Friday, July 24, 2009

India Calling - 1

Prelude: Those who saw my Gtalk status msg on July 24th, 2009, they know what it was. For those who dont know, it was this - "Dreamt of going back to India forever :)" . I know its so soon to have such a dream. But still.. :) Now continue reading...

It was a nice pot-luck that night at Kuran-Ji’s house. It was on the way to New Jersy. So obviously we were beckoned by a lot of Tamil friends living there. Ram was in a hurry to leave the place and so did we at 10pm.

We hopped into a cab. I leaned back, exhausted.

“These Indian parties really get to me,” I said. “We are such pretenders, the whole lot of us…with our foreignaffectations and faux accents, when what we really do is go home and eat dal-chaval [lentils andrice] every day.”

“Why can’t we be both?” Ram asked. “Indian and American. Indian-American.”

“An ABCD, you mean?”

“Not necessarily. American for sure, but not necessarily Confused. The best of both worlds.”

I shook my head. “Doesn’t exist. India and America are too different. Best of both worlds leads to confused kids. Best of both worlds is a prescription for an ABCD. You have to pick a country; you have to make a call.”

“I disagree.” Ram’s voice rose. “Being cosmopolitan is not a bad thing.”

“Being cosmopolitan is all very well for adults with set identities. It is a disaster for young children,” I said.

“That’s not true,” Ram said.There was silence. We turned away from each other.

“It is true,” said a voice from the front. Our cab driver was looking at us with interest through the rear-view mirror.

“It’s true,” he said, nodding his head emphatically.

“Raising kids in foreign country is no good. That’s why I sent my wife and kids back to Nigeria last year.”

“Thank you for your comments but...” Ram began testily.

“Hear him out,” I interrupted.

“This culture — very different from African culture,”the man continued, clicking his tongue. “Here it is ...what you say ... sex, drugs and rock & roll, no?”

I smiled and nodded.

“Send your wife home,” the Nigerian cab driver advised. “Nice life in India. Hare Krishna, Hare Rama!” He grinned.

Ram rolled his eyes.

“Look, if giving Ranjini Indian values, whatever they may be, is so important to you, then do something,” Ram said, “rather than hankering for something which doesn’t exist.”

“I will,” I said as we got out of the cab. “I am taking her to the temple tomorrow.”

I wasn’t surprised that motherhood changed me.After all, I, an avowed agnostic, had suddenly started taking my child to the Hindu temple in Flushing, Queens, so she could be exposed to her faith. What surprised me was that motherhood changed my attitude towards America. Until then, America had been a welcoming land where I had spent ten glorious years being young and free. It had denied me nothing because of the color of my skin or the foreignness of my character.

Indeed, it had allowed me to fly, freed me from the constraints of my homeland. After my child was born, America became my daughter’s birthplace, her homeland, and I held it to higher standards. I wanted it to accept Ranjini, but — irrationally, perhaps — I resented that she would always be a minority. I didn’t want Ranjini to think like a minority, to carry a chip on her shoulder, to feel compelled to try harder like I did. I wanted her to have the ease of entitlement, the confidence of knowing that America is her country — because it is.

I wanted her to believe that she would have equal opportunities here, and that she was just like the other kids. So I began to look at other parents, particularly Indian ones, to figure out what techniques the successful ones adopted. Ram and I had many nephews and nieces who had grown up in America, and I talked to them about growing up as an Indian-American. Two years into the process, when Ranjini was about five, it became apparent to me that she would not be a typical American kid.

She was American by birth but couldn’t escape being Indian, not because of the way she was but because of the way her parents were. Ram and I were too Indian. We enjoyed America but had not been able to leave India behind.

Because of us, Ranjini would always be the other, the outsider, the minority, the “Indian” kid. She would be Hindu and vegetarian because we were. She was doomed to spelling out her strange-sounding name because we had thought it pretty and named her so. She wouldn’t escape Indian culture because we surrounded her with it.

Ram’s attitude towards parenting as more sanguine. He believed that as long as we gave Ranjini a stable home and basic values such as honesty, compassion and equanimity, she would turn out fine.

“You are overanalyzing things,” he told me often. “There is no magic cause-and-effect for parenting. It is more like a crapshoot. You do what you can, and hope for the best.”

“That’s not true,” I said. “I want Ranjini to believe that the world is her oyster, that she can become anything she wants, including the President of the United States.”

“You really want her to become President?” Ram asked. “Like Clinton?”

"Not really. But I want her to believe that she can. I want her to believe that she can walk in space and touch the moon,” I said.

“That’s great,” said Ram. “But how do you propose to impart all this confidence and make her humble and respectful to elders like a good Indian child?”

I pursed my lips. He was mocking me. There was a lot I needed to figure out. Cross-cultural parenting was harder than I thought...

[to be continued...]


  1. hey ths s a really a nice post! :) awaitin its second part!

  2. Maybe this should have been the first and second part... Too long man...