I am more Indian than you.

When I first came to the UK, I stayed in a bed and breakfast for a month or so. Husband was in India and we wanted to wait till he got here to rent an apartment.

This bed and breakfast was run by a Gujarati family who had emigrated to the UK from Kenya. Their forefathers had emigrated from India long, long ago. One day, I was chatting with him and he said, ‘We are more Indian than you’. I was stunned to hear that. Apparently they believed that they were more Indian than some of us who lived in India because they followed traditions and rituals more than we did. At that time, fresh from India, I found that incredibly funny. Here was a man who has never lived in India, does not visit India much, and yet claims to be more Indian than us.

Just to explain, they had a very traditional lifestyle. His wife wore only saris, and she must have been in her early thirties at the most. The girls in the family were under five, and they would wear only salwar suits. I had never seen such a conservative family in all the years that I lived in India. Most children at that age is allowed to wear frocks or skirts. And even after years of living in the UK, they still had not merged with the mainstream. They lived in a world of their own.

The other day, we were discussing returning back to India. It is one of the most complicated and difficult to resolve issues that we face. When we first came here, I was quite certain that I will always want to be back in India. As we spent time here, and got used to the life here, it got more and more difficult to decide where to settle down. The certainity that was there once, is no longer there. Now we can see pros and cons of life and there and it gets very difficult to decide. So many more factors come into being. Plus the life that we lived in India before we left is definitely not the life we will lead when we go back.

Just as we have moved on, India has too. Even old friends. We cannot just go back and expect everything to be the same. Our friends who chose to stay back would have made other friends, have developed different perspectives, and would be leading a different life(just as we did).

So coming back to the question of ‘Indianness’, if I may call it so. A friend and I were discussing and she said that in so many ways, we are more Indian than people back in India. ‘My daughter knows all her prayers, while people in India don’t even go to temples’. Now, that sounded to me exactly like the Gujarati gentleman we met years ago.

Somebody else mentioned how they were shocked when a child, growing up here claimed that he was ‘British’. To be honest, I wouldn’t  expect anything else. While we still  might be Indians, growing up here, can we really expect our children to feel the same way? While we can educate them about our roots, to expect them to feel the same sort of loyalty or patriotism is not fair, in my opinion. If we choose to live in another country, surely we should have realistic expectations of our children. Is it fair to expect them to be just like you were while you were growing up?

Another friend gave me an example of how one child was brought up so well by her parents that she now knows no English songs and all the Hindi songs. It really makes me wonder how long they will be able to keep her insulated. Surely one day she might pick up a taste for different songs. And why is that bad? Is everything Indian necessarily good? I would not want my child mouthing Munni or Sheila – in any language, for that matter. If we do choose to live in another country, surely we should be in a position to mingle with people there, rather than cling on to our ideas of what our own country people are like?

Even within India, where you are, which part of India you come from will define the way you are. For instance, my cousins who grew up in Kerala are very different in mentality from us, who grew up in a small town. And we are very different from our cousins who grew up in swanky metros. So which part of India do we consider ‘real’ India?  Can we even begin define what is being ‘Indian’? I, for one, sure cannot. Yes, as a parent one parent might consider certain aspects of their culture very important, and might chose to practise it, where ever one might be. At the same time, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can pick up the good aspects of the culture of the place we choose to live in?

As we discuss all these things, I can’t help wonder why so many of us choose to live abroad when we clearly don’t feel that we fit in? I am proud to be Indian, and at the same time, I don’t feel having non-Indian friends or watching non-Indian TV programmes makes me any less Indian. If anything, I learn from other cultures. I pick up words from other languages, learn of a different way of life.  I grew up in a cosmopolitan environment, with people from different parts of India, I think it was incredibly enriching. I might not be a pure Malayali, as some might say, but I do think the interaction I had growing up, helped me be open to other cultures. A mum(Indian) at Poohi’s school asked me if I had a ‘Tamil’ friends group (she thought I was a Tamilian, for some reason), because they had their regional friends group, and was quite surprised when I said no. I never felt the need to seek out Malayalis and form a ‘group’. I am, thankfully quite happy with meeting people who I gel with – irrespective of where they come from. And I think that is what I would want for my daughter too.

I would want her to be proud of her Indian roots, if we do live abroad, and be comfortable around people from across the globe. To be able to see beyond the colour, race and language divide, like she does now. And the same goes if we go back to India. I would like her to be Indian, rather than a regional person. To be able to absorb the good stuff, leave out what does not work, and be the best you can.

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48 thoughts on “I am more Indian than you.

  1. I loved this post Smithus! 🙂
    I agree with what you’ve said – being “Indian” is so much more than just religion or region!

    Absolutely!
    I’m not sure how well I can describe it, but, yes, what you say makes sense.
    “I would like her to be Indian, rather than a regional person. To be able to absorb the good stuff, leave out what does not work, and be the best you can. ” — that’s the best way to sum up how I feel too! 😀

    That’s all I think we can do- in real terms.

    • Being India doesnt mean you follow some religion and dont mingle with other culture..Ppl like your gujrati landlord are everywhere…even in india sometime I get to hear comments..you are not like indian mother as you leave you daughter home and goes to office…

      As if! I know, people like this exist everywhere. They just need a chance to justify their lives.

      these type of bullshit comments keep coming now and then…
      Some ppl just blindly sticks to value/belieft taught to them in childhood and doesnt want to open their eyes and welcome changed/new world.. Worst thing is they are forcing this on their kids too..

      I know. It is worse when the children have to bear the brunt of it, isn’t it?

      Lucky poohi..she didnt get into caste/religion jhamela 🙂

      Well, we can do what we believe is the best – lets hope that it is indeed the best for our children.

  2. Hi smitha, good post, and I think u have hit upon the most common-sense way to deal with this issue. As I am fond of saying, I want my kids to be world citizens, Indian roots but spreading their wings everywhere!

  3. Life is the same, anywhere and everywhere. The illusions we have about different places (either within or outside India) or even the nationalism concept would all vanish when we look back at life later on…

    That is indeed true.

    The standard of living is always offset by the cost of living. There are no absolutes to compare things with, there are only relative things – like the current lifestyle, compared with a previous lifestyle, but there is no ideal lifestyle to compare.

    Yes, there is no ideal lifestyle to compare.

    Everyone gets the justice that they deserve. Weather they are Indian or not.

    Absolutely, DI!
    Destination Infinity

  4. So well written and well articulated Smiths 🙂
    Ya, what is it to be an Indian and what is not? I agree, people have their prejudices 😐 but why should they in the first place. I find it very uncomfortable too when people try seeking out their ‘own’ kind based on state, country, language and nationality… Evolution taught us to adapt, so why we adamant not too… take good and leave out the bad, every culture has it, expose children to every kind of culture with an unbiased eye! they will pick and choose and drop and make their own 🙂

    • ‘take good and leave out the bad, every culture has it, expose children to every kind of culture with an unbiased eye! they will pick and choose and drop and make their own’ – That is what I believe too! And I think in today’s global village, that is our world, it makes no sense try and remain insulated from all outside influences.

  5. All cultures and nations have their own qualities. Life u said, it would be gr8 to adapt or rather imbibe the good in them and make ourselves better beings. Ofcourse, my roots will always be Indian and probably, I will never leave this country too but that is totally a personal decision and does not make me any more Indian than my friends who are not here. I think we are more Indian when we embrace every other nation and it’s people, bcoz India has been more about the unity in diversity 🙂

    Absolutely! No question about it.

    I so wish though that u do decide to come bk to India and we get to meet often 😛 😛 But eh, I will make a trip to ur land before that for sure 😉

    We are coming back – next summer 🙂 And yes, you have to come here before we leave! Better start planning 🙂

  6. Very well analyzed post, Smitha! What you said here is very true, Smitha…we should be open minded and mingle with the people with whom we live. There is no meaning to be rigidly following our so called ‘religion’ and be aloof from the surroundings.

    I agree. We have to change with the environment..

    I am a Kannadiga and my husband Tamilian! My children are more familiar with Hindi (second language in school) than Tamil…no Kannada at all! We don’t feel any different. Likewise, my son is abroad and takes breakfast cereal and eats naan with a fork – my husband was shocked when he watched his son ‘cutting’ naan with a fork! My sons’ foreign friends come home and stay with us…thank god, we had lived in Bangalore and Hosur where we were mingling with all types of people, unlike some of my relatives who lived just here, in Chennai. We don’t look for just Tamils or Kannadigas for friends too!

    Makes so much sense, Sandhya!

    I met a Gujarati family in London. They have blended with the local crowd very well, but they are finding it difficult to get Gujarati bahu and Gujarati daamaad for their daughter because they have not blended with their ‘Gujarati Samaaj’! These people are treated as outsiders, it seems! Is this funny, or sad, I don’t know!

    Sad.. People can be so narrow minded. So sad that your friends are ostracised because they chose to blend in with the environment.

    Bangalore crowd is entirely different Smitha, you won’t find it difficult to live there. Even Chennai is changing!

    Yes, I am sure Bangalore will be very cosmopolitan. I am not worried about settling in Bangalore at all. I am more worried about the impact of such mentality if we chose to live here.

  7. Very very balanced and mature viewpoint Smithus! 🙂 I totally agree with you… wish more parents thought like you. Poohi is lucky to have a mom like you…touchwood!

    I don’t know – I just try to do my best, she will be the best judge. I guess if she writes, you will know in a few years time 🙂

  8. relate to this on so many ways.also what’s up with all the regional groups? My mom is from north india, my dads born in singapore.I was born there as well.my spouse is from central india.which group do I fit in?

    I could never understand it.

    Me neither. I like having groups of friends I can relate to, I can talk to , discuss stuff with, without bothering about which ‘place’ in India they come from.

  9. Firstly Smitha, I must appreciate your writing. The clarity of your thoughts is so well reflected in the clarity of your writing. This is what I love about this blog! It shouts out what an organized thinker you are 🙂

    About what you have written- true to the point. I couldn’t have expressed better 🙂

  10. VERY VERY WELL SAID … so true .. so many questions asked i guess its the same with me , everyone says come back come back to india but i i know its going to be difficult.. I have tried living in india now for 3 months, the first month is great everyone is excited then they get busy and you are at square one the same way as One was the day they landed in UK. So it is a BIG decision…

    Absolutely! It is a big and tough decision.

    I have had this argument a lot many times both with people in uk and india they both feel they are more indians.. BUT IS IT SO .. half the population or maybe more is trying to cheat everyone in india and no one gives a damn about the country now that is a FACT no matter what people say …

    Regarding the kids well they will be british, I am british I became british when i took the citizenship, so how can i be more indian, I mean that is the same thing people back home are doing , THE country that has provided for us, given me the roof, the Job the money to enjoy and have fun, Has given me a Way to live I am SOMEBODY here for sure … My signatures on a piece of paper mean something …

    I agree. If a child grows up here, how can he/she be anything but British? I mean is it fair to expect anything else?

    Then why should i be praising india all the time, which gave me nothingm YEah the emotion is there the love of whatever we say is there for sure

    True.

    People as you mentioned the Gujrati couple well there are loads I have come acrtoss too, who force there kids to be Indian that why the kids dont fit in and hence the problem comes .. I mean be faithful to one nation , the country that is feeding you given all that you have , you are talking against that country that in my eyes is same as being a traitor.

    Makes so much sense!

    I know people say to me too that i should come back , i will blend in things have changed in india they have all the things fair enough.. but the question is we will have to start from scratch all these years spent will be lost .. Plus i have seen a LOT of people who went back they have all come back the young couples who thought they have the money they can settle it doesnot work that way .. yeah once you retire then India is HEAVEN for sure ..

    Yes, and it depends from person to person. Several of our friends have gone back and are happy there. Then again, there are many who are not.. So I guess it depends on a lot of factors.

    ITs not just blending in thats the issue, you got to think of other things too, you will blend in but then will the kids blend in and when they grow up they will again face all thsoe problems and questions that you faced and they might think you made a wrong decision to go back to india .. after all there future is also at stake here …

    Yes, the longer we stay here, the more difficult it is going to be for children to blend in back in India. Which is why, we have 2012 as our cut-off. If we stay any longer, it would be fair to our daughter.

    I totally agree with the regional group WHY, just to gossip thats what most do, I have a so many friends and from almost every where, yes most are indians but nothing to do with regional group, I would never do that.. And let me tell you the little girl Poohi she is going to have a great time, the way You have written this note i am sure you are not goign ot force her into anything and she will be fine .. look at the oppurtunities she will have which you me or anyone did not have when we were kids back home …

    Hopefully. To be honest, I never lacked for anything growing up. I think I got a lot of opportunities and encouragement because we lived in such a place.

    And moreover DOES it matter today if you are indian or british or amrikan KI FARAK PAINDA HAI 🙂 be a human being one of my best friend is British and he knows all the punjabi abuses and everything now he he he ..

    Couldn’t agree more!

    Hey idea lets convert the british to indians 🙂 Excellent article tell the truth, I keep replying to people who ask me to come back WHAT WILL I DO.

    That sounds like a fun idea 🙂

    so chillax , have fun and enjoy life .. dont let what others say make you angry or anything, wherever you go such people will be there back home too so why bother ..

    True.

    oh god i have written so much sorry sorry

    Oh no! I love comments like this 🙂

    • “And moreover DOES it matter today if you are indian or british or amrikan KI FARAK PAINDA HAI 🙂 be a human being .. ”

      Loved this.
      Loved the post Smitha, and Bikram’s words here convey my sentiments too.

      Thanks IHM. Yes, Bikram’s words make so much sense, don’t they?

  11. We human beings have a tendency of associating & attaching things incidents/ rituals/ actions etc. to a nationality. As in since we are Indians we are expected to throw litter on road or as we are Indians we are expected to have arranged mrrgs only. Not all associations are bad and not all are good but they get stuck to us but what we forget in the larger scheme of things is that our culture makes us what we are but at the end of the day we all have different personalities.

    People in ur examples I believe have feel that they have something to prove to the society and they are still living in India as they had last seen. I dunno why do we have that pressing need to prove ourselves to others. Why we can’t be the way we are. Remember our roots as you say, be Good and make our country proud. What say?

  12. I totally agree with you. And the statement “I am more Indian than you.” is amusing, especially since you can’t just define Indian-ness considering the diversity and the advancement! What is being indian really? Wearing salwar-kameez and sari!!!!

  13. Good Post.. Almost all the NRIs would have the feeling of Indianness but expecting the same from their kids is different.. I am with u on the part that we should mingle with the people from different cultures but at the same time be proud of who we are.. I am proud to be an Indian..

  14. Well said Smi. I think most of us, lose the balance between adapting the right amount, too much or not at all when we move outside our own country. It is very rare to find people, who are Indian, but happy to be where they are, and mix with the local community, without trying to completely ape them, and hide their ‘Indian-ness’. A very difficult balance to achieve, and I am only hoping I am trying well.

    I agree. GM. It is so very tough, and as you say, we can only try. We can only hope that we are able to balance it all out.

    PS – How have you been? No news from u in ages girl…. I think the last time we spoke was your birthday.
    I have been in an anti-social phase – thanks to heavy socializing here 😦

  15. 95% of Indians feel that it is their specific contribution that is keeping the Indian culture alive. If they didn’t do X or Y or Z, they truly believe the entire moral and cultural fabric of the country would be rent in two. The audacity of human ego often strikes me dumb.

  16. Smitha… I was nodding my head to the point I feared it might fall off! Living in US, I have similar battles.> Moving to India, culture in India now versus what we are teaching out daughter!

    Almost all of our friends and us seem to be in the same boat. We are in the process of deciding what to do.

    This is one thing we try hard for- V to know Hindi which is our mother tongue. Yes, she mainly speaks English, if we talk to her in Hindi, she convenienty translates it in English and then responds… but we want her to know Hindi.. it somehow will connect her to her roots in the long run. Make her closer to her G-parents and other extended family in India. I feel really bad at not knowing: “Marwadi” feel like some peice of my heritage got missed out in loosing the language.

    I speak to daughter in Malayalam too. And she does the same, translates it into English and responds – but the thign is that atleast she understands it perfectly. It makes it easier for her to interact with family back in India. It does make a difference. I think we have to decide for ourselves what we need and what we don’t.

    Culturally, yes, you meet and grow friendships with people based on mindsets and not regional or color implications. Yes, there will be those few who can understand a few aspects of you- just becuase they know Indians…. arranged marriage as a prime example!

    Yes, for sure. We will have friends with some common background, all I am saying is that it needed not be only these people that we are friends with. I have friends from different cultures and we gel very well, because our personalities and ideas are similar, you know.

    But being Indian is something we inherited by being born there… and nothing can take that away for us. We might complain about a few things about India, but we know.. we all saev up all the vacations just for that one trip.. where we smell the air, touch the ground and feel the love of India!

    Absolutely! I can’t manage without my yearly holiday to India! I cherish the weeks I spend there. Every minute precious!

  17. Clap ! Clap! Clap!! So well said, Smitha. And I think you hit the nail on its bl**dy head when you said ‘how long they will be able to keep her insulated’. Its very important for people to merge with the mainstream, and not remain outsiders. Makes life so much easier and happier too, in a sort of way. As for Sheila and Munni, sigh! My kid knows it by-heart!! Does that make us more Indian too 😉 😉 Just kidding.

    • He knows them by heart 🙂 He is a cutie pie! I refuse to believe you when you say that he is a brat 🙂 Oh yes, if he knows it by -heart you are a definite Indian 🙂 Or he is 🙂

  18. Very valid thoughts, Smitha. I know of a family in US where the daughter is made to wear long skirts, oil her long hair, learn bharath natyam, typically be ‘more Indian than Indians’. What is the point, I wonder when the world has become so small, you work with people os all origin and species, our children are on the path to be global citizens.

    I know! It makes me wonder how they can do this to their children. Don’t they realise that the children will find it so much harder to blend in with the mainstream..

    I think it is people like this who are at the root of all ethnic voilence and war

    I guess you are right.

  19. Smitha,my God!these days,you and I are on the very same frequency..seriously its freaky..I will be thinking of something and you write about it.First Bharatnatyam,now this.

    Maybe we are in the same phase 🙂

    Anyway,speaking for this post:I was nodding from the start to the end!I was the just like you,when we first moved to USA,all I wanted to do was just go back..but that changed everytime I went home for a vacation.Things had changed,friends had moved on and I found myself wanting to go back to the US.Now,I am at the stage,where,i like where I am..and this is home.

    Same here. I like it here, I have my circle of friends, Poohi goes to a wonderful school, husband’s work is just 10 mins drive away, everything that matters works fine – at the moment.

    And like you said,every culture has good and bad to offer,its up to us to choose the good 🙂
    And I think its really important that we adapt to a place and why not?If a foreigner is in India and does it,its widely appreciated.If he tries to learn hindi,everyone is happy..then I don’t get it why our learning the western ways is so bad.

    Exactly my point! When we want others to adapt to us, why can’t we do the same when we are in a different country?

    When my daughter speaks with an accent,the next question I hear is:does she understand Hindi atall?and the look on everyone’s face,when she replies in clear fluent Hindi is Priceless.

    You know, growing up here, they will pick up an accent, just as living in different parts of India, will have local accents, some way or the other.

    The Gujrati family reminded me of someone I know,who was shocked that we had a Christmas tree at home and told me..”Oh my daughter asked for one and I didn’t give in.its not our culture..so why should we do it?”Fair enough..but then,those same people didnt have any qualms about taking christmas presents for the videshi boss!

    Yes, I know people who feel that we are violating our culture by putting up a Christmas tree. I just don’t react to them – no point at all! Presents are always welcome, you see 😉

    And I so hear you and others who said about not belonging to a regional group..My husband is a malyali and I am maharashtrian,but we feel lost in both the groups.Infact,I am happy to state that my daughter is fluent in hindi and english and not in the other two languages.When she wants to know something that I spoke in marathi,she asks and I tell her and she tries it herself..if she wants to learn marathi or malayalam,I will gladly teach her,but,just not knowing those two languages,is not affecting her life in anyway.

    I agree.

    Sorry for the extra long comment..I get carried away when this comes up:D

    No I absolutely loved the comment 🙂

  20. Measuring Indianess…. What all things people keep doing… You are an Indian period… And wearing saris, keeping fasts, chanting Indian prayers, celebrating Indian festivals does not make some one more Indian.. A lot of people living in India also don’t do all this.. So they are not Indians…

    I know! That logic is what gets to me.. As if being Indian is only this or only that, you know.

    Making friends based on religion is so insensible… Its rather just like forming a community based on cast which should be discouraged and as you said we should make friends with people with whom we can connect and nothing else…

    Absolutely.

    Being human is far more important then being an Indian…

    So very true.

  21. Firstly, I have to say your post was lovely! It voiced many of the dilemmas I face with living abroad and returning back home! And you are so right tht what each one of us considers to be “Indian” or “India” is highly subjective!Beautiful post!

    • Welcome here, Dee. Living abroad comes with it’s own baggage, just as choosing not to leave one’s country does. As for being ‘Indian’, I think it is different for each of us, isn’t it?

  22. Ahh…I really liked this post. 🙂 Can I just say, I have noticed though a lot of people like the Gujarati family you mentioned…people that migrate to other countries and end up being wayyyy more traditional than what we would in India. But does that make them more Indian? Don’t know…more traditional for sure!

    Agree! More traditional for sure, but does traditional equate to being ‘Indian’?

    I probably am not the best person to comment on this one given that I do feel more Aussie than Indian (hence the citizenship) and the only Indian thing I absolutely love is our food.

    You know, I love the fact that you are so honest about it! I find it funny that people refuse to accept it.

    What you mentioned about kids…parents forcing their kids to be traditional…those are the kids I end up seeing in therapy at adolescence…not just Indian but other ethnicites as well where parents have pushed them so hard to be traditional and not “Aussie” but the kids see other Aussies out there and are torn…resulting in rebellion around adolescence! IF only parents were open enough to know that you can let your child take in both cultures than forcing them to choose just one…things would be a lot easier!

    I know. It is sad that the children bear the brunt of the parent’s confusion. You know when they talk of the second generation ‘confused desis’, I think it is the parents not the children who are the confused.

  23. Hi Smitha,
    How have you been…Sorry visiting after ages but what a Lovely Post. I echo all your thoughts…
    The Certainty that was once there seems to be fading and getting replaced with a few questions…Also the younger we are the more easy it is to adapt to change, as we grow older it gets tougher.. the longer we stay the tougher it gets to re-adapt & start where we once left, The energy levels the enthusiasm that was there when we moved here was ad ifferent level altogether. Also there was an adventusre of something new. And as you rightly said things / people have also moved on. Time waits for no one..So we cannot expect things to be the same when we go back..
    That said, I dont think that defines how much of Indian-ness lies behind.. I mean i don’t know if its a relative thing that can be measured – more Indian more Religious sounds kind of funny doesnt it… You Either are or you are not. Its a state of mind.. Indians are too diverse to be pigeonholed :)so whats with the more Indian stuff…
    yes i agree quite a few of us outside the country seem to hold on to what it was when we once left, I myself have started following more of the traditions of diwali etc that my mom did. I mean I dont remember being such an avid partcipant when I lived with her. But that is more coz i miss those little things, I loved fire crackers I dont do that here so do some other traditions that makes it feel like its Diwali 🙂
    When everything is moving and changing we sometimes cling on more to what we think represent out roots and we hold them harder for fear of losing them. And that is where i guess the next generation might rebel if not today, tomorrow. because we try and pigeonhole them in the process

  24. I agree with what u said Smitha A brilliant post

    but I also agree with what he was trying to say…

    lets not talk about religion lets talk abt culture and languages (commonly equated as being Indian) the people abroad just because of their need to be connected to their country follow it more than people here…

    like I have a bunch of Punjabi friends and cousins who grew up in Delhi and none of them knows punjabi and every one of my cousins or friends who grew up there knows it so well

    may be he didnt put it properly but people outside of their base (whether India or state. I have started to feel like that abt Delhi too) try harder to follow the customs etc to be in touch

  25. Someone actually said to me that we are more Hindus then you bengalis!! (in India) 😐
    anyway I think many people residing outside suffer from identity crisis and search for gratification and some sort of relief from some subconscious guilt by searching and developing signs of Indian-ness in them and more importantly more than Indians living in India.

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