Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Settled Here

It’s amazing how people hold on to their land, their little 60 by 40 site, and pass it on from one generation to another as faithfully and certainly as they pass on their blood, but give up one whole country and all its legacy and all its heritage and not shed a single drop of tear.

This is what amazes me most at present, as I meet one Indian after another in America who has ‘settled down’ or is looking forward to settling down here.

Starting from their children, all of their future generations will be forever removed from India, its language, its idiom, its culture, its history and its customs. It’s a goodbye once for all.
I have goose bumps even as I think about it.

As I look out of the window of my 19th floor room in Sheraton, I see the World Trade Centre. I am thrilled to know I am looking at the tallest building in the United States. To its far right, I locate the tiny shadowy Statue of Liberty and feel thrilled again to know I am the only one who can actually locate it. I go to the 21st floor club lounge to look at the Manhattan skyline and one of the days I am delighted to see Empire State building in blue lighting. I commute in the subway like a New Yorker and feel proud when I help an American family get on the right train through a confusion of maps and signboards in the underground subway station.
I am not really missing India.
Every weekend I tour Manhattan, I discover something new. I am enjoying it here.
But only because I know I am going to be back in India in a few weeks.

If I were told one morning, that I would never go back, never return to India again, I would be standing at my 19th floor window, weeping my heart out, at my great loss and a greater lacuna that was to come.


Ravi 拉维 said...

Interesting point you made and passing the 60*40 land for generations.. and that's true.. and that's like Indian thing where we wanted to be secured always.. and hanging on to that piece of India will make them happy or rather secure :). I see many of my friends who have huge mansions in US and settled more than 10 yeas... now.. with grown up Kids .. and still invest in India in the form of Land or House or flat... what ever... and they feel secured that.. yes they have a home in their home land :).
Anyways again there is nothing right or nothing wrong... is what I feel, my parents moved from their small village to a city and settled there for a life time now.. as I did move from my Home city to another city where its not my mother tongue and all it takes for me to go back.. and see is my home which my Dad's has.. and if that was not there.. where will I go.. and similarly my Dad's home in his village which is still holding on with all his brothers... and stay there..when he goes there.. if its not there.. then where will he go...??

Village > Town > City > > State and now a days Out Of Country.. and we are talking about people who are < 10% them who are settled outside.. and rest of the 90% are trying to relocate within the country for what ever reasons....

okie... am not making any point .. have fun where ever you are... what ever you do.. as long as you feel what you are doing is right...

Anonymous said...

Dear Sowmya,

I hope you enjoy your stay in Manhattan. I have head many such statements from Indians from India when they visit the US. It is too bad that most of these visitors do not have a change to meet the real ABCDs - the American Born Cultured Desis. I am one of these individuals and I thank my parents for instilling in me the value for and knowledge of my heritage. Whether it is chanting the Vishnu Sahasranama every Sunday, celebrating Gokulaashtami with cousins, or catching the latest Bollywood film on opening day in the US, we do justice to our heritage, while being an American. Our parents carefully preserved the seed of the India they knew of and planted it in the soil of their new home. They lovingly tended the sapling of this culture that has now taken firm root in their new home as well as their children. The love of India my parents instilled in me led me to be a South Asian Studies Major in College and motivates me to visit India often now that I pay the way. So while you are in NYC, take advantage of your location and visit the Ganesha Flushing Temple, take in Jackson Heights, and drop in to Pongal or Sharavanabhavan on 27th and Lexington. Look out for those who have grown up here with the same love and respect you have for your country as from my experience, many of us are more 'Indian' and more knowledgeable about Indian culture than our contemporary relatives who grew up in India. This is thanks to our parents and their undying love for their homeland. Happy Gokulaashtami.

Sowmya said...

Dear Anonymous,

Welcome to the blog and thanks for your time.

It’s nice to know your family has remained close to their culture even while living so far away from India.

I have heard people saying similar things as you have, in the defense of leaving India and settling in the west. That they learn Bharatnatyam, Mridangam, Flute, celebrate festivals, chant Vishnusahasranamam etc…

There is something most people miss.
Things like Bharatanatyam, temple visiting, chanting of hymns etc., are at the periphery of our culture; they are a manifestation of the spirit of our culture, they are outward forms of what is at the core. They re not the core themselves but the periphery.

What is at the core, it’s very difficult to define; but whatever it is, it can be fully understood, appreciated, absorbed, only by living in India.
I have tried at times to comprehend, to define the core of it. And I may be right to an extent.
At the core is its language, very importantly, the idiom of the language. At the core is community living, non materialism, collectivism (or non – individualism - which makes community living possible), delegation of expansionism and acquisitiveness to a lower position, advocacy of the pursuit of ‘sattva’ (as opposed to ‘Tamas’ and ‘Rajas’)…these and such, I believe are unique to the spirit of India and rest at its core.

Whether it is possible to understand such a spirit, leave alone put into practice, while living in a country defined by individualism, an exaggerated awareness of personal time and personal space, capitalistic expansionism and acquisitiveness and material abundance and reckless consumption – I really doubt.

I am sure more than half of the Indians living in India today are not aligned with it’s true spirit but many others are; and regardless of whether you actually practice the ‘Indian living’ or not, you have the opportunity/the possibility to do so if you are living in India; the social set up, the means and instruments and an atmosphere conducive to it already being available, and this is not true if you are living elsewhere.

Keep visiting... :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Sowmya,

I feel compelled to reply to your comments again as it appears you have a very one sided view of America. Like you said, in order to know a culture, you have to live in it. I have spent many months living in India and have grown up in the US. It is unfortunate that you have only described American culture basically as self-indulgent. While this may be what Hollywood and the media portray to a certain extent, it is certainly not the core culture of the US. The US is based on freedom. Freedom to choose who you are and what you do. It is also based on the Christian principles of loving your fellow man and serving others. This spirit of neighborliness and community service thrives in middle America and is how I grew up. I was free to learn the concepts of Sanathana Dharma and keep to Sattvic qualities such as vegetarianism, speaking good words, and engaging in regular spiritual pursuits. I was also free to pursue various courses and speak and think freely of my heritage in my schooling to discover truths that I wanted to discover. The doctor, engineer, IT mold was non-existent.

Everywhere has its pluses and minuses. India has a long history of maintaining and passing on spiritual knowledge and many Americans have journeyed to her soil to find answers to their 'purpose of life' questions. America has the tradition of being a confident individual ready to serve the community or country irrespective of caste or creed. Community service and having proper civic sense are lessons well taught in the US.

Both nations and cultures have issues with prejudice among peoples. But both have many positive similarities that have helped make the two the world's most dynamic democracies.

Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas are everywhere and I feel the US and India have their fair share of both. But until one has lived as an American, interacted with locals in their culture for a period of time - not just in the work place or as a tourist, I don't feel one can have the full appreciation of the US.

So please don't take what you see at face value. Dig deeper. The US too is a great nation, founded and shaped by great men and women like Benjamin Franklin, Susan B Anthony, and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a young country enriched by the vast traditions that it has welcomed, included those from India. No other place provides one the tools and environment to be a success in whatever one puts their mind too. That's why people came and still come to the US.

India too has many notable figures, whose lives should be studied for guidance, These include religious pillars such as the various Avatars of the Lord, venerable saints, such as Kabir and Sri Ramanuja, and dignified leaders, such as the forefathers of her modern national identity. Indian culture is the longest surviving culture in world and probably one of the most respected.

Let's see the oneness between the US and India and learn the best from both cultures. Living in America, does not mean you automatically abandon or abhor values held sacred by those of India's 'core culture' or any other land for that matter. I know many Americans who have never been to India who have imbibed her core tenants.

I have been very fortunate to have been raised with the best of both the US and India and am very thankful for this. Maybe you too will one day get to see the common cultural threads that make the US and India sisters.

Claustrophobe said...

Dear Soumya,

I spent close to a year working in Hong Kong and found it be a very liberal place. Just like you I was enjoying my stay there, discovering something new, not missing India - to such an extent that at one point even my parents felt I would not come back. But I was enjoying only because, as you have rightly said, I knew I will be back in India soon.

What I have written below herewith is not with the intention to hurt anyone’s feelings; it is more with the ardent desire to think rationally and have a clearer mindset.

Presuming what ‘Anonymous’ has written is a representative of the expression of the so-called ABCD’s in the US, I wonder if doing justice to our heritage is about catching latest Bollywood films on opening days, be it in the US or in India. Bollywood is definitely not a part of India’s ‘heritage’. And talking of the Vishnusahasranama, can any one of these chanters tell me the ‘meaning’ of even 20 odd names out of the 1000 names of Vishnu? How many of them actually know Sanskrit so as to tell the original meaning and not give a second-hand bookish reply? Or is it just rote learning which most people in India are used to do when it comes to chanting? If we only boast about the Indian tradition as being passed from father to son without either of them fully understanding the meaning or significance of what they are doing then it is just like a one-eyed blind guiding a person blind by both eyes. Or if we talk of celebrating Indian festivals, how many of the ABCD’S have thought as to why Diwali is celebrated on a new moon day? Or for that matter Holi on a full moon day? (No myths please.) And I am aware that not many Indians, read Hindus, too have given it a thought. So when it comes to ABCD’s, may be they are different in their thinking given that they are spoon-fed with liberty. But then again, I doubt how many of them have a truly liberal mind, for liberty is as much a requisite of the mind as of the body.

Claustrophobe said...

About the Ganesha Flushing temple et al, one can understand the ABCD’s going to such temples given that there are no ancient Hindu temples in the US. However, one must realize that there are rules for the construction of Hindu temples including those for the site. There is a whole Vastu Shastra involved (plus a whole Murtishastra for the idols). Look at some of the ancient temples in India and you will more often than not find them located next to natural water bodies be it a pond, reservoir, lake or river. I wonder if there is any such natural source of water next to this Flushing temple. Or is there one, as can be understood from the name ‘flushing’? And more importantly, is there peace? Do you really feel enlightened when inside such temples - hardly temples, more of congregation halls? This equally applies to the innumerable shoddy structures that are dotting the Indian cities and towns nowadays that are built without any science or art and are still called ‘temples’.

There is also room to doubt the undying love for the homeland as Anonymous says. For instance, can you, for years together, bear the separation from your mother or wife or whosoever you love the most and be satisfied with paying only occasional visits to them, and still call this ‘undying love’? And I also wonder what you would do if your ‘beloved one’ is in deep trouble and needs you the most. I am not expecting an answer. This is a question for self- introspection.

There is also a mention of Americans who have never been to India and yet (surprisingly) have imbibed her core tenants (I believe you mean ‘tenets’). In that case it is better that such people never pay a visit to the land of their ancestors. They should rather stay satisfied with their ‘core tenets’. Read ‘An Area of Darkness’ and ‘India: A Wounded Civilisation’ – both authored by V.S. Naipaul - and you will understand the plight of such people. They are only left wounded and disillusioned just like the author himself was. And that is because such people either have too many rosy pictures which their parents and grandparents have painted for them over the years or they simply cannot ‘see’ beyond what they are generally used to see, something in life which they have never been exposed to. And by visiting India I do not mean visiting the metropolitan cities; one ought to tour the villages, experience their kind of living, their struggles, their pain. Sure, India and the US both have democracies and the Constitutions of both the countries are founded on the principles of ‘liberty, fraternity and equality’. But then again, “All men are equal, and some are more equal than others.” And in India more so. Unfortunately, people spoon-fed with ‘liberty and equality’ fail to understand this, for to understand ‘equality’ one has to understand ‘inequality’ first.

Sowmya said...

Dear Anonymous,

I don't believe I have a one sided view of the US.
Let me tell you what I liked about the US.
I like the fact that there is dignity of labour.

The common people in the US are a lot more honorable, honest and dignified in their conduct than the common people in India on an average.
A considerate percentage of the population in India constitute the 'riff-raff' whereas in in the US I saw none. Even the blue collar people, the drivers, the house keepers are gentlemanly.
The State is a rogue state, shrewd and manipulative but the people are quite nice.

So you see, I like a lot of things about the place and its people. But then.... there are other considerations...

Sowmya said...

Dear Claustrophobe,

Thanks for visiting.
As for delving deep into the meaning of our tradition and rituals, its a definite good but even if you are unable to dig deep (for whatever reason) it is important that you follow the rituals blindly anyway, for if you do, someday, someone inheriting it from you may take interest in it and dig deep; if you simply stop practicing because you don't know the meaning, your downlines will have nothing to inherit from you, and hence nothing to dig into... and it will be lost forever...

Claustrophobe said...

Dear Sowmya,

That’s a very valid point indeed. Were it not for blind following, customs and traditions wouldn’t have survived for long. We should be indebted to blind following, in a way. And that makes me realise that the very theme of my blogs would not have been possible had there not been blind following. 

By the way, I was searching for some information on the temple at Nandi Hills some time back and landed up on your blog quite accidentally. Your article on the temple was so informative that I took your blog as a temple blog and added it to my favourites for reading at leisure.  Later on, as I read one article after the other, I realised that this blog was not what I initially took it to be – temple blog, I mean. But then, by that time, I had read so many of your articles that I could not resist reading. I like your style of writing and presentation. More importantly, I like the subject you choose to write on and your clarity of thoughts about that subject. Brillant!

Anyways, I have just started blogging. It’s a travel blog intended to cover temples, forts, people, festivals, etc. Do pay a visit if you find time and provide your comments / tips / suggestions. I would be much obliged.


Sowmya said...

I have added you to my blog roll :)

Sirisha said...

I liked your first few lines. We have a hard time letting go of our local and sub-local practices when we're in India but once we cross the seven seas, we do not mind the biggest of the 'transformations' in our lives.

No doubt, Indians settled in the US are doing a great job of maintaining the Indian culture and traditions here. Obviously, they do realise the depth and long term benefits of our practices vis-a-vis the short term benefits of sense gratification.

While on religion and temples, I would not equate an ABCD's practice of Indian culture to that of an Indian practising his culture in India. The practice maybe the same, but the environments are very very different. When you practice a 'Sahasranama' or a Pooja in your home, it is generally easier and under your control. A temple, with 'Prana Pratishtha' done to the deity is an integral part of our culture and religion, it is considered God's home.

Temples in the US are organized institutions that conduct festivals and events on schedule always, making all the required items available to the devotees before hand. Information is meticulously disseminated to everyone concerned. Devotees arrive on time and participate in the temple proceedings without any disruption to their other personal schedules.

This is just not the case in India. Right from the temple in your community to the big pilgrimage centres such as Tirupati or Varanasi, your first step would be to persevere in long queues for hours to catch a glimpse of your deity. If you sign up for a 'Vratam' or 'special pooja', chances are you get your turn an hour or two behind your scheduled time. With such huge crowds, your temple may not have comfortable seating even. There are ample opportunities for your 'Bhakti' or 'Shraddha' to go haywire. Even in these conditions, people of all strata of the society take part in the temple proceedings, spend all the time required, exercise the tolerance and patience until the end of the proceedings and come out of the temple in total gratitude. I am not saying that systems and procedures must not improve or that it is great to be disorganised. No, we in India definetely want things to be more orderly. We all know it takes time even for small changes, with the magnitude of the population that we have, coupled with shortage of resources. What I want to say here, is that you need more perseverence to practice Indian culture in India.

I don't know how an ABCD would like standing in an endless temple queue and have his precious personal time spent waiting in a disorganized setup. We all are devoted, it just takes some discomfort to either strengthen it or weaken it.