Growing up in the United States in a family that had moved from India was often confusing for me. Conflicting signals assaulted my mind as I grew up, and gave me little respite in my struggle, especially as a teenager, to find my own identity and define myself.
Though my parents were quite liberal on the whole and weren't overly insistent with the whole stay-close-to-your-roots thing, I was still unable to work out, during childhood and adolescence, where I stood within these two cultural currents I was caught between. So I'd say "Namaste" to my aunts and uncles, but "Hey!" or "What's up!" to my cousins.
It wasn't until I was well into my 20s that I realized that many customs that are part of the Indian milieu aren't just superstition or a dash of cultural color. As children, we often imbibed so many practices without realizing it, a few of which are being validated by science today. For example, it was quite a common feature in Indian culture to store drinking water in copper vessels. Never having given much thought to this practice, I was quite surprised to read about the antimicrobial properties of copper, and about medical trials in hospitals in the United States, where anti-microbial copper surfaces are being used in ICUs to kill up to 97 percent of bacteria that are responsible for hospital-acquired infections.
Then I read about "Namaste" or putting the palms together in a gesture of invitation -- that stuff my aunts and uncles liked to see me do. It turned out that this wasn't just an expression of welcome. Namaste means to bow down to the source of creation within the other person. It was a basic part of yoga that allowed one to transcend their likes and dislikes, and live life in a more inclusive way. Once you see that the source of creation within you is present in everyone else too, that's the first step to yoga or union. Besides what I read, there was also my own experience. Namaste seemed to bring a calm and equanimity to me, which was far stronger proof than anything I could have read.
The same goes for yoga and meditation. My own experience proved beyond any doubt that this system of inner well-being was profound and enormously powerful. Today, medical science enumerates several benefits to meditation, with more coming every day. Of course, these physical effects are only the tip of the iceberg.
Indian-ness is a very powerful and often subtly crafted way of life. And it seems that the more I explore it, the more it is about going beyond the limitations of body and mind. I guess the right word here is mukti, which is usually referred to in the English language as enlightenment. Buddha called it nirvana. In yoga it is also referred to as moksha. This is the goal of the Indian way of life, to reach that state where in your experience, what you are is far more than just your body and mind.
So is Indian culture today perfect? Far from it. Distortions seep into anything that is practiced by a vast mass of humanity. Many aspects have deviated from their original purpose, and they need to be corrected. Every generation that fails to do so leaves a heavier burden on the generation to come. So, hopefully, the wise of this generation will perform this course-correction, so that many more human beings to come can enjoy the fruit of this wonderful, vibrant way of life.