Expat

The first time I had ever stepped out of India was when I was visiting Scotland, about 3-4 years ago. During a break within that time, I visited my grandparents' place: something I always look forward to whenever I go home. One or two days into my visit there, I was going about my business as usual: getting pampered, eating tons of great food, hanging around my grandparents and sharing their stories of the day, etc. After one of those dull moments of conversation when everyone ponders to think what to say next, my grandma suddenly remarked to grandpa, "He hasn't changed one bit, right?"; and my grandpa smiled and looked at me and said, "No, he hasn't".

Up until that time, the idea that I might "change" because I was living in the UK or the US hadn't even occurred to me. And frankly, I thought, what change could one undergo within six months of leaving the country? Or does one form a bias after he/she has left the shores? About a year after I had quit my job, I was chatting with a friend in Mumbai. I had casually joked with him about the crowd on the local trains. He however became very defensive, telling me that a lot has changed since I left Mumbai and that I should see things for myself first and then make prejudiced guesses that are set in the time when I had last seen the place. Believe me, I was very very surprised.

Over time, however, as I have analyzed this, I think I know why and how. And unfortunately I too have contributed to this system of belief at some time, in my own ways. At the core of it is the fear that we'll lose someone close to us: either to the pleasures or sins of the unknown Western world. Because there have been countless other examples where someone near and dear became this spoilt American kid who can't drink water without it being from a bottle of Bisleri. A basic level of distrust sets in: more so since a lot of such 'phoren'-returns begin to comment derogatorily about things which they grew up around. Perhaps it is the new-found freedom of expression and free speech that makes the criticism from them take a certain barb. Or perhaps it is just the slight accent that creeps in over time into the way they speak, the sudden accumulation of phrases and expressions in their speech that are 'outlandish', or maybe simply the way they dress that make them stand out in a crowd.

Thankfully, we as a society are becoming more open to things, and the media with all its shortcomings is beginning to show us the world around through live broadcast. So a lot of the US knows that we are not a third-world country by any means, and a lot of India is getting to learn that the US is also not the pinnacle of human achievement either. And I think the whole purpose of globalization is finally to share information and show the reality by example rather than hearsay. There are a lot of myths that I often need to address: like are there beggars in the US? Or do the cars run by themselves or do people actually need to drive them? And it is the same the other way around as well. I was asked in the UK (by a lady who was getting drunk, I admit), if we had roads in India, if people traveled on elephants, etc. It is the media and global collaboration that must debunk any such notions and help us have proof of all we believe in.

As far as me changing as a person is concerned: yes I believe my thought process is evolving constantly, and yes the circumstances do dictate a lot of it. I think I switch accents whenever I begin talking to an American guy rather than an Indian guy, albeit unconsciously. People used to look at me differently even when I was home from my school at the Ramakrishna Mission: like I should be a model boy for everyone else around me. But at the core I think the seed has been whatever values I've learned at home, by observing my parents and grandparents at close quarters. The blossom of the tree might take a lot of different shapes and colors, but the basic instincts of right and wrong and moral judgement are tough to change. I know I would feel at home wherever I am loved and wherever I can connect, be it my hometown or be it my place of work in the US: I would never be an expat.

Comments

  1. Sigh. Even my accent automatically changes based on who am speaking to! Last year my friends made that statement of "you haven't changed a bit"...made me happy though, I must admit! Lets see what they say this year.

    But, as I was reading this post, I was thinking, its not just about east vs. west. But rather about being afraid of change, the unknown and that which is different. That's why, if someone from a small place in India were to move to Delhi/Mumbai, people would scrutinize them the same way we get scrutinized when we go home.

    Sky

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  2. Oh, btw, sona mera hai!!!

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  3. Loved reading it! I guess that change comes with every step we take in life. People who change slower than us comment that we have "changed a lot" while we say the same about someone who changes faster than us :) Nice post!

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  4. No matter what the world puts over us,its what we have inside is what never changes and that makes all the difference ...:)....one of those really nice posts... :)

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  5. Sky, yeah that statement makes most of us happy - people who have been living out. And you bring up an important point which I mentioned only in passing: its not just east vs west: anyone who leaves home turf (even for the next village) for a long while will be scrutinized.

    And of course sona aap ka hai ji: if you set up email alerts you will get to know within minutes! :)

    Alpine Path, :) thank you. And yes... the rate of change... that also makes a difference. Heh: see we are already talking calculus differentials.

    Anonymous, wow... your first ever comment! But to quote from Batman Begins, "But it's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you". :)

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  6. I don't care how people dress or what accents they prefer, but at the core, if they retain the cultural values that they are rooted in, I respect them.

    After all, if you don't respect your own roots, then who else will? I firmly believe that no matter how much you travel or where you live, it is within you and you alone to retain your cultural roots. But children of expats have no choice in this matter and I feel for their loss of cultural roots. This is why I am opposed to Indians settling permanently abroad and raising their kids with wholly Western norms and without an inkling of their cultural and social roots. They lose out entirely on their Indianness from the outset which is a sad tragedy. Several of my own nephews and nieces are totally alien to me today because of this.

    All this talk about being a "global citizen" is meaningless to me. Respecting your culture, parents, family and social setting is innately Indian and nothing should take that out of you involuntarily. Unfortunately this "world view" and globalisation has become an excuse for these people to throw away their Indianness. I am also not blind to the fact that many people born and brought up in India lack cultural values from the outset, so it's not so clear cut.

    My point is that blaming the external environment is weakness. It's easy to point to people and blame them for changing, but it's more difficult to analyze if this change is superficial or deep-rooted.

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  7. "...at the core I think the seed has been whatever values I've learned at home, by observing my parents and grandparents at close quarters. The blossom of the tree might take a lot of different shapes and colors, but the basic instincts of right and wrong and moral judgement are tough to change."

    I couldn't agree more with this. You are spot on with this analysis...the core never changes and thats why even after living in West for years, people say 'You haven't changed'

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  8. I have been in the US just over a year but I sense a change in me. A lot of it has to do with the circumstances. I am guilty of the change in accent when talking to an American syndrome too :P. But on the other hand a friend I made in the US remarked to me, your Hindi becomes so Mumbaiya when you talk to all your "Bombaywalas" otherwise you speak decent hindi.

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  9. Hari, walking through a sandalwood forest and then denying the fact that you smell of sandal doesn't make sense now, does it? You might be a mango tree at heart, but at least for an hour afterward, the smell shall linger on with you: whether you like it or not.

    And why does Indian-ness need to be defined based on your accent or whether you can rattle off shlokas? Parents who raise their kids abroad make a conscious decision: their children will not be as 100% "Indian" in their mentality or outlook. But that's acceptable. Everything non-Indian isn't bad and so it is actually good that children of Indian origin are also being a part of the new generation of, as you say, "global citizens". If a white American kid (of Polish descent) comes to stay with you then you would not find his antics annoying or intolerable, but if their skin is brown you are immediately unhappy that "these people .. throw away their Indianness". Whats wrong with that? Who swore every Indian into a blood oath that their children must grow up without learning any other culture but our own? One must adapt, Hari - if you want to grow up in a different country, you must learn to live like the locals do. Survival of the fittest.

    And you miss the point of the post - it isn't a blame! It is the values that your parents drill into you that allow you to assimilate the good from everything around you: that forms your judgement! And then you learn tenacity from the Chinese neighbor, stop yourself from learning what coke tastes like from the ___ kid in the neighborhood.

    Madhu, :) thank you, and welcome onboard! Like I answered "anonymous" above, it is your choices and actions that define who you are, and this judgement of right and wrong is built from the values within.

    Mish, welcome onboard! :) Ah yes talk to me about accents in Hindi. I speak "mai aa raha hai" with my Mumbai friends, "cup utha ke rakh diyo" with my UP friends, "okre keh delkei" with my Bihari friends or whenever I'm visiting there. And the fun part is, I slip into each of these accents very naturally without being aware myself! :)

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  10. Sudipta, we'll agree to disagree.

    My point is that people who lose their roots end up without values of any kind and it's near impossible to assimilate those basics from a foriegn or alien culture. Unless you are an American descended from a family of Americans for generations, you will NOT think like a true American.


    It's my point that most Indians who throw away their Indianness do not embrace all the finer aspects of Western culture, but merely the external aspects.

    My point is also that if you give up that base cultural values that your original upbringing gives you, you lose it forever. Nothing else in life can replace that.

    It's my theory. We can agree to disagree as usual.

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  11. Sudipta, First time on your blog. Loved this post and totally agree with your views esp. to Hari's comment above.

    "It is the values that your parents drill into you that allow you to assimilate the good from everything around you: that forms your judgement!"

    Perfect!

    Proud of being Indian is one thing but the pride shouldn't be ridiculing your host country. Every place has something nice to offer. Why not accept the good? Why to always fear that by accepting something new we are automatically forgetting "Indianness".

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  12. sometimes change is good and it makes people happy... or let's call it evolvement. sometimes, change claims a little more and it starts hurting some people.
    i guess, finally it's what keeps us happy, what rocks our boat.
    anumita

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  13. Hari, as usual :) Sorry about the delayed reply. And if it helps, my mother is a firm believer in whatever you comment and write here, and rather distrusts my way of thinking :) Needless to say, I disagree with her a lot as well.

    Solilo, welcome onboard, and tons of thanks! :) And very well summarized, I must add.

    Anumita, hey long time no see! Yep... whatever rocks your boat :)

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