We celebrated my cousin’s 26th birthday yesterday. In my family, we usually spend our birthdays at dinner together, with whichever members of our extended family happen to be in the same city. So it came to pass that myself, my mother, my cousin, his parents and our grandparents all met at a communal kitchen in the Barton Springs area for a nice, healthy family meal. Traditionally, we go to my aunt’s house or my grandmother’s house for a birthday, since they have the most space and people can bring food there to heat and eat. But my cousin wanted to do things differently, so we did.
When it comes to the matter of my cousin, trying new things is his tradition. Of all my numerous relations, no one else has lived a more varied life. Before he was twelve he had traveled around the world. He played every sport he could growing up: baseball, tennis, cricket, soccer, badminton, wrestling, gymnastics, and so on. He acted in plays. He built his own computer. He worked in the garden, rode motorcycles and spent hours and hours with our grandparents, listening to their stories, talking to them, sharing their mealtimes, their exercises, their sleeping patterns. His job lets him be anywhere around the world as long as he has an internet connection and can work from noon to nine. His is the very spirit of change, of untradition, so it doesn’t seem strange that we’d do something different for his birthday.
Indians come from a culture with an abundance of traditions. There are small ones, like taking your shoes off when you enter a home or religious building, and there are more elaborate traditions, such as the welcoming ceremony for a new bride and groom at the threshold of their home. There are traditions that dictate everything from the ingredients we use in our food to the number of pillars a temple of a certain size can have. Now, not all of these strictures are in play at a given moment, but there are plenty of casual, unconscious moments where traditional Indian behavior (like the classic head bob) is more telling than anything else.
Anyways, that night my family wound up in, of all places, a food truck court, and ended up eating a truckload of specialty French fries, quesadillas, falafel wraps and tapas. It was a rather unique moment in our family’s history, really the first time we have, as a large unit, eaten from food trucks, and it got me thinking about tradition. So much of the time, our generation rebels against the traditions of the previous generation, I think, because we perceive it as expectation. Our parents expect certain behaviors from us, and they expect us to participate in certain occasions like birthdays, religious or cultural events and weddings, things that are, by and large, traditional. Our brains, though, make an intriguing logical connection between the expectation and the tradition, and lump the two together. Thus, it becomes expected that we participate in tradition, and we learn patterns over the course of a year that we come to associate with tradition. It’s a very strange thing, one that I believe happens heavily in the domain of the Indian-American household.
What I find especially fascinating, however, about this confluence of tradition and expectation, is not the conflict that arises from it, but the new traditions that spring forth. Suddenly my family wants to do more and more different things at birthdays. Suddenly food trucks are a part of our restauranting experience. Suddenly there are parts of Austin that are open to our exploratory instincts. India is a culture of vast, ancient tradition, most of which are not possible to observe over the course of a year, to say nothing of a lifetime. But in the Hindu tradition, a religion that is open, accepting and understanding of the different ways people work their way to God, there only new traditions, only the endlessly-evolving practices of people who search for inroads to the oldest entity in the universe, the supreme divine creator. The goal is to find the tradition that works, to walk on a path that is correct and true, leading to God realization and divine happiness. Spending all of your time looking for something good is well-meaning, but it’s only by committing yourself to a proven path that you arrive at success. So I’ll let my cousin wander, but I feel no need to – all my wanderings have lead me to Radha Madhav Dham, to home.