a population of 20 million worldwide swirling around this globe through
various circumstances the Indian Diaspora as varied, as complex and
ultimately, as puzzling as India herself.
East Indian Diaspora is ever mutating, and re-inventing itself even as it
absorbs from, reflects and transforms the continents it inhabits.
the award-winning Indo-Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry's short story
titled "Lend me your light" a young Parsee boy, returning to his
dull wintry flat in Toronto, where he has recently settled from a trip
home to Bombay, finds that his journey, instead of clearing up the
confusion of moving to a new country, leaves him even more befuddled than
mused, throbbing between two lives, humbled by the ambiguities and
dichotomies confronting me I'd brought back with me my entire burden of
riddles and puzzles, unsolved. The whole sorry package was there, not
lightened at all."
of us has our peculiar Diaspora experience, a Diaspora story and for every
one of us, for the twenty million or so living outside India today, they
will be slightly different. They tell of our bewilderment, our
astonishment, our perpetual swinging between cultures and languages,
between gain and loss, between shame and pride. Sometimes, while enjoying
the material benefits of the West for which we have travelled far, taken
many risks, we feel incredibly lucky compared to our Indian counterparts.
We are nostalgic, but we don't want to go back because that would smack
too much of defeat.
we've more than paid our dues as inhabitants of new lands - learned new
languages, adapted to new dress codes, different values. We've survived
alienation, prejudice, balanced it with assimilation. We no longer stick
out like sore thumbs in our too bright saris. We have carved ourselves our
private spaces where we pray in our mosques and temples, hold our prayers
and celebrations. We have mastered the art of living parallel lives-our
private Indian lives and our public work lives. In some areas we've
changed beyond recognition, and in others, we've lived in time capsules,
so time has stood still. You could say we are the original innovators of
is one perspective in millions. In it you will find echoes of others. But
one thing I will say-every East Indian immigrant who in some way
identifies himself as part of the Diaspora invariably develops a mild form
of schizophrenia as he navigates between wildly separate worlds -the
abandoned mother country and the world he chooses to inhabit.
a relatively new immigrant, arriving here in my teens, a child of urban,
post-colonial middle class India, the daughter of an Indian army officer,
I became aware of this constant see-saw between loss and benefit when my
family settled here.
first, it was all gain. When you're young and cradled within a secure
family, without any responsibilities to anyone, your mind acts like a
sponge, eagerly absorbing all experience. In a remote Caribbean island so
far removed from the country of your birth, discovery and change is
we first arrived on these breezy shores to the tiny island of Tobago in
this new world, I was barely a teenager. I spent a long time gaping, at
the fishermen bringing in their haul in Charlotteville, at a plum stew
being stirred, at the blue devils with their forks during Jouvert, at the
ocean where waves crashed non-stop, at the head gear on the women in the
you're young, too, everything new is better than the old. You're desperate
to belong, to fit in. You feel slightly ashamed of your Indian accent and
try to make it sound like the others. You wish your mother wasn't the only
woman in the whole island to flutter up a hill in a sari and with an
umbrella. You want bread, not aloo parathas for lunch. You quickly develop
two personalities and live a layered life. You speak and act as a West
Indian in a class where you are definitely the minority, and at home and
around your parents you live as they always have, in little India.
home your parents speak a mixture of Hindi and English and misunderstand
if you try out your newly learned slang, taking them for insults.
house is warm, with smells of frying onions and haldi even at breakfast
time. You change into your Salvaar Khameez for meditation and Gita
respectfully address your parents' friends as uncle and auntie and serve
them eats and soft drinks.
are always modestly dressed, no shorts allowed. You are rude at great risk
to yourself. You know the rules-study hard, be obedient. The unwritten
code drummed into many Diaspora children is you take the education of the
West and keep the culture of the East.
you fail. At home you sulk defiantly when you are forbidden to go out and
in school you have to find a cool way of declining a beach lime without
revealing that your parents disapprove of you hanging out with boys.
to the Gita these are your years of study.
parallel lives spill untidily into one another. It's schizophrenic. But
it's like riding a bicycle. You get adept at adapting and after a while
you don't notice that you are one way sometimes, another way at others,
it's Basic Survival Skills 101.
we didn't see at the time is that our parents, by taking a huge risk in
search of a better or different life abroad for themselves and their
children, also panic. They are terrified that they have traded the
material benefit for the cultural, spiritual and social values that define
are scared that the values they disapprove of in the West will permeate
their household, so they create a little India at home. That's why we
found as children when we returned to India for visits that our parents
were stricter than their brothers and sisters, that our cousins had
freedoms that we couldn't dream of.
than anyone, immigrant children have the most insightful perspective into
the Diaspora and, unwittingly, into human nature. While adults of
different cultures struggle at times to find commonalities, to overcome
language, cultural, social barriers, children see another child who wants
to play. A kid in a Salvaar and long oily plaits eyeballs another curly
haired lass in shorts.
seconds they are absorbed in a game of catch, cooperating, competing,
communicating. All barriers cut like a hot knife through butter. They
don't see colour, accent or texture of hair. Call it simple but I'd say
it's an essential universal lesson.