Most awkward wedding gift ever

To any bride who has ever opened up a gift box of skimpy lingerie in front of un-humorous relatives, I have a gift story which I think takes the cake in awkwardness. First, some background . . .As a young Bengali-American girl raised Hindu and bred in Philly, I grew up with two very contrasting schemas of what the swastika meant. First, in my childhood in Bangladesh and India I saw the swastika on clothing, jewelry, buildings, and painted on young coconuts at special occasions (like weddings and when a new store was opening). In Hinduism and many other Indian religions like Jainism and Buddhism, it is regarded as one of the oldest symbols of prosperity, good luck, health and heaven dating as far back as 3300–1300 BCE. The swastika is as common and accepted in Hindu communities as, for example, the hamsa is used and accepted in Jewish communities (although their symbolism is different.)I learned the other interpretation of the swastika when I was in about 4th grade. Our school librarian read The Diary of a Young Girl, and in supplemental materials I saw photos of Hitler and the Nazis during World War II wearing this symbol that I grew up with and viewed as something good. I didn’t have the courage at 9-years-old to ask my librarian about the swastika or to challenge it’s use or to acknowledge that my family and my community display the swastika proudly. I was young and I didn’t want to attract any attention to myself at all.Regardless, I accepted from a young age that I lived in two different worlds and I jumped back and forth between these two worlds with different rules all my life. I internalized it so much that when I saw a swastika painted on a green coconut in India, I knew something auspicious was happening around the corner, but if I saw a diagonal swastika on a boot or shaved onto some white dude’s head, I immediately knew that trouble was around the corner (luckily I’ve only seen that in movies like American History Xand not in real life).

Silver Swastika Coin

As a Hindu girl marrying a Jew, I knew that the swastika would somehow come up at our wedding and I asked my family that for the sake of keeping the peace, “could we please do without the swastikas?” I also put close friends on “swastika-watch.” The wedding day came and went without any awkward religious hiccups, so I thought we were in the clear. But weeks later, in the privacy of my mother’s house, my well-meaning pishi from India presented my Jewish-American husband with a silver coin with a swastika on it. He accepted the gift graciously (knowing that her intention was good-hearted and pure) and I later explained the history of the swastika to him. Separately, I explained (and probably will continue to explain) the post-World War II history of the swastika to my family.

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