A lesson from India to America: bowing to diversity

ANJALI VALE grew up in western India in a town near Mumbai. She came to the U.S. when she was married. Now the parents of two teenaged boys, she and her husband are comfortably adapted to life in America. A working mother and practicing Hindu, Anjali writes about her deep appreciation for the world’s diversity. That’s not a lesson she first encountered in America. Despite media stereotypes, India is a richly diverse country—and Anjali learned enduring lessons about diversity as a child.

Today’s photos show the famous Gateway to India Arch in Mumbai—a symbol not only of India as a nation but also of the great diversity within India. The arch was conceived during the reign of Great Britain—but the arch also became a symbol of the British departure from India. The last British troops to leave India passed through the Gateway Arch on their way back home. The 85-foot-tall, stone-and-concrete monument showcases both Muslim and Hindu styles of design. According to accounts from its dedication in 1924, the largest single donor in the fund-raising campaign was a Jewish philanthropist who wanted all segments of the community represented in the project. India’s diversity is built into the stones of this global symbol.


MUMBAI GATEWAY ARCH at dedication in 1924.I moved to the United States from India many years ago with my new husband. We married soon after we first met, and so all at once I had a new land to make my home, a new husband to make my family, and new people to make my friends. Although I was scared and anxious, I was hopeful that, with some work, I would enjoy my new home, family and friends.

Both of my parents, by their behavior, had taught me to have an open mind, to not judge people and to help wherever there is need. They never forced my brother or me to do things or make decisions based on their views, but instead gave us the freedom to choose. My parents always believed in us—believed that we would do the right thing. Their faith in us meant a lot to me.

I always saw my mother, who is a doctor, helping others—even in the middle of the night if someone came knocking on the door with a pain or wound. I saw her travel extra distances to visit and support patients or friends. My dad is a great philosopher who does a great deal of reading of Indian literature. Now that I am a parent raising my own family and have experienced the world a bit, I feel even closer to my parents, and I appreciate and understand them even more.

Growing up in India, I never felt that faith separated people. India is a diverse country with various languages, castes, and religions. I am Hindu, but my very good friends who helped me grow were of different faiths. After coming to the U.S., I feel strongly that, if your wavelengths match, you can build a strong relationship with any human being, no matter the religion, gender or age of that person.

After finishing my Master of Science in the U.S., I began working as an instructor; it was my first job in my new environment. I still remember that time: My son was just a year old, I had a new job, and I had no family nearby to rely on. It was a time full of anxiety. At work, a colleague who was older and more experienced helped me through that difficult time. Most of my support was coming from a person who was American and of a different race, faith, and nationality. But I don’t think we even talked about faith then. She gave me the sense of belonging that I needed. Similarly, a few other new friends from various backgrounds made me feel at home here.

Raising my children in the States has required me to find a balance in mixing our Indian culture and Hindu faith with our life in America. I teach my sons the pieces that are most important and that they can adapt themselves as Indian-Americans. I hope that, as adults, they will have the best values from both societies.

When I go back to India, to my hometown outside Mumbai, people say, “You are different than before. The U.S. has changed you.” I suppose they are right. But I also see a change in the people of India. Life there used to be slow and informal. When I was young, my mother would run an errand and be out for hours, talking to people she ran into along the way. Today, however, people are often in a hurry. Along with a faster pace, people seem to have adopted a more open attitude to the rest of the world. Along with me, India has changed.

Now I have all types of friends from work and the local community, including friends from Ukraine and Japan. We converse about various topics such as the stock market, philosophy or yoga. In India, many faiths coexist peacefully, and I grew up with friends of both genders and of different languages and ethnic backgrounds. I believe every human being is basically the same.

If you have respect and understanding for others, then people will reciprocate the same respect and understanding. People may have different opinions, but if you talk things out with an open mind and try to understand what the other person is thinking, friendship develops. However, if people start making assumptions, and no one is paying attention to what the other is thinking, it is very easy to misunderstand each other and lose a friendship over simple things.

Growing up, I was taught the basic values of Hinduism such as respect for other souls, tolerance and pluralism, which for me means that I see all religious paths as equally valid. I am a firm believer that my path is not the only one toward the Supreme God or divinity, but that there may be many true and meaningful paths.

The experiences in my life, with all the people I’ve met, have taught me to respect other peoples, races, faiths, nationalities and, most importantly, to simply respect others as human beings. Our outside appearances differ, but, inside, every human being is one and the same.

I believe that every human is the manifestation of God, and I bow to that divinity.


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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

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