The first documented Indian immigrants to the United States were recorded in 1820. Since then, there has been a huge surge of them since the 1990’s. The US is the second most popular destination for these immigrants, behind the United Arab Emirates, with as many 2 million residing here in 2013, around 5% of people born in foreign nations in the US. The Tri-State area, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, is the most common destination for Indian born immigrants, hosting over 300,000.
I’ve known Alka Kaminer for almost my entire life. I lived on 126 Mill Spring Lane in Stamford, Connecticut between the ages of 1-5, right next door to my lifetime best friend Alex, Alka’s firstborn. Alka has been a second mother to me for my entire life. I’ve known her my entire life and yet never heard her story, until now.
Alka was born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. Her parents both originally came from the town of Borivali, outside of Bombay, but migrated after the Partition. Her father’s family moved to Jaipur and her mother’s to Lucknow. Alka’s family originates from the Land of the Sindh, a culture that branches off Hinduism and has it’s own culture and language. While explaining the ideals of Hindu and Sindhi culture, Alka revealed something to me: “Before the British came to India, there was no religion. Hinduism is more about a faith of morals and values, which makes it different from typical religions.” In the present, Alka practices the spirituality of both “religions” more than the faith based practices. She incorporates the morals into her daily life and passes those on through yoga. Alka teaches yoga classes and in these she speaks of the philosophical ideas and ways to improve one’s life by focusing on spiritual values. She believes in the idea that all of our lives are connected in unique ways, and that no coincidence is merely a coincidence. She has some psychic abilities and believes that anything she sees and everything that happens to her happens for a reason. Her life experiences have been too “coincidental” to just be by accident.
Alka’s father came to America when she was 5 years old. He was traveling to see Alka’s grandfather, who was in a coma at the time, when he was stopped by a palm reader who told him that “very soon he would have an opportunity to travel to America and that he must take the opportunity, as that is where his success would lie.” He didn’t think much of it until he arrived at his father’s bedside and the man woke up and told all of his children that soon opportunities would be made available to them and they must grab them immediately. He died shortly thereafter. Her father’s cousin called him soon after and asked if he’d like to join him in America, and her father decided that the world was telling him to go. He sent for Alka, her sister, and her mother a year later. They lived with their family in a Manhattan apartment for another year before sending for her grandmother to watch her and her sister so both parents could go to work, and another year and a half after that before they could afford to send for her 3 brothers, who were 10, 12, and 14 when Alka left India. Of the journey, Alka remembers not feeling sad, but rather excited. Her young mind didn’t really understand the idea of leaving behind one’s home for ever, and she had never before been on a plane before. There were no direct flights to India at the time so they stopped in Frankfurt, and none of the three girls spoke any English or German. This made their trip difficult, but after many hours they landed in New York.
In the middle of the interview, Alka paused for a moment before saying “Your article is going to be essentially the same as the first chapter of my book!” I asked her what book she was talking about, and she told me that about a month ago she had decided to write her story. Her philosophy of non-coincidences had lead her to this. For the past ten years, many healers, psychic mediums and others, all who didn’t know each other, told her that she should write a book. For all of this time she brushed it off, thinking she was a bad writer and that people wouldn’t be interested in what she had to say. Until recently she got her healing certification and her instructor did a guardian angel healing on her, and immediately told her that her guardian angel was insisting that she write a book. She finally decided to take charge and do it. Alka told me she wanted to help the world notice their own unusual coincidences that can mean so much more in the grand scheme of things. She seeks to teach people how they can manifest abundance through seeing connections. She was one month into the process when I called and asked her to do this interview, something I like to call another fateful occurrence.
As the interview continued, I learned how all of the things we’ve learned about affected her, like how the Partition forced her family to move. I brought up my article presentation topic, the changeover between the 500 and 1000 rupee notes, to the new 500 and 2000 rupee notes. Immediately she had plenty to say, “In India people stuff cash in their mattresses, their mattresses are their money supply” she told me. We talked about the corruption and off the books economy that India currently has, and it’s clear that even from over 7,000 miles away that Indian current events were very relevant in her life.
One of the questions I originally came up with dealt with how she incorporates her Indian culture into her family’s lives, but I came to realize I grew up right in the middle of it. I wore borrowed sari’s to all of her sons Bar Mitzvahs, an interesting collision of culture to experience, I’ve practiced yoga with her, something Alka says connects her deeply with her heritage, and I’ve to the Hindu temple on Long Island that her family helped start along with other New York Indian immigrants so many years ago. Alka spoke fondly of the time before this temple, a time where “we rotated apartments within the group of other Hindu families to host a weekly Sunday get together, filled with chanting, singing, praying, meditating, and deep philosophical discussions.” When living in New York City, this practice felt normal to her, and the melting pot that the city was becoming felt truly like home. She didn’t feel left out walking the streets knowing she might look or sound different than other people, because everyone was from another unique and interesting place; however, Alka moved to Mount Kisco after a few years and began to mentally retreat into her own shell. Mount Kisco had no diversity and no room for an immigrant family like hers. She was teased and left out in school, which she accredits to a long period of introvertedness in her life. She had gone from such a welcoming and vibrant city to an all white exclusive suburb, truly gaining experiences from both ends of an immigration spectrum unfortunately.
Alka’s experience is in some ways very similar to the typical experience growing up in America as an immigrant, but her overall story is unique. It is because of fate and coincidences that she believes she ended up in America, and I wish her the best as she continues to follow that path.