July 06, 2007


The last couple of weeks have been great fun with all the guests. Anush had a ball, we went out a lot, ate a lot and of course yapped a lot. Gave and got lot of gifts as well.

Apart from the bonhomie, a lot of questions got raised, some amusing and some unpleasant. Pertaining to Indians who move abroad,i.e. USA, including 2-3rd Gen Indians. We found that there are no simple or at least straight answers. Also it does not apply universally.

"Don't your children need to fit in there?" Learning Indian things, imbibing the culture - all acquire prime importance, more in the US than over here in India. How about learning some drums along with the mridamgam and some ballet with the Bharatanatyam ? (note the use of "along with" not "instead of") If the kids are Americanised , do not force them to go through the appearance of being Indian just through symbolic changes. I think this confuses the child.

"Should you not adapt to the country which feeds you?" Using Crest and acquiring a drawl does not make you American. You need to be thankful and loyal to the choice you made.

Germ Phobia- Mineral water, toilet rolls, hand sanitizers, anti malaria pills. All fine. But what about drinking coffee before brushing...eeewww. Unwashed plates/ coffeecups because you forgot amma taught us to rinse and then leave them in the sink. Hair that flies about once you brush it for the umpteenth time. Probably does not show on carpeted floors?

Enforced love- Kids from there are very polite. But to expect them to relate deeply to their relatives here, over a period of just a week, whom they have not and will not meet for the next couple of years? Having said that kids do and did relate. That is even worse because you tear them away for so long from their kin- till your next visit.

Solution- More visits ! Longer visits!


Kalpana said...

Very true.

namvor said...

fitting in - depends i think on where you live. in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood its probably easier than in an area where the demographic is predominantly white. in the former case you get exposed to different cultures and that can be a true broadening experience in the sense you realise that at the end of the day we are all more similar than otherwise. in our case we have been very lucky - in my daughter's school, the 20 odd kids there are about 25 nationalities (some kids are mixed) and their class photo really looks like a benetton ad!

germ phobia - well i think again it depends on you. i have desi friends here who will not allow their kids to touch their toys before washing their hands once they get home. on the other hand there are people (incl yours truly) who make sure their kids eat chaat from the streets when in india to get their annual dose of immunity.

love - kids love it! dont think there can ever be an issue there! in fact they can easily differentiate the genuine from the fake too.

net net i think it largely depends on you no matter where you live, at least till they hit the teens!

GettingThereNow said...

I am sorry to say Art, but this is a pet peeve with me :) People just assume that ALL Indians and their kids behave a certain way JUST BECAUSE they live in America. You know what? They don't! Not all of them. In fact some of us (who live here in America) make fun of those who do behave this way too and gripe about the way they make ALL of us look back home.

Fitting in? Well doesn't every one try to do that? You would do that in India too if you moved to a place where the norms were very different from where you came from. Maybe you wouldn't make a concious effort to change - but you would definitely pick up some of them if you lived there long enough and interacted with the local community. And if your kids were born and brought up there, that is all they would know.

Germ Phobia: A big part of it is very real for us. We have been to India two times after moving to the US. BOTH times my daughter got terribly sick because her body was not used to the germs/environment there. So much so that after our first visit, she went from being a chubby kid to being a stick thin kid in less than a week and never regained that kind of chubbiness. I don't mind her being thin as she is healthy, but I do shudder at the memory of what she went through those two times. Didn't eat ANYTHING except boiled potatoes and bananas for 20 days! Try being in THOSE shoes for a moment.

Love: She does love and relate to the family members back home. If one can not manage longer, frequent visits (each visit wipes out almost all our bank balance), one can dfinitely help them keep in touch by making frequent, longer phone calls every weekend. And writing letters/emails.

As for developing an accent (or drawl as you say), it is quite possible and easy to pick up too, if you are surrounded by it all the time. And sometimes it is necessary if you want others to understand you. I do think people who TRY to talk with an accent are funny but if they develop it because of their interactions with the locals, it doesn't seem fake.

Sorry for the long rant but I have read so many posts bashing NRIs and their ways that I couldn't help but put my side of the story across.

GettingThereNow said...

Sorry to go all ballistic on you, Art. After thinking over it a bit, I think I overreacted in your comment space. I mean, I still stand by what I said, but in all honesty, your post is the least offensive one I have read on this subject.

Anonymous said...

I should state that germ phobia may not be particularly us/india related. when i was in india, i was as concerned as i am in usa. there are many transit systems in usa which is dirty to the core. bay area transit system and buses in san francisco are filthy. our indian buses are great in comparison. the image that overall us is clean and healthy is derived mainly from food quality that one sees from top. the govt has been good in controlling standards though they are thinking of getting rid of country or origin to permit more tainted food products from china (more trade). then quality will suffer. in general indian kids are more interested in dance/cultural activities here. maybe people need more outlets/activities. i never saw bharanatyam arengretrams back in india. now with our 4 yr old we have been to several dance programs because it is something that is common. we do not have tv and do not watch cable/dish. so more time for temple/cultural programs. maybe kids in usa are milder due to lack of more florishing friendships/school system which is mild due to political correctness, and everybody is afraid of everybody else due to laws/litigation etc. we are returning back to chennai in 3 years or so, and i am curious myself how we wil lreact after 15 or so yrs here.

artnavy said...

ALL- I weighed my words very carefully while writing this post- NO offense meant and none taken

i even wrote blame it on the small sample but that would be misleading it is based on disussions with the small sample which may be still more biased

namvor- completely agree on most of what u said0 interetsing angle

the germ thing though we are either clean thru and thru or not at all in india-LOL- no dichtomy in habits and practise

artnavy said...

gettign thernow-

I am saying EXACTLY THE SAME as what you said-

U NEED TO FIT IN wherever u r- u owe it to the place u r in- but just acquiring a drawl is not enough - itis indeed inevitable i.e. superficial symbols are insufficient

what I do not subscrieb to is NRIS tryign to be very fanatically Indian when they are away-then why go ???

and most of all let the children choose once they grow up which way they want to swing or even take a middle path

MAYBE u can take a suggestion - u must read the post once more and u will see

artnavy said...

amimu- that will be interesting-when u r back and can first hand compare how u r and how u will be

u see u become more indian when u go away from india

namvor said...

yes artnavy, in some ways you do become more indian when away. a bit like how i learnt to appreciate my mom's cooking so much more after i went off to hostels!

also i think you get trapped in a time-warp. in your mind india is what it was when you left it. this is especially so in the last 5-10 years because suddenly there is so much change in our cities. it is always a culture shock to me when i visit india even though i do it every single year for at least 6-8 weeks.

bringing up kids abroad presents a different kind of challenge. on one hand you are trying to stick to what you grew up with - it worked for you so you think it'll work for them too - and on the other hand you know they need to assimilate the local fundae. for them also i guess its tricky to have to straddle two cultures/mind sets.

but then, whoever said life was easy?!

artnavy said...

next time u visit India- we will look each other up okay?

ur sound like a soul sister

namvor said...

artnavy, hoping to relocate some time soon. in any case a trip to chennai is due. want to show the hubby and kids the iitm campus. would love to meet up whenever that happens.

GettingThereNow said...

Now when you say you were saying the same thing all along, I see a different meaning in the post. I did read it 2-3 times before posting my comment. It seemed to me that maybe the questions were posed by the NRIs as their way of justifying their ways of life and you had added your comments to them. I thought you were saying the opposite - being Americanised is OK, but they should not forget their roots.

Your statement about drums and mridangam? I took it the other way around - I thought you meant they should learn to play Indian instruments along with the American ones and not vice versa.

So, all I can say is - sorry I misinterpreted your post.

artnavy said...

I could have avoided eth quotation marks may be??

well here is one more - why do you think most ( not all) NRIs have more Indian friends that American ones in the US?? OR am I mistaken?

Rebus said...

Adapt, yes; but should we loose what we are! Ofcourse there are no right and wrong turns its just how things shape out for better or worse that matter!! Looking at d movie "Namesake" recently made me think further; and with a similar visit which went into my blog too; I guess, its a hard act. (Yep Namvar "you do become more indian when away" I agree)

Germphobia/Enforced love: Thats the idiosyncracies of the region, just like the people they fit if they can fit em!!!

More visits not practical, longer will cease as kids grow up, imbibe what you think ticks you, the rest they pick up there anyway!!

Sunita said...

My cousins who grew up in the US are as americans as it could get. Their argument was as you said, we have been bought up in this soil and we have pledged our lives for this country. India is just for vacation once in 3-4 years. I think its only fair to remain loyal to one country than remain confused and stick no where.

namvor said...

artnavy, i guess it is the basic human desire to stick to the familiar! dont you find it in different cities in india itself? folks from a community will typically stick to their own kind. this happens especially in the first generation of immigrants and dilutes in the subsequent generations.

GettingThereNow said...

Yes - I agree with Namvor. Also, there is an initial hesitation on both sides as they are not sure what they might be getting into.

When we first came here, we had ONLY Indian friends in our social circle. And through them, we met MORE Indian friends :)

I started making "American" friends first when my daughter went to preschool and more when I started working outside of home. I think it is just the hesitation that keeps one back. I do know some people who don't get friendly with Americans fearing their culture will "spoil" their kids... But not many.

namvor said...

yup gettingtherenow. some of my closest friends here are moms/dads of my daughter's classmates. they are the ones you meet everyday at drop-off/pick-up time, for playdates and birthday parties!

i think its a fantastic opportunity to get to know other types of people. its amazing how many of them are curious about india and how much respect they have for indian professionals.

artnavy said...

we all need to make sure we do not build stereotypes and help others do the same