Whenever the Teletubbies introduce an Indian theme or the Backyardigans sing a Bollywood tune, my son is tickled pink, and immediately exclaims, “That’s just like us!”
To an Indian American child finding something Indian on children’s television is fascinating and unique. To his surprise, and to my pleasure, there’s going to more of his favorite characters talking about things that are familiar to him, reiterating his Indian culture that he is so far away from.
Soon Big Bird, Elmo, Grover, Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Zoe, and the rest of the Sesame Street crew, will not be the only ones who enthrall and entertain kids—a new character, Leela, will soon bring international culture and flair to the on the popular, long-running PBS show
Children who watch Sesame Street will be able to relate to an Indian accent and to Indian festivals and holidays, thanks to this latest cast member—the first Hindu— to arrive on Sesame Street. The new episodes, featuring a young Indian American actress, Nitya Vidyasagar, will start airing in August 2008 during Sesame Street’s 39th season.
When the producers of Sesame Street were looking for a new actor to run the local laundromat, they were not looking for an Indian or any particular ethnicity—they just wanted someone who was charming and not patronizing to a young audience. According to the newspaper India-West, the fact that this character is a Hindu and Indian American is purely coincidental. In fact, the character was recreated for this actress since they were smitten by her theatrical abilities.
“I’m so excited, this is a big deal for me, and for the Indian American community … and it shows that India has a growing place in the world profile,” said Vidyasagar in a phone interview with India-West .
A question that many Indians are asking is why she changed her characters name from Nitya, her real name, to stage name Leela? While Nitya defends the decision, believing that her own name is more difficult to pronounce than Leela, many beg to differ. But the upshot is, Leela is here and ready to teach America’s children a little more about the Indian American immigrant community, Hinduism–the third largest religion in the world—it’s culture, heritage, and festivals.
–written by Visi Tilak, an award-winning writer who lives in Ashland, MA