Atreya, our 22 month old son was born in Mountain View, California. Far away from India, from close friends and family, we came to a strange city when I was 7 months pregnant for my husband’s work assignment. Hence, our little American was born to solidly Indian parents!
My husband Prem and I have been away from India for last 7 years but I think with each passing day, we feel our bonds to our country are being strengthened. The things about which we were careless about when we were younger suddenly seem to have acquired a new level of importance. It is a mix of foolish sentimentality (immense gratitude for what the country gave us) and the distance from having spent time there (blurring any past negative association). Our love and concern for India thankfully is not limited to watching Bollywood movies or television soaps, it is constant engagement with the diaspora through dialogue, creating awareness around issues close to our hearts and volunteering for charities working at the grass root level. It is far from satisfactory but I am glad it goes beyond mere lip service.
From the moment Atreya was born, we made sure to speak to him only in Hindi at home, while he learns English and Mandarin at his daycare. His daily evening stories at home almost always have at least a reference to India. A few months back, when he was just learning to talk, he screamed for more food. Instead of saying “more food!”, he yelled “more chahiye”! At that moment, I thought to myself, “am I doing the right thing by teaching him a language which he is unlikely to use in his daily intercourse outside home and about a country to which his ties will not be perhaps as strong as ours. Am I raising him to be one of those ‘ABCDs’?”
I cannot feign the same enthusiasm for George Washington as I have for Nehru, ‘star spangled banner’ will never make me shiver with patriotism but a ‘jana gana man’ does bring me at times on the brink of tears, even though I have high regard for both crusaders. When it comes to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, at a personal level my bond with the former is deeply emotional and I can relate much more to his life. My heartbeat starts to race, face turns red, I lose much of my composure when I debate BJP over Congress but I can still dispassionately talk about why it should be Bernie over Hillary. Hindi, my native tongue flows naturally whereas I look for words and have to pre-phrase my sentences in English. I am quite ignorant of American shows, still cannot catch much of the heavily accented English in movies, would any day hum an old Hindi number over Western music which I just do not understand! My day is incomplete without savoring at least one Indian meal- daal chawal or roti subzi is a must-, even two or three are welcome but I need at least one to survive! And yes I do that famous Indian head nod, so basically, I am as Indian to the core in tastes and habits. Even though both my husband and I have a broad and liberal outlook which helps us willingly appreciate and imbibe the good in both without losing ourselves completely to either.
With Atreya, a member of a new generation, our future, we reckoned that we consciously need to make him a patriotic American at the same time helping him take and give his best to India, after all a sturdy foundation will help stand tall and stay grounded. India is our strength and it needs to be his too. He has the advantage of knowing two countries, conversing in two languages, and knowing the heroes, heroines, histories, politics, art, music, discoveries and economics of both. Many people are not as blessed as he is, they struggle to travel and know more of the world and here he is born with the inherent advantage of knowing fully well at least two! And what two countries to belong to! India and America are world’s largest and oldest democracies. The similarities between the two are striking, from Dandi March to Boston Tea Party, to peaceful, largely non-violent movements against the oppressors to one being the land of immigrants and the other the melting pot of diversity.
To my dismay, I see that a lot of Indian families here have shunned their ties with India, they are not aware and are mostly callous about happenings in the country, as if it is a place very remote and far away, its problems too grave to have any claim on their time and its association almost a disgrace which needs to be gotten rid of. The bitter irony is that they are mostly those who have only left the country a few years back, their families and relatives are still living there, most have degrees from Indian universities which made them capable of getting decent jobs abroad. The result is that their children grow up completely unaware and at times disdainful of their native land. Many rejoice in the fact that connection has been maintained by a weekly visit to the temple, a Bollywood song or annual Diwali parties often forgetting that a country which sports secularism not only in its constitution but also in its spirit. A temple visit does not fix that.
The connect of the diaspora should not just be at a flimsy, superficial level but there should be a sense of responsibility, of belongingness, if not pride then at least acknowledgment and acceptance.
Atreya is living in a world that is increasingly shrinking. Today when girls are kidnapped in faraway Nigeria, the first lady of U.S. starts a campaign to bring them back, when a Malala was shot in Pakistan, she found refuge in Birmingham, U.K.
There are so many questions that plague our world today from terrorism to climate change to the plight and future of refugees. The world needs global solutions and Atreya’s horizons should expand beyond just America and India. He needs to be a citizen of the world, not only to empathize with global issues but also at a practical level to earn his bread.
As much as Atreya should feel deeply obliged towards America, it should never come at the expense of mortification and humiliation of any other land. It is significant for him to understand that there is a vast world beyond the riches and comforts of America. He should have the bandwidth to criticize constructively the corruption and red tapism in India to aggressive, war mongering foreign policy of America; he should be able to weigh with clarity the advantages and disadvantages of deregulation of the American economy versus the socialist bend of the Indian economy; to be able to cheer as loudly during a cricket match as he should during a baseball game; to be able to read and enjoy John Steinbeck and Harper Lee as much as stories of Tagore and RK Narayan; to play with alacrity both the guitar and the tabla.
Yes, you can call us idealistic fools who live in hope and maybe we will die in despair but even if we are dreaming the impossible and are not able to attain all that we have set out to do as parents, our ambitions are not far-fetched in my view! You will realize this as soon as you read news feed on your smart phone whose components are made in China or Taiwan or hear a multinational’s CEO’s speech on inclusiveness or even as you browse through this blog by logging into your Facebook, Google or Twitter accounts or wearing a GAP or H & M T-shirt made in sweat shops of Bangladesh. We are coming closer whether we like it or not. It is our foremost duty that the next generation turns out better and wiser. It was my misfortune that I never got exposure for a long time to many wondrous countries and people but the opportunities for Atreya and his creed are limitless. Hope instead of an American born confused desi, he turns out to be a conscientious ‘desi’, with sensitivity his heart and prudence in his head.
Hence my two cents on this is that I do not know what your situation and struggles in life are but it is imperative that you share some part of you, your story, with your child every day as it will help him or her understand and even appreciate you better and while doing it, you will realize that the Indian and India in you will effortlessly and unwittingly pop out!