Tale of Two Relocations – Part 2 (Nation of Outsiders)
“However, it is heartening to see that the America born second generation of Indians have picked up the human rights values from their fellow Americans. You sense the difference in the attitudes of two generations most prominently when you come across children who disapprove of their parents who, in their private conversations make disparaging remarks about the other minorities.”
So, welcome to the second installment. (For मराठी version, click here. )
When I set out for America, the intent was clear and simple. Great work, even better compensation and an opportunity to live in the most advanced country of the world! However, the idea of permanently staying in the USA never crossed my mind. Those who chose to settle in the USA were traitors in my eyes then. It used to hurt me no end that Dr. Har Gobind Khorana and Subramaniam Chandrasekhar, both Nobel laureates, held American passports. Now, however, I do not have that feeling at all. The passport we hold, the country we reside in, are mere details. What matters is our values, which are independent of such details. How our actions reflect our values is the only thing one should care about.
When I set out for the USA, I firmly believed that my final destination would have to be my motherland. When I first landed in the USA, I believed that I would always remain an outsider there. Very soon I was struck with the revelation that the USA itself was a nation of outsiders! I remember having read somewhere that President Roosevelt once began his address with the words – “My fellow immigrants”. The emotional chaos within me, about being an alien, vanished within just a few years. It was not anymore about “when to go back” – but it was about “whether it made any sense to go back”! How far I had moved from my earlier state of mind! Ironically, there was a parallel thought – or rather conviction – that I needed to go back. However – the urge of going back was born of my own needs, and not because it was expected of me as a loyal son of India! There were multiple reasons involved. This may sound full of contradictions – but that is not the case. My thoughts were getting clearer and more transparent than before. I was convinced that the rationale behind my actions was more important than the actions themselves.
Soon after I started living in America came the realization that this country is not as “modern” as it is touted to be. In fact, it has been very slow, in many ways, compared to the “developing” nations. Here are some examples. Extreme self-indulgence and a craze for ‘instant gratification’ are the signs of spiritual destitution. USA was happily doing commerce with the South Africa when countries like India had snapped all the ties with the nation under apartheid. As late as in 1955 a fifteen year black girl had to fight the draconian Jim Crow Laws that gave blacks separate but equal (!) status. And the women’s suffrage became a reality only in 1920.
On the personal front, the myth of “recycling” was an eye opener for me. On my very first morning in America, I had this thick newspaper wad at my doorstep. In India, it is a common practice to sell the old newspapers by weight to folks who recycle the paper in many creative ways., “Wow, these newspapers are going to fetch me a good income!” – that’s how I felt. But no, that was not to be! In keeping with the rules here, I was supposed to throw the newspaper in the recycling bin marked for newspapers – that’s it! True, it does get recycled in the USA – but that recycling is no patch on the creative reuse of newspapers in India – like packing material at grocery stores. Now sadly, Indians too are giving up on this noble practice.
American people may flaunt their materialistic instinct and USA as a nation may behave like a feudal lord on the international stage – but at a personal level, my life in America was very fulfilling. I had a comfortable middle class life in India – but it was still plagued by an all-pervading sense of insecurity. America gave me a deep sense of security and job-satisfaction.
American society strengthened my belief in secularism and liberal values. However, it must be put on record that I have also seen a radically opposite impact on some of my Indian friends here! A friend of mine rebuked noted director Amol Palekar for his “anti-family” values and refused to take up screening of his film Anahat in the USA! Also, I often sensed growing influence of religion and orthodox Hinduism amongst people of Indian origin in the USA. I do not see any reason to complain about that though. It is also not surprising that the capitalist ambiance often exacerbates the dislike of the communism and socialism harbored by some Indians in the USA. But it is painful to watch how some people turn extremely insensitive under the power of orthodoxy.
However, it is heartening to see that the America born second generation of Indians have picked up the human rights values from their fellow Americans. You sense the difference in the attitudes of two generations most prominently when you come across children who disapprove of their parents who, in their private conversations make disparaging remarks about the other minorities.