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Indian Music As A Bridge Between Generations - 2002-04-19

English Feature #7-34543 Broadcast February 26, 2001

While immigrants to the United States often remember and cherish the country of their origin, passing on an appreciation of their native heritage to their children is not always an easy matter. Today on New American Voices you'll meet some parents - and children - who are keeping aspects of South Asian culture and traditions alive in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Six boys, aged about nine and ten years old, sit on the floor around their sari-clad teacher, learning the ancient Indian art of classical Hindustani music. In the next classroom, somewhat older boys are enthusiastically following their instructor in the rhythms of the Indian drum, the tabla.

This is the India International School, established in Virginia sixteen years ago to enhance the understanding of Indian culture. In addition to music there are classes in dance, Sanskrit and Hindi, history and philosophy, and yoga. Radihka Yadav was one of the founders of the school, and still administers it.

"We started with four students, and now we have over 250 students. We started with one teacher, teaching language and music, and now we have about 15 teachers. The classes in our school are demand-based, so we have people who are willing to teach, some of our teachers are volunteers, it's a community service, just as it's a community service for the administrators."

Students in the school range in age from just under five to fifty- and sixty-year-olds, who generally come for music instruction or yoga. The vast majority, though, are school-age children whose parents bring them here each Sunday to learn to play a traditional Indian instrument, or practice dance, or speak Hindi.

The beginning Hindi class consists of about twelve youngsters of various ages and a humorous, energetic teacher, who flits around the classroom pointing to objects for the children to name. It helps that the walls of the classroom are decorated with large, colorful paper cut-outs of trees and flowers and animals. These were done by children attending Hebrew school during the week in the same room, since the India school rents facilities in the building of the Jewish Community Center.

A father waiting for his daughter to get out of class explains why he brings his children to the India International School.

"I think it's a good idea to get them exposed to something other than the mainstream American culture. It gives them a sense of belonging, some discipline."

Mr. Athale, a professor of electrical engineering, is not concerned about his children growing up surrounded by American popular culture. He firmly believes - and knows from experience - that it is possible for Indian children to grow up in America with an appreciation of both cultures.

"Absolutely. My son is now 21 years old, and he's both Indian and American - and, you know, in a farily deep and interesting way. So I not only think it's possible, I know it is happening, not only with my son, but with lots of other kids."

Two boys standing in the school's corridor listening to Mr. Athale seem to be typical American teenagers. But fourteen-year-old Ashwin Rastogi and 13-year-old Anupam Sanyal say they like coming to the India school.

"It's a really fun way to learn about Indian heritage, and I just like the instrument that I play, it's the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, and it's really fun to play. "I come because I love playing the tabla, because I just love to have the energy flow through my fingers."

Anupam Sanyal, it turns out, loves not only the tabla. He also likes to sing Indian songs, both classical and modern, and doesn't mind doing so in the noisy corridor of the India School between classes.

Next week - more about the India International School, one of the Washington area's many ethnic schools that teach American-born children the language and culture of their immigrant parents.