Culture | PREMIUM CONTENT

Lighting Up Diwali with the Sarkars

Nov/03/2021 / by Pratika Yashaswi
Sarkar Family

Indians have been living abroad for decades, maybe centuries in different parts of the world. In the United States itself, the earliest recorded Indian emigrant was from British-colonial Madras, who traveled to Massachusetts in 1790. Although numbers were small and lingered in the thousands in the early twentieth century, the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (which allowed Indians to become citizens) led to a migration boom.

South Asians are one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S., and yet their festivals and important cultural events, like Diwali, are not national holidays or celebrated outside the community in a big way, let alone region-specific ones like Ganesh Chaturthi or Shivratri. However, South Asians have always managed to maintain a strong sense of culture within their families and communities, keeping their traditions alive and thriving during these important days.

The first generation Sarkars, for instance, moved to the US in the late seventies. They all speak Bengali with varying levels of fluency and celebrate the important Bengali and Indian festivals every single year, participating actively in community events and performing pujas. Everyone has daak naams (traditional Bengali nicknames).

Last year at the peak of the pandemic, with school and work closures, like many families, the younger Sarkars found themselves working from home, juggling work, childcare, and schooling. Having family close by has been a huge boon bringing them even more closer.

Salil and Soma Sarkar immigrated to the US in the late 1970s and early eighties. Their children, Saurav (Rana) and Supriya (Riya) were born here in the United States. Today Rana works in robotics and digital surgery at a healthcare company and Riya is a relationship manager at an investment bank. Deepa Bhattacharjee-Sarkar was born in Kolkata, but hasn’t been back to India in more than 20 years. She married into the Sarkar family, her young children have never been to India. Speaking to SEEMA about her family’s yearly Diwali celebrations, she says, “For me, these community festive events and pujas are, more than their religious significance, a way for me to stay connected to my traditions. To maintain a proximity and consistency to my roots that I can pass on to my children.”

She is head of business development for a hedge fund, while her husband, Saurav Sarkar, is a global product leader in robotics and digital surgery. All Sarkars have busy careers. Yet, they make sure that every Diwali, friends and family come together in their ebullient New Jersey home, decorated with brilliant lights, diyas and rangolis. By way of sweetening the occasion, the family makes traditional sweets, like gugija, and also exchanges sweets with their neighbors.

“We have a Ganesh puja and, and given our Bengali heritage, also celebrate the Goddess Kali with a Kali puja. Kali puja is a late night celebration, after which our families gather together and play cards. Bhai Phonta, in Bengali — called Bhai Dooj, or Bhau Beej in other parts of India — is a perennial tradition in our family. It is intended to be celebrated the second day after Kali puja, but we typically celebrate on the weekend. We include as many generations as we can, and in addition to sharing our blessings with one another, we also share small gifts. A grand feast of traditional Bengali food always follows.”

THE WOMEN OF THE SARKAR FAMILY

Soma, a consumer banking executive, first came to the US fresh out of college, married
to Salil. Today she is the Chief Operating Officer of a financial institution. The couple has lived in New Jersey since the 1980s and have a large circle of friends who form their community. They are active members of the Bengali community and participate in festivities and gifting and giving to help those in need.

The Sarkar Women
The women of the Sarkar Family, photographed by Shravya Kag for SEEMA Mag

Diwali is a time to shed the western work attire, pack away the pant suits and break out luxurious saris, Anarkalis and lehngas, and bring home traditional jewelry that is otherwise packed away in the bank locker. Soma, the matriarch of the family, often goes shopping for her daughter and daughter-in-law as festivals and weddings approach. Her sari collection is the envy of her community, and she purchases many of her sarees from small businesses or entrepreneur housewives in the community. Here she is wearing a kota Benarasi sari perfect for a daytime event. Purchased during Durga puja in New Jersey from a small business stall. These stalls are set up during Durga puja to promote small businesses within the community.

On a typical work day, you may find Deepa, head of business development for a hedge fund, and her sister-in- law Supriya (Riya), a relationship manager at an investment bank, in business attire or jeans and sweats over the weekend. But during Diwali and other festivals, they love wearing traditional outfits.

Supriya Sarkar
Supriya is wearing statement earrings from Edison, a local business in NJ.
Photographed by Shravya Kag for SEEMA
Deepa Bhattacharjee Sarkar
Deepa (above) in a pink Chantilly lace sari with Mukesh work, from Pure Elegance, Edison, NJ. She is wearing a traditional heirloom necklace with pearls, rubies and diamonds that belongs to her mother-in-law. Deepa photographed by Shravya Kag for SEEMA

THE MEN OF THE SARKAR FAMILY

The Sarkar men are gentleman and leaders of their community. Saurav (Rana), the first born, who was born and raised in New Jersey, is attached to his family. For example, during the pandemic, he and Deepa insisted on ordering groceries and having them delivered to the senior Sarkars’ homes, concerned that his older parents might put themselves at risk by going shopping for essentials. He and the boys are not fluent in Bengali but one would never know it as they blend in with ease with all the traditions.

Salil Sarkar
Salil Da or Bade Sarkar–big brother or Big Sarkar is the male head of the family. A retired corporate executive, Salil’s two passions are singing Bollywood songs and playing and watching tennis. Only outmatched by his passion for his grandsons, Kayan and Koa.
Saurav (Rana) wore a black Indian suit custom made by Deen Fashions Edison. The boys had traditional sherwanis purchased from a local store in New Jersey. Salil is wearing indian outfit from Manyavar India.

THE NEXT GENERATION

Deepa who has lived in the US since she was a young child is the daughter of a another Bengali immigrants. She met Saurav (Rana) Sarkar at a cultural gathering. They got engaged and held a destination wedding at the Mayan Riviera. They have two boys, Kayan Jagger, 6, and Zayn Koa, 2.

Deepa, Saurav, Kayan and Koa Sarkar photographed by Shravya Kag for SEEMA

The young boys are the apples of their grandfather’s eyes and of the entire family. They are learning Bengali language and culture, while also being well assimilated with American culture, including celebrating Thanksgiving, Hot Wheels toy cars, and Paw Patrol! They are just as comfortable in jeans and T-shirts as they are in their traditional sherwanis.

Seema

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