Indians Abroad

I had planned to write this cutesy post about pen pals… but then I came across this blog about Indians returning to India – okay, to be fair, I read only One post on it about why India is a better place to rear kids – and it just zapped me back to the time I spent in the US.

Indians have this mega obsession about culture. It is prevalent in other Asian communities as well but I’m going to talk about my own.

The obsession goes into hyper drive when we live abroad. Perhaps it is the mentality of years of having to defend ourselves against invaders but we see anything new as a threat. So, even if we do live in a different culture we hold onto “Indian-ness” with an unmatched paranoia.

We obsess about maintaining our culture – which broken down into different things go something like this:
1. Fashion – no short skirts, shorts or anything short.  Wear jeans, because well, you get stared at if a 13 year old is wearing a salwar. Not to mention the price of a salwar there, bullying and all that. Plus this little desire to say that you are “open-minded”
2. Religion – The kids need to learn hymns, know all the important festivals, the exact way of performing a ritual, even if the parents fail to tell the kids the significance of the festival
3. Food – No beef. No meat in some cases.  Constant complaints about how the kids hog on burgers and other junk food (that may be a valid point, actually)
4. Music – The kids need to learn shastriya sangeet, and perform at the Indian meetings. Rock is frowned upon and heavy metal is definitely a no no
5. Other cultural activities like dating, clubbing, dancing etc – Absolutely NO! *ayyo ayyo* *praying to all gods for forgiveness*

I am not sure how much the situation has changed in the US right now but when I was there more than 10 years ago, I found it beyond ridiculous. I was barely a teenager… and at Indian parties when i’d be hobnobbing with the NRI kids, I’d be shocked by their statements. They seemed to live in an India which had passed away before my parents were born.

These were well-educated, city-bred people who had moved abroad. I understood the need to let their children know about our culture but this was sheer madness.

And it was ironic that they told their kids to look up to me – wearing jeans, short, skirts, sleeveless tops, a brat who couldn’t even mutter a hymn (but had really decent knowledge about the stories behind each festival) and who ate what she pleased and liked rock music.

Then Australia happened. Though I didn’t run into many Indian families with kids there, the other Indians met I were notoriously… a clan. It took some of them several years to mingle with the locals and some still do not beyond the basic necessities. “We do not have anything in common,” they say.

The Australians remain goris and goras to them, an object of fascination and mockery. Some simply lacked the confidence to talk to the locals. Some took it overboard, refusing to talk to Indians.

Despite all of that, I figured somewhere things had changed. But this post made me wonder if they have or ever will. Some of the concerns the parents have voiced there are valid concerns. But they are concerns in India as well. Most major cities in the world are homogenous, thanks to globalization, Dominos and Walmart. Teenagers in India are as badly off as their western pals. Cellphones, internet, computers and other fancy gadgets, top brands and an access to a lot of money just made things exactly the way it is in the US.

Are they not aware of the situation in India?

3 thoughts on “Indians Abroad

  1. Hey Leia,

    Your observations are pretty much accurate. Having often wondered about the reasons for this behavior, I believe that once you’re distanced from your country of origin (in this case, India), you’re in a time warp – frozen in the period you left your motherland. Hence, for previous generations who immigrated say e.g. to East Africa, their kids hold values of 18th century India; their grand-kids are still expected to fall in line (even after moving to the western hemisphere). Likewise, kids of Indian immigrants (from ’70s-’80s) to the US, UK are all ‘taught’ to hold those age-old traditions, uphold ‘culture & values’; learn ‘shaastriya sangeet’; dress up in ethnic attire reminiscent of Hindi films from the ’60s-’70s. Now, today, we have better communication and media to allow us glimpses of your home country. But even until ten years ago, without the present-day ubiquitous internet and media reach, you could ‘view’ India only through the movie director and cameraman’s lens. Perhaps the movie Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai allowed Indian kids in the US (along with their parents) to see that Indians in India have also morphed culturally. You’re right, I too experienced this at one point in UK… had never attended as many ‘bhajan’ sessions in India, as I did during a brief visit there! Also, of course, as we all know, despite freedom from the Raj over 60 years ago, the shackles in the Indian psyche have not all broken; freedom in the true sense may take a while to permeate in the Indian mind, no matter where they live geographically – we’re beginning to see it to some extent now, and may be fully over another generation.
    Thanks. It’s good to hear another voice expressing similar sentiments. 🙂


    1. I guess it is something to do with the fact that a place remains to you the way it was when you left it. In your mind, it is a picture frozen till you return to it and pick it up and no matter how many movies you watch or stories you hear, it doesn’t change that picture much…
      And most people abroad cling on to their memories too… particularly a generation before us who didn’t think that any place was only a flight away…


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