Mihir Narain: Adapting to new customs

The Baltimore Sun

The Narain family came to the United States four years ago from India, a country where life revolves around extended kin and most children don't date.

In certain ways, the transition has not been drastic for 17-year-old Mihir Narain. For one, the Washington metro area where he lives, "is not too radically different than Bombay [now Mumbai], a very Westernized city." But when they arrived, Mihir, his older brother, Ishaan, and his parents confronted a very different social scene, including that perplexing institution known as the prom.

The family watched enough American movies during their years in Bombay, Calcutta and New Delhi to know that the prom is a big deal. "There's always a prom segment at the end when everything happens," Mihir says.

But attending the prom was an entirely different matter.

In India, the "concept of a boy and girl going steady takes a lot of focus off [school) work," says Aditya Narain, Mihir's father, in the family's Chevy Chase home. The prom epitomizes the way children are encouraged to quickly come of age, Narain says. "Everybody comes with a date."

Children grow up at a different pace in India, he says. There, instead of a prom, the high school years typically end with a stage show or similar event attended by parents and students, Narain says.

An economist with the International Monetary Fund, Narain and his wife, Sushma Narain, a consultant with the World Bank, didn't want their children to feel adrift in their new home.

And as they adapted to the U.S., their sons welcomed new tastes and other experiences without rejecting the Indian food and traditions they knew so well.

So Ishaan, now a University of Maryland sophomore, opened doors for Mihir when he attended the prom two years ago as a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

"My parents had familiarity [with the idea of a prom] and I had an easier time convincing them to let me go to the prom," says Mihir, who will go to Georgetown University.

A student at Montgomery Blair High School, Mihir will attend the May 26 prom at the Hilton Silver Spring with a group of friends and his girlfriend of one year, Jessica Cutler.

Ishaan, the family diplomat, also reassured his parents that Mihir was mature enough not to forsake his studies to spend time with her. "My brother is paving the way for me in many, many ways," Mihir says.

Prom night's steep price tag also puzzled Aditya Narain, 48. "Why spend a couple of a hundred dollars a night on stuff like this?" he says.

By bargaining collectively with his friends for the limo and tux, Mihir hopes to keep those expenses between $200 to $250. Prom tickets are $100 per couple.

"Both of my kids are fiscally very responsible," his father says.

Mihir and his friends have a bushel of prom details to work out. "People are backing out and coming in all the time," Mihir says. Jessica must find a dress, as well. "She's starting to worry about it," he says.

"I'm pretty excited," Mihir says. "The way it's planned out it's going to be a lot of fun. We're going in a gigantic group. It's going to be a great time."

Sun reporter Carolyn Peirce contributed to this article.


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