Notes from Grandma – An Interview with Rupali Drewek

notesfromgrandmainterviewAs a South Asian living abroad it is very important to me that my child be exposed to as much of her heritage as possible. Growing up in a Western society she no doubt will be influenced by it but I hope she retains her desi roots as well. It isn’t as easy a task as I thought it would be. Life happens and you get busy. So the question remains how?

Notes from Grandma is one such solution.  It’s a letter writing service that educates children on their South Asian heritage through letters received in the mail from a fictional grandmother, Nani Poppins.  Children subscribed to this service receive a letter once a month teaching about a theme of South Asian culture. It’s a great way for parents to sit down with their kids and go on a desi adventure together. In this day and age of short attention spans and social media, this service unites the lost art of traditional letter writing and a love for one’s culture.

I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Rupali Drewek, Pediatrician and Mompreneur.  She is the creator of this wonderfully simple yet significant tool that is bringing back a love for culture to a whole new generation of children.

Notes from Grandma

Rupali with her husband Dave. (photo courtesy: Rupali Drewek)

  1. Tell us about your journey. What inspired you to create Notes from Grandma?
    My business idea started when I realized that my own children (age 7 and 8) know very little about the Indian culture.  I started researching easy ways to teach children about Indian culture. There was very little out there on the Internet. The information that I found was lengthy and not appropriate for elementary age children.   I wondered if other people were also concerned about their native culture fading over generations.  I wanted to find a unique and interesting way for children to learn about their heritage. I thought it would be novel to have personalized letters mailed to children each month discussing one topic about Indian culture.  At the end of the year, each child would have a substantial amount of knowledge about India and its rich culture.

    Photo courtesy: Rupali Drewek

    Photo courtesy: Rupali Drewek

  1. How did you keep in touch with your South Asian roots during your childhood?My parents were very active with the Indian community while I was growing up (in Chicago). We celebrated all the major festivals at the temple.  My parents were both musicians, and the influence of Indian music was huge in our house.  I was exposed to Bollywood dance as well as Indian classical music.  My mother taught me how to read as well as write Hindi.  My sister and I were big fans of all the Bollywood movies in our teen years.  We travelled to India frequently to visit family.  During those trips, my mother made it a point to show us landmarks, and teach us about the history and customs of India.
  2. How do you infuse South Asian culture into your family life?My girls love participating in Bollywood dance classes and eating Indian food. They enjoy Diwali celebrations in our house, and participating in a yearly Holi event.  Because my kids are of mixed ethnicities (half white, half Indian), it has become even more important to me to teach them about their Indian roots.  It’s not enough that they enjoy dressing up in lenghas during Diwali, or throw colors around during Holi.  I want them to understand the significance and mythology behind these festivals.  This was another drive behind creating the letters.

    Photo courtesy: Rupali Drewek

  3. Did your relationship with your mother or grandmother play a role in inspiring you to create this service?
    My mother and grandmother both have inspired me. My grandmother was an entrepreneur herself. She started a girls-only school in New Delhi where students learned important skills such as sewing, writing, painting, dancing, and singing.  She started with just three students in 1951, and grew it to the point where there were over 2000 students in the 60’s/70’s.  She managed this extremely successful social enterprise till she was 80 years old.  She was a true visionary, and a strong advocate for women.My mother has always been a strong role model for me.  To me, she is the epitome of motherhood.  When not at work, her life revolved around teaching us new things, enriching our lives with extracurricular activities, and giving us spiritual guidance.  She taught me never to give up.  She believes in me and makes me feel empowered.

    Rupali with her mother (photo courtesy: Rupali Drewek)

    Rupali with her mother (photo courtesy: Rupali Drewek)

  1. As a busy professional and a Mompreneur what are your tips in maintaining a work-life balance?This one is tough! Here are the few things that I have learned and try to follow:Prioritize: I always write down 3-4 things that need to be done by the end of the day.  By doing this, I stay on task and prevent myself from feeling overwhelmedConcentrate on one thing at a time:  When I’m spending time with my kids, it’s all about the kids.  When I’m working, it’s all about work

    Find some time for yourself:  There’s a tremendous amount of stress and pressure put on women: being daughters, mothers, wives, professionals etc.  In between a hectic schedule, I always try to find time to relax.  For me, relaxing involves reading a book in the backyard, listening to music, watching movies, and dinners with friends.

  1. What is one favourite South Asian tradition looked forward to in your household?
    I loved celebrating Diwali in our house. My sister and I would run home from school and turn on all the lights in the house.  We would light diyas and put them outside our front door.  We would dress up in our favorite Indian clothes and do a small puja as a family.   My mom would make the same delicious meal (aaloo, puri, and kheer) every year.  My mouth is watering even as I write those words!

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