Something has been gnawing at me ever since I started reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books with a vengeance, taking them to work and reading whenever nobody was looking; her books speak a lot about race, identities, and such. I thought of how every time I met an Indian in the US, I automatically categorized him or her in my mind.
There are those who start graduate school in the US (notice I say graduate school, not post graduate, not college, not university; I say it in the manner of someone who is comfortable saying graduate school). There are those who went there for their undergraduate degrees and therefore have at least four years of seniority when it comes to understanding Americanisms. There are those who entered the country in the recent past, as spouses of men with green cards or H1Bs. They have their own circles, moving with those of their kind, quick to take note of the one woman who hadn’t made quite the seamless transition or who still dressed in the slightly awkward way of someone experimenting with jeans, having worn a salwar for most of her life before this. They took pride in speaking to their child in English, and their mother tongue was something they lapsed into as a mistake, or when discussing disturbances within the family. There are those who grew up in the US, whose parents are first generation immigrants saving plastic bags (now hidden from view) and filling up their empty Horlicks bottles with cloves (after meticulous washing). These Indian Americans (because American Indians sounds somewhat wrong), looked upon as privileged and other unflattering things by other kinds of Indians, consider themselves American first, Indian next. They support the sports teams of their hometowns, they drink cold coffees in the summer and pumpkin lattes in fall (as opposed to drinking hot milky sweet tea all through the year). There are those who meticulously change themselves, quickly adopting strange mannerisms (such as saying ‘I know right?’ or the strange ‘Wow’ to mean something negative instead of something wonderful). There are those who don’t change at all, who like to remain cocooned in their comfortable skin, while being seen as odd by others around them. They become more and more staunchly Indian, regressing to the customs of a time period that even their parents in India may have shunned. There are those who pretend effectively, saying ‘fast’ instead of ‘faast’, ‘math’ instead of ‘maths’, and come back home to watch YouTube videos of a Hindi or Tamil serial. There are those who are stuck in the decade during which they left India, their slang and funny stories out of date, but you don’t have the heart to tell them that.
And then there are those like me, who resist everything when they are there, and who miss it when they leave.