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Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Crisis of Culture Among Gujaratis in the USA

Tushar Bhatt ,travelling in the U S

You will realise the real worth of a family only when you go away from it, alone in the maddening crowds of the world.. The identity crisis that is evident among the Non-Resident Indians in general and Gujarati NRIs in particular is nothing but a manifestation of the feelings of being cut-off from the comforting shelter of the vatvruksh.Society is a mere expansion of the family

From this seed springs forth uneasiness, a doubt about true appreciation of the gravity of a non-resident's real identity, what is he/she- an Indian or an American? This is not the only trouble. The crisis haunts in lesser intensity highly qualified Information Technologists like Tilak Mysore, or management people like Rutu Dave, social scientist like Prof Pravin Sheth, Dr C Mohan,a top scientist with IBM,all in the Silicon Valley's hub San Jose.

In older out-posts like Bakersfield where Gujarati Motels have been there for ages, the cultural crisis is the same. More intensely-hit are people like Harendra Rawat, a self-made marketing man who came to the USA some 30 years ago,or Bina Bhatt who came here a decade ago to make a life in computer. Rawat is so much in India mentally that he refuses to touch anything made in Pakistan. His friend and Bina's husband computer specialist Raj Patel,spent harldly eight months after being born in Gujarat speaks no Hindi and a smattering of Gujarati. Yet he has Gujarati taste buds and loves hot chili in his food.All of them have India pulsating in their heart and mind. They stand erect, eyes moist,when the Tri-colour flutters in the sky, their leaps essaying Jan Gan Man.

The Gujarati Motelians rub shoulders with the higher income groups of IT crowd and doctors in jointly watering their Indian roots.The get together at the temple which houses several gods under the same dome. There are 2 pujaris, a Tirupati Brahmin who came here for hotter weather from Cleveland in Ohio,and the other a Gujarati who shifted his communications line from less prosperous Fiji.

The devotees have equally diverse vocations. While Sujata and her husband , Kirit Desai are reputed doctors, Pradeep Patel and Nayna are specialists in home-delivered grocery of Indian specialities.Pradeep is a singer of note who is good demand. But,he is not the one to sit back and enjoy.” I have my son and daughter studying to become doctors and must earn more.” He and his wife,Nayna operate from Taft, reaching goods to far-off places such as San Jose and even Las Vegas.

They all have gone away from India physically,but would not allow India to leave their heart.

In brief exchange of views with NRIs, this reporter found a deeper alienation haunting them. Like Vishwamitra, they had thought they would be in a new paradise but suspect they have become Trishanku, neither here nor there.What is worse that the first generation NRIs who came to the USA and the second generation born in the USA fight different identity crises.

The first generation NRIs are aware of their origins and believe whole-heartedly that they are Indians first . They are adjusting to American way but are more comfortable with dal,rice and curry than with pitza and pasta.They will resonate with devotion when Vibha and Rasbihari Desai launch into the superb Avinash Vyas copmposition, Maadi Tarun Kanku Kharyun ne Suraj Ugyo.They will weep copiously when Pankaj Udhas sings chiththi Ayee hai, vatan se....They will march proudly and hum patriotic songs with moist eyes, applaud wildly when Sachin Tendulkar sends a Pakistani bowler's delivery soaring into the sky for a massive sixer and cry when they watch terrorist mow down innocent people in Mumbai or Gandhinagar. The first generation has its heart beating for India.

Not so in the case of the second and third generations of these very people. The youngsters find themselves adrift, not fully integrated with the society in their land of birth, the US. These children of lesser culture are not accepted by American society. They face a double whammy of identity crisis. There is no better illustration of this then in marrying. Boys have in mind a role model impossible to find in America. They want their brides to be modern like the American girls and they want their brides to be as obedient as their India-born mothers. They forget that their India born mothers are less modern and more obedient.

NRI girls on the other hand, want grooms who are as prosperous as their fathers and as modern as Americans are. This can rarely happen. As a result, outsiders like me find a great confusion in the NRI society, The first generation NRIs come to India out of love for their motherland; and for finding spouses for their second generation sons, a pure Deshi girl who will be modern as well as obedient girl, a difficult proposition. As for their America born daughters, they hope to find a smart groom who will be ready to be a virtual ghar jamai, a proposition even more difficult. And, yet most teenagers are ten times more obedient than other peer group Americans. They would shy away from talking about dating.

It is a pity that most people tend to regard this dilemma as something springing from personal choice about which society at large can do but little. It is the foundation of a fundamental change coming in the relations between Garvi and Ghardi Gujarat and its foreign children.

If more attention is not paid, the Gujaratis in diaspora will be adrift, going away from the homeland. History is replete with such happenings in the past. Many West Indies islands residents bear Indian sounding names but they are lost NRIs. The same is the case in Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, Zimbabwe and other countries.

A classic example is of Sinhali residents of Sri Lanka. They are descendants of people who went with Sanghamitra, Buddha's disciple from Orissa and Bihar. They are at war with people of Tamilian origins.

In an essay in way back 1946, George Orwell who wrote prophetic novels like 1984 and Animal Farm, said that the first outpost of a culture is language. When alien influences strike, even before the final surrender of a culture comes the debasement of its language.

Many a time underground and hardly discernible currents are already sending SOS signals which we as a people are not bothered to pick up. Note the fact that Gujarati as a child of one of the most developed languages of all times, Sanskrit is rich but we find use of English words admixed with Gujarati to create some gibberish called Gujlish. Second and third generations of Gujaratis in the US are not bothered about learning their ancestor's language because Gujarati has no wider commercial use in America

But there is a small silver lining to the dark clouds, according to some, but it may be an illusion. The children of Gurjari are uncomfortable that Americans at large as true Americans do not accept them and they themselves do not want to be regarded like their parents, as children of a lesser civilization, nick named Motelian culture. This is claimed to be a healthy sign but actually it is a flavourless Gujarati Undhiyoo without chilies and other spices.

NRIs are desperately trying to keep best of both the worlds. They have a chicken party for birthday on a Saturday and Satya Narayan Katha on Sunday to double celebrate a birthday. The tragedy is that this amounts to seeking a personalised amalgamation of cultures. They put off wedding and cremation to a fixed muhurat on a Sunday or a Holiday only so that ethnic needs do not clash with market requirement.

It has given a steady rise to Godmen and self appointed sentries of ethnic values, celebrating as many holidays as their deep-lined pockets will permit to authenticate their utilitarian compromise. They join hands with other Indians to sing garba, dance during Durga Puja, Onam, do puja during Shivratri and lighting of Holi fire.

In the long run it is a groping in a cultural dark . It is a grave cultural crisis.