The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Home Lands

December 26, 2010

Westmont family celebrates Hindu traditions

The Gella family truly celebrates its Hindu traditions from India.

Visitors to their Windan Lane home in Westmont are greeted with a portrait of Lord Ganesha, a Hindu god depicted with four human arms and an elephant’s head.

There is a special room for religious observances, and the dinner menu is strictly vegetarian.

Kamal Gella and his wife, Dr. Jyothi Gella, moved here in 1995.

He is a senior manager at Concurrent Technologies Corp., and she is an independent physician with offices at 600 Franklin St. in the Kernville section of Johnstown.

He is chairman of Johnstown Regional Indian Subcontinent Association, which spearheads two community celebrations each year.

Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, a springtime festival, commemorates the triumph of good over evil in Hindu mythology, Kamal Gella said. Diwali, or Festival of Lights, is a five-day autumn festival celebrated in families by performing traditional activities together in their homes.

It commemorates Lord Rama’s return from exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana.

The local association marks the festivals by gathering with guests in a local venue for a traditional Indian meal and program, 16-year-old Meena Gella said.

This year, the Westmont Hilltop High School junior choreographed a dance for one celebration.

Her sister, Meghana, 7, and brother, Venkat, 11, have participated in performances at the events.

The local association includes Hindu, Muslim and Christian members, so the festivals’ religious elements are downplayed, Kamal Gella said.

“We get together just to celebrate our heritage,” he said.

“It’s more of a social organization. Anybody can come.”

Meena was born in Dallas, Texas, and Venkat and Meghana were born in Johnstown, but their parents teach them their heritage.

“We want them to learn where they came from; what their roots are,” Kamal Gella said.

“From their friends and school, they will get the American culture, as long as they know where they come from.”

All three children speak fluent Taluga, and have visited their parents’ homeland.

“When I grew up, I learned Taluga first and then learned English,” Meena said.

“Her siblings learned English first, and then this language, so it’s harder for them.”

But apparently not too hard to try using it as an advantage.

Venkat told his parents he shouldn’t have to follow Westmont Hilltop Middle School’s requirement for a foreign- language class in seventh grade.

“He said, ‘I already know a second language,’ ” Jyothi Gella said.

“So he’s trying to be lazy.”

The family also maintains its Hindu vegetarian diet, traveling to Indian food stores in Pittsburgh for spices and herbs.

Jyothi Gella prepares the traditionally aromatic dishes.

“We have it once a day to keep in touch,” Meghana said, noting the evening meal is usually an Indian menu.

The younger children have not acquired a taste for some of the spicier dishes, Jyothi Gella admits.

“I sometimes eat American food at night, but I am not going to get used to it,” Meghana said, pausing thoughtfully for a moment before continuing: “I will when I’m older.”

Cuisine is not the only aspects of American culture being embraced by the Gella family.

Beyond their living room coffee table, and books on Swami Vivekenanda and the poet Rabindranath Tagore, is a Christmas tree with colored lights and ornaments.

“We get the best of both worlds,” Jyothi Gella said.

“Our children end up doing our festivals, but we also celebrate Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving.”

“And most important: Black Friday,” Venkat piped up.


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