Monday, July 02, 2012

Immigrant song part 2

The more you live in a multi-cultural environment, the more you begin to appreciate the different shades of the immigrant color. I start with the assumption that the social fabric of a place is say blue, and every immigrant brings along his or her own shade of yellow or red, and thus a country like say the US or Canada, much less the UK, becomes a psychedelic canvas of violets and greens and several other undefinable colors. Several months ago, I'd put up a post titled 'the immigrant song', which pointed out how close-fisted India and Indians are towards absorbing 'outsiders' into the socio-cultural mould. By the same metaphor as above, I'd perhaps say that India is a pristine shade of white, and any new color is rejected as tarnish. Never is the intention of the country as of now, to allow an incoming red to turn into a pink and co-exist. However, when a country itself is founded by immigrants, and the assimilation process has taken years, a lot of bloodshed and a very belligerent, yet vibrant history, tolerance is a vital virtue amongst the citizens. But what I find more fascinating, is the way immigrants make an attempt to belong, or not. And, given that I'm South Asian, and I understand what they come from and also what they are trying to get to, the 'study' is mind-blowing! 

So, Indians, particularly, fall under 3 main categories, in my opinion. One, the kind who is in an alien land, is forced to conform, while desperately wanting to get back home. Second, the kind who is in an alien land by choice and wants to cut off all semblance of association with his or her original homeland and desperately wants to conform. And the last is somewhere in between. 

When one sits to watch 'desi' channels on TV, the ads typically are targeted at the first group. And the larger the particular nationality or subset of a community, the more targeted the ads. So, in UK television, you have the typical Delhi Punjabi or Sindhi family, all sitting in a living room, while a lady, presumably the mom in the house with a thickly painted face makes 'Chaai' for everyone and the kids exclaim in a thick accent 'Ekdum Mast'. Or in say Canadian television, you have Punjabi ads with people speaking Punjabi and talking about Indian restaurants, or selling cars. Or you have Sri Lankan Tamil speaking people advertizing grocery stores, or accident insurance!!!! Even better are the ads for astrologers. All of these are for the community that yearns to go back home, they still speak Hindi, Punjabi and Sinhalese at home. They keep houses as messy as they used to be in India. The houses smell of strong Indian spices and the kids are caught in the dilemma of figuring out who they are - American, Indian, Canadian, Sri Lankan or What! 

The second group is more fascinating. I had the opportunity of working once with a certain AJ and some strongly Indian surname guy. In a chance conversation, I asked him, where or which part of India he or his family hailed from. And he gave me the blankest look of all time, trying to say, India? What India? I'd love to go there on vacation some day!! And I knew that AJ (whose parents fell in category 1, may have wanted to call Ajay), fell distinctly in category 2. These people abhor all things native. So in an Indian congregation, they wouldn't speak Hindi. Despite having lived years in India, they declare that they have never seen even a single Hindi movie, because they found them debasing!! They choose to celebrate Diwali with a beer, their kids grow to believe Diwali is a celebration of the Taj Mahal. They hate their non-white skin and try very very hard to put on an accent without realizing that the depth of the effort shows in the end product! 

The third and most fascinating kind are the ones in between. So, they don't want to be here, but also want to. They also want to belong, because they know they have no path of return, as they have a success story to tell someone, though maybe no one wants to know. They hate barbecues and detest the smoky flavor, but still force themselves to throw barbecue parties where they grill panneer and veggie patties. They curtail expenses, look for deals for cookies and foodgrains, cut coupons from flyers and browse the internet for the cheapest gas station before filling up! And yet, they throw lavish birthday parties, spend tons of money on kids' goody bags, shop for the most recent trends at the LVs and Coaches of the world. They never go on vacations, because they have to save up to show kids India, take screaming, grumpy kids to see grandparents, and the kids essentially choose to hate those vacations, praying for the early arrival of the time when they can be alone at home in summer! They perhaps never pray at home, but make sure they have Jagrans at the temple and pull along kids to show the world that they belong and yet believe in their Indian heritage. They always complain about how poor they are in terms of the salary they draw, to their friends in the foreign land, but when they go back to India, they have Pani Puri made with mineral water and absolutely have to have the AC on at all time. 

And I am sure, that the more I see, the more my categories might expand, or maybe deeper the descriptions can get. But for me, watching by the sidelines, is a tremendous amount of fun, and an endless source of learning. The question though is, what category do you fall in, or do you choose to chart your own?