Hamara Amreeka

I was 12 when someone asked me if India was the land of elephants and snakes and if it was safe to move around. The question wasn’t in those exact words but there were some of those words in it. I was absolutely stunned and was wondering how an adult could be so damn stupid. Was she living under a rock all these years if she did not know that we almost had all the modern conveniences in India, if not as brilliant as in the U.S.

The question came about when I was in the U.S. Saris and some of the Bollywood hungama might have woken up the world to India since then and as it has been a few years since I stepped out of my country, I hope people are aware of more about India than just snakes and elephants.

But this thought came back strongly to me when I was reading an article on a photosite.

I hadn’t expected anyone in America to know anything about Pakistan’s cultural life in the way that I knew about America’s cultural life. In the 1980s at traffic lights in Karachi, barefoot children, many of them refugees from Afghanistan, sold paper masks of Sylvester Stallone as Rambo. 

The article continues, mentioning other things. But this line struck a chord with me… My opinion of the country and its politics has changed over the years, as I’m sure much of the world’s has. The formative years, I suppose was when George Bush was in power and I was in college. College – those years when you believe you knew everything and knew nothing.

While I absolutely abhorred the act of terrorism of 9/11, I wondered why America was reacting so strongly to that one single incident when the rest of the world had been facing this for decades? Of course, it took me several years to come to that point of conclusion but I remember George Bush saying “you are either with us or them” and somehow, that just did not seem right.

America has always been seen as the land of plenty. Mothers aspired to get their daughters married to a guy in the US, despite the distance. People who lived there missed India almost like they missed a part of themselves but they were unwilling to sacrifice the ease of life there for the life here. For their children, they justified, even while moaning that their children were hardly Indian.

There was even a term coined – ABCD – American Born Confused Desi – for these kids. What would you expect from these kids who were born, bred and lived an American life but expected to follow customs that they had no clue about. An annual visit home for 15 days does not make up for the year’s worth of Americanisms.

But these are the people flourishing in the US now.

No other country has such a fund of men who speak the languages of the lands we must invade, who understand the ways and have listened to their parents sing the folk songs and have tasted the wine of the land on the palate of their memories.

… the article further read.

Is that not disturbing? And isn’t that arrogant. I do not expect second-generation Americans to have any more sympathy for their ethnic lands than I would for that country. The country you are born in is what you end up being loyal to. Those are emotional bonds that you cannot flee.

Yet, as Indians, we dreamed of the American dream. Universities, a job, a car, a house and an Indian wife in the American House.

But I often wondered why the Americans knew so little about us. If I were from some other country, you might not have heard of me. But India… you simply cannot miss us! You could probably hear us cheering for our cricket matches!

It wasn’t till much recently that I heard the first change about Indian perception. They believed we were IT geeks but at least that meant we evolved from the lands of snakes and elephants to computers. A massive leap, but a good one nevertheless.

Now, being India is the rage. Our food, our saris, our colourful dresses and festivals… everything ‘exotic’. Is India still lost among these pages of exoticism? Do those people abroad still consider us primitive?

I do know that the joke is on them if they choose to be so ignorant about the world around them. As Indian children, we were made to learn about every single nation. Tidbits at least. We learnt about the English, naturally. About the Chinese, Japanese, some African customs, Mexican. Might be a little stereotyped and outdated but we still like to learn about all these other people.

Are we given the same courtesy?

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