San Francisco. What is it to be an Indian today? What is meant by Indian-ness ? What is it to be an Indian abroad - in the United States, for instance ? How much of yourself do you give to your American identity – and how much space do you preserve for your Indian-ness ? These are the questions that Indian expatriates should ask themselves today. For we see many of the children of Indians who settled in the US twenty or thirty years ago, merge themselves totally in the American way of life, speak with an American accent, eat Mac Donald, think American… and in the process forget all about their wonderful Indian culture…
What is it in the American way of life, which fascinates so much Indians ? The fast life ? Right: fast is exciting; but Americans live so fast, eating their breakfast in their cars on the way to work, gulping down these huge amounts of meat and French fries at lunch or dinner, always on the move, that not only they often grow immensely fat, but also catch ulcers and get heart attacks by the time they reach sixty five. What else dazzles Indians in the American way of life ? The lights? True, New York is a fascinating city, with its illuminated skyscrapers, its million of pulsating lights, its giant electronic billboards, its fancy bars, that one feels a kind of throbbing vitality entering oneself as one walks the streets by night. But what a waste of energy, when the world is fast losing its sources of energies; and is isn’t this a kind of artificial vitality, that fades away when one wakes-up in the morning, with a hangover and one has to face the reality of life ? What else ? America’s Nature ? No doubt, the United States boasts some wonderful pieces of nature and Americans have shown us what it means to plant trees and live in a green environment: even Washington is densely wooded. But Nature can also be an illusion here: a highway is never very far from the forest, with its thousands of cars pouring out millions of cubic feet of carbon dioxide, which annihilates natures’ bounty, as the Los Angeles smog amply demonstrates. Besides, America is an unending suburban concrete jungle, with its boring repetition of mega stores, parking lots, and KFC’s. And when you have seen a city, you have seen them all. What else ? The “quality” of American life: barbecue parties, beaches, tattoos, fun and frolic? Yes, except that one out of three American couples divorce within three years, one out of four Americans consults a psychiatrist for depression, bulimia, schizophrenia or plain boredom, and American children regularly indulge in shooting other children, just because they are exposed to so much violence…
Is this the legacy you want to bequeath to your children, O Indian brothers and sisters, who are longing so much for the American way of life ? For this great brain drain, this bleeding of India’s heart and lungs, which has been going for so long, does not affect only the ordinary middle and upper class “secular” Indian, but also many good Hindus, who put their children in the best US universities and accept the fact that these children will settle in the American way of life and will probably never go back to India. True, their kids get heftier pay checks in the US , better facilities, they escape the Indian bureaucracy, red tape, corruption, slowness… But what are they going to bequeath to their own children in the long run: insecurity, violence, divorce, depression and above all their offspring, unknowingly, will be afflicted by a loss of identity : they will not know, nor feel anymore in themselves, as their grandparents did, this natural space of Indian-ness, which automatically confers certain qualities. What is that Indian-ness ?
Firstly and foremost: “I accept you; I accept that you may be White or Black, Red or Yellow, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim”. Not only that, “but I am even ready to go and worship in a church or a mosque, besides my temple.” “I accept that my Gods are avatars, incarnations of the Divine, but so is Jesus Christ, and also Buddha and even Mohamed”. This an extraordinary statement and a marvellous instrument towards world peace, at a time when the two great monotheist religions of the world, Islam and Christianity still say: “there is only one true God in the world – mine- and if you worship any other god, you are an Infidel and a Pagan and it is my right to convert you by any means, or even to kill you”. The 11th September 2001 attacks are nothing but a result of that dangerous theorem. As a result, Indians adapt easily wherever they go, particularly in the West, as they are very open to western culture. Of course, Indians also go to the other extreme: “not only I accept you, but I am going to become exactly like you – no even Whiter than the White: I am going to denigrate my own culture, spit on my religion, belittle my countrymen”. This is why you come across so often in the US in negative articles on India written by Indians – nay by Hindus. The Gujurat massacres were actually a great opportunity for these Hindu haters, such as Pankaj Mishra, to come out full blast and prove to the world that India is a land of Hindu fundamentalists where nobody is safe, particularly the Muslims “who are regularly victims of pogroms”. P.Mishra conveniently forgot to mention that India is an extraordinary country of freedom, where all persecuted religious minorities in the world have found refuge over the centuries, whether the Jews, the Parsis, the Syrian Christians, or today the Tibetans.
What else ? “I have inherited from my ancestors the tools to become a better man, whatever my religion, ethnicity and profession: a better Christian, a better Hindu, a better Muslim, carpenter, or CEO, IT engineer, or sailor”. What are these tools ? Hata-yoga, India’s gift to the world, which has been copied and imitated everywhere (although Time magazine did a story on yoga without mentioning the name “India” once). What else ? Meditation, this extraordinary technique of coming back to one’s Self, of settling the mind and the body, which is today practiced by millions around the world – another bequest of India to humanity. Pranayama, the science of respiration, perfected by Indians for three millenniums. “Does the breath have any religion”, asks Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living movement, which has spread today in 140 countries ?
What first generations Indians in the States should ask themselves today is “How can I repay my debt to India” ? After all not only they got a nearly free education in India which was good enough for them to obtain well paid jobs in the US, but did they not also inherit that certain Indian-ness, which has been a great help to adapt to the American way of life? As for second, or third, or even fourth generations Indian Americans, what they should tell themselves is “”what can I do for my country” ? “In what way can I contribute to this great nation which is India, which is so maligned and sidelined in the United States” ? And the first thing they can do is to counteract the highly unfair and biased press coverage which India gets in America by writing to editors, or challenging the shameful coverage of CNN (which depicts Mr Vajpayee as an old feeble man, but gives hours of live retransmission of the recent Pope’s visit to Canada, when the man, whatever his extraordinary will power, is a walking mummy compared to Mr Vajpayee), or canvassing their elected representatives.
Finally, Because of the probable continuing confrontation between Islam and the United States (Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan etc), even though Mr Bush thinks that the problem is over once he kills the elusive Bin Laden, Hindus in the US are going to come more and more under threat. It will not matter that they speak with a perfect Yankee accent and think of themselves as one hundred percent Americans – they will be seen in the streets as “coloured” Asians and could be mistaken as Afghanis or Saudis and targeted like the unfortunate Sikh after 11th September. The only solution for them would be that they start regrouping themselves under an “Hindu American” banner. Not only it will rekindle in them an ancient beautiful and powerful identity, but also grant them a protection, as it will quickly become known that Hindus in the US are upwardly mobile, western friendly and themselves a target of Muslim fundamentalism. How will it be done? By the force of circumstances, probably, because left to themselves Hindus are too passive and selfish to do anything. Committed Hindus groups should also apply pressure on them, as the LTTE does on expatriate Tamils for funds and lobby.