Preserving Hinduism in the U.S: A Reflection on HSC’s Camp at Shanti Mandir

Mahika Jhangiani. —

Culture is a way of life of a group of people. The behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along from one generation to the next. Culture is the values you emulate and the habits you inculcate. For me it’s the craving for gajar ka halwa or paneer makhani and naan and random urges to watch Bollywood movies all night. It’s the bright and elegant saris and lenghas complimented by the intricate and delicate jewelry. It’s the small murthi you carry with you no matter where in the world you are. It is the hands you will fold and eyes you close. It is the prayers that you will never forget and sing even after years of no practice. It’s the pride you have knowing you come from a country with so much diversity. It’s the confidence you have when asked “Where are you from?” and you can answer “India” and still consider it home even after spending 88% of your life 9,000 miles away for it.

My name is Mahika Jhangiani. I am 18 years old and I am from Norwalk, Connecticut. I am currently a first year student at the University of Connecticut studying business. I was born in Mumbai, India and at the age of 2, my parents and I moved to America. Just as Anjali and Rahul Raichand (Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan) from Khabhi Khushi Khabhi Gham worked hard to teach their son about their “Bharat” while living in a foreign country, my parents did the same. They worked hard to make sure that I would not become an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi).

When I was ten I started attending Hindu Youth Summer Camp. It is a sleep away camp, which aims to enrich the lives of the Hindu Youth by teaching them unique Hindu Dharma values and inspire them to be proud of their rich Hindu Heritage. Each year they have a different theme to keep campers coming back and teach them different aspects of our Hindu Religion and culture. From attending this camp not only was I been able to learn about my religion, pujas, shlokas, and bhajans but made friends for life. Through HYSC, I have become a “Confident Desi” rather than a “Confused Desi.” I went through the ranks as a camper, counselor in training, counselor, head counselor, assistant director and director.

This past year (my first year of college) I kind of felt lost. A lot of the stuff I had learned from HYSC was just stored in the back of my mind and I was finding it difficult to apply it in my daily life. As Hindu college students/young professionals, we are constantly faced with the dilemma of finding a balance between our moral values and the cultural values of our adopted homeland. We find ourselves caught up in the three stereotypical C’s “Caste, Cows, and Curry,” that most westerners use to label our religion and lose touch with its true teachings.

I was surprised when I found out that there was no Hindu organization at Uconn. I felt that instead of waiting for someone else to do it, I had to be the one to take the necessary steps to bring HSC to Uconn and started working on completing the formalities needed to get a chapter started at Uconn. It brought me in touch with members of Hindu Student Council’s national team. I was a little hesitant when I got information about the annual HSC Memorial Day camp, but I signed up anyways and in hindsight it was the best decision I made this year. Being around like-minded people who are facing the same struggles as me, put things into perspective and helped bring clarity and a new vision to my life’s journey. From discussing feminism in Hinduism, the dharma of dating, how to answer tough questions on Hinduism, Kashmir Shaivism, and the fun games/activities we participated in, I really gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for our religion and how to apply its principles to this stage of my life.

At Hindu Youth Summer camp I am the oldest, the senior most, the one teaching 8-16 year olds about Hindu Heritage; at HSC’s Collegiate Youth Camp, I found my peers and young Gurus and Acharyas who I could relate to and go to for practical solutions to my current issues as a young Hindu adult. HSC’s Collegiate Youth Camp was really a life-changing experience for me, and I can’t wait for next year.