essentially a cannabis milkshake). It was particularly heartwarming to see so many Indian students coming together as a community, so far from home, to connect with such a beloved tradition.
For those of us, brought up in Canada, such celebrations were amazing opportunities to genuinely experience the true spirit of Holi. Similar to how it is done in India, everyone became one – there were no small groups or cliques doing their own thing; class lines and caste systems, predominant across India, disappeared. Everyone joined together; our skin tones hidden under the bright colours of the Holi powders. It surely was an unforgettable time.
As a child, I got to experience Holi only through Indian Cinema. Bollywood films like “Silsila,” “Darr,” and “Mohabbatein” stand out in my memory. The actors are dressed completely in white at the beginning of the song, enjoying Holi celebrations, and are then painted from head to toe, in various bright colours, by the end of the song. Since then, I’ve learned that certain colours hold meaning and significance. Red symbolizes love, fertility, and matrimony; blue represents the Lord Krishna; and green stands for new beginnings.
Now, as a mother, I don’t want my children to experience our culture through a screen. So we bring these Holi traditions into our home in our own creative ways. We certainly tend to get creative since around March there is still ample snow on the ground outside and a chill in the air!
The activities we have fun doing are:
Making rangoli designs using coloured powders (this is a helpful site we’ve used)
Making paper flowers to decorate the house with (like the ones here)
Making tie-dye shirts (we’ve got a kit for this because the girls love it)
Baking a traditional Indian snack, like gujiya (we bake them because I get paranoid about the girls being around hot oil).
“Let’s Celebrate Holi!” by Ajanta Chakraborty and Vivek Kumar (for three to seven-year-olds)
“Festival of Colors” by Surishtha Seghal and Kabir Seghal (for two to eight-year-olds)
“Why Do We Celebrate Holi” by Anitha Rathod (for eight years old and above)
This year, Holi falls on the same date as International Women’s Day! To combine the two celebrations, my daughters and I plan on sketching South Asian females we look up to the most, and then adding bright colours using different types of paint. For another element of texture, we might add the paper flowers to these as well. I’m thinking these are going to be frame-worthy pieces of art!
Eid-ul-Fitr is a special holiday that marks the end of Ramadan — the month of fasting — for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is a time of gratitude, spiritual focus, forgiveness, celebrating community and helping the needy. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.
Rubab Bukhari is a busy mom of five based in Calgary, Canada. She shared that Eid, for her family, is a day of gathering with loved ones and sharing a delicious meal together as a symbol for breaking fast. “Eid is celebrated as the most joyous occasion where we put up Eid decorations and exchange gifts with everyone in the house. New clothes are made for everyone; the girls get excited about getting henna on their hands and the boys get more excited about receiving their Eidi (gifts/money).”
A published author, spoken word artist and dance fitness instructor, Nazhah Khawaja shares how she’s built new traditions with her two children and husband in Illinois, Chicago despite not being exposed to the “Eid flavor” herself while growing up.
“My sister suggested decorating the house for Eid with the goal of getting the kids in the holiday mood,” she said. Regardless of the exhaustion that followed due to decorating while fasting, Khawaja realized that her sister “was onto something.” She added that “kids are very visual learners and interpreters — the visual display of decorations helps them to feel the festivity more. Forever grateful to my sister for encouraging this tradition that our family has embraced.”
Another new tradition that she has embraced is celebrating Eid festivities with her husband’s family who are non-Muslim. Furthermore, she insists on taking photographs during Eid-ul-Fitr to keep memories alive because one never really knows if the people in the photos will be there next time around. She also includes that the “Eid nap is a must — which means adults are dozing off while the kids are running wild; ample heavenly chaos and beautiful noise.”
Passing down familial customs from her mother, Khawaja remembers a story she had told her of how as soon as the dawn of Eid arrived, the villagers in Pakistan walked down unpaved streets welcoming Eid with a tune: “Mubarak Eid Mubarak/ Mubarak Khair Mubarak/ Saheliyon Eid Mubarak!” Khawaja’s mother used to sing it every time. “Growing up, my siblings and I would sing this tune in our not-so-refined Urdu, giggle at one another, create our own, often goofy lyrics, and even dance silly moves,” she shared.
Meanwhile, Bengali shemai, Kashmiri kheer and ma’amoul are the favorite Eid desserts in Janan’s household! She is the founder and CEO of the publishing company, Global Bookshelves Intl., a pharmacist by profession and a mother of three young girls, based in Louisville, Kentucky. They look forward to dressing up their best for Eid prayers the most.
Likewise, Ursula Sarah Khan who is a mom influencer and an accountant by trade, said that they fill their Eid-themed gift bags with all sorts of goodies like candy, bubbles and pencils. On Eid-ul-Fitr, her eight-year-old son, Ibrahim, distributes these bags amongst the boys after Eid prayers, while her five-year-old daughter, Eliyah, hands them to the girls.
They also bake Eid cookies together in addition to swapping their Ramadan decor with Eid decor, while still in their Eid pajamas in their Northern Virginia home!
Blending older traditions with some newer ones, Sarah carries on her mother’s age-old tradition of making sheer khorma — a Pakistani dessert made with vermicelli, milk, dates and nuts — in the morning.
She also explains to her children the importance of Zakat or charity, which is what her mother taught her: “I now take this same approach with my children to ensure they have a deep understanding of the generosity Islam teaches.”
Speaking of home and family, Haffsa Rizwani — a Canadian, currently residing in Stockholm, Sweden, as a PhD candidate — said: “Living away from home, Canada, where my immediate family resides, we have a tradition of traveling from Stockholm to my aunt’s house in Oslo, Norway, every Eid. Especially to mark the celebration as a family event for my children.” Together with her aunt, Haffsa’s daughter gets her henna done and goes shopping for bangles! She goes on to explain how Eid-ul-Fitr is an opportunity to not only dress up, but also regain that morning ritual of chai and evenings with games like carrom board; “a game played till my uncle wins.”
As Rizwani so eloquently puts it, “While my children are still quite small, my daughter is now of age to appreciate and understand the meaning of gratitude, blessings, and giving back. She now has the empathy to comprehend the inequalities and injustices in the world. Ramadan is therefore a month of being thankful and making extra duas. Eid is a day of celebration with gratitude and blessings.”
Culture, in the broadest sense, is a shared set of norms, values and beliefs. We pass down our culture to our children based on our own lived experiences, and what we believe in. The decisions we make for our families reflect the values that we want to prioritize. We also hope that our children will want to pass them down to their own children.
As parents, it’s important to reflect on our cultural values: Where did they come from? Why do we believe in them today? Also, what values seem outdated or irrelevant in modern times and for our own children? By reflecting on these, parents will consciously be aware of the values that they believe are relevant, meaningful, and important to articulate to their children before they leave the nest and fly off into the world.
Our South Asian-American culture is constantly shifting and adapting to reflect changes of the modern times. Today, we are continuing to hold on to the celebrations that bring us the most joy and meaning in our lives. For example, I am attending a family wedding, this October, where the bride is Gujarati and the groom is Tamilian. They have decided to have a Sangeet which is traditionally a Punjabi custom, but they wanted to celebrate both cultures in this new way with their families because they both love music and dancing to Bollywood songs. They are also honoring their individual cultures during the ceremony by having a mangalsutra (the most important piece of the Tamilian ceremony) and the sindoor (the most important part of the Gujarati ceremony).
As we approach Rakhi this year, I think back to how I used to celebrate Bhai Phota, which is a Bengali version of Rakhi celebrated during Diwali. Today, I have chosen to celebrate Rakhi with my brother and with my Bengali-Gujrati family as a separate celebration, that takes place in August, because this way we can spend more quality time celebrating this sibling bond.
Post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha puts forth how when cultures mix together, we often open up a hybrid, third space, which forms new ways of being and living in the world. This idea of hybridity acknowledges the space in-between cultures which is filled with contradictions and indeterminate spaces. By negotiating between these differences, we are able to create new forms of culture and identity.
“hybridity… is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to emerge.” – Homi Bhabha
Today, South Asian American children are forming new ways of connecting to their cultural identities. This summer, I launched my new children’s book, Shanti and The Knot of Protection: A Rakhi Story, to provide more context to children about the historical origins of Rakhi, while also capturing the new and unique ways Rakhi is being celebrated in contemporary times. In contemporary times, we don’t just celebrate with our immediate siblings, but also with our network of family and friends that we have created in our communities.
We celebrate individuals in our lives (boys or girls) who provide us with a sense of protection and security. This could mean siblings that are both girls, siblings that are both boys, only children, or children who identify as LGBTQIA+ and don’t identify with traditional gender norms. I wanted this story to highlight images of inclusivity and to represent and validate the experiences of all children who are celebrating this festival in the modern day and age. Through this story, children learn the importance of creating a community and feeling secure with not just their siblings but with their friends and other caring adults.
Shanti and the Knot of Protection also helps parents open up the conversation about what values they want their children to prioritize in our post-pandemic world and how to live a balanced life. In this story, Shanti’s parents die and she decides to rule her queendom based on the four values that her parents taught her: strength, curiosity, community, and security. In addition to highlighting the importance of relationships, this book also highlights the importance of balancing one’s life with the four domains of well-being: physical domain (strength), cognitive domain (curiosity), social domain (community), and emotional domain (security). These domains are all connected to one another and influence our overall well-being and happiness in life.
As parents, we want to be the North Star for our children and provide them with an inner compass to know what values are important and why. We also want them to know how to be resilient during difficult times. As Ann Landers states, “It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” Through this story, I hope parents can have important conversations with their children about prioritizing values that will contribute to their overall well-being, happiness, and resilience in their lives.