Monday, May 25, 2009

Blending in America- The 'crossover' is now

Each little step was a choice, of blending in or blending out, of going mainstream or reverting to subculture. The target was clearly visible, an integrated approach, an intermingling of ideas and ideals, the pleasures of the melting pot, the dynamic excitement of constant change. It involved those extra steps, going out of comfort zones, again and again, adopting and recalibrating accents and cultural icons, work behavior and social networking, eating patterns and talking patterns, holiday destinations and hangout joints. 

It happened so easily, without emotional angst, that I hardly noticed when I acquired the Mid-Atlantic drawl or learnt to pepper conversations with references from Seinfeld and Friends or swear by sushi for lunch. Diwali was forgotten at times, and I would be woken up the morning after by a phonecall from India, ruing that I did not remember to light that one diya, but the entire calendar of events from spooky costume hunts in October to bunny-shaped chocolate swapping in April could hardly be missed.

Of course, differences remained, a shadowy curtain of separation, the thinnest supermaterial, barely there and yet unbreachable, and we snuck caramel fists, a fandango of bumpy bobs and jabs, to break out and break free. Almost there, and not quite.

At the easy level, it sublimated into absurb wishes. I wished I could ice-skate. I wished I could water-ski. Glide across ice or water with precise grace. I wished I could volple into the river, off a motorboat moored upstream, dive with the beavers under the canopy of ancient oaks, while egrets flew between the bent boughs. I wished I had grown up doing these things. Raj made no idle wishes. He joined the local Y to row on the Potomac on misty mornings, and I would huddle up in fleeces on one of the footbridges for hours for that one minute wave when his rowboat appeared, all scullers in perfect unison, arcing oars in and out of the still water, the cox shouting profanities with instructions, and watched, heart abrim, as the boat silhoutted into the shimmering stretch downstream. At the more complex level, it was that strange tug to paraphrase political happenings in India to white colleagues, to put right the bumbling sayings of khadi dhoti morons, or educate them on names of Indian corporates in economy discussions.

The subcontinent, as always, turned into a myth, a subculture increasingly less connected to daily realities, at once the gilded cage and the golden parrot inside it, and we constantly rejected its bigotries and limitations and happily adopted the best of Bollywood and fashion and spirituality. We were happy to be mistaken as Sicilian by Italians (was it compliment or blight?) or Mediterranean by the mainstream. But there was progress, wasn’t there? More than previous immigrants!

With none of those usual dilemmas and confusing tugs faced by those whose parents were in town and country, expecting them to be a certain way or not. We made our own choices, rejecting or accepting what we deemed best, without the need for rebellion or creating the counterpoint to parents. Our parents, well, were far away, happy with the notion of NRI kids, and happy with the annual touching of desi soil and occasional fits of ritualistic fervour. 

Probably it was the yoking together of two Indians. It made choices easier. Probably it was aspiration, like Bohr’s atoms, only possible in proscribed quants of jumps, and the willingness to risk that jump, letting go of one orbital plane, a dive into nothingness, a frantic squiggle between realities, that extra push to arrive, triumphant at the next orbit. But oh the radiation, that magical conversion of place to energy, of shadow to colour, when the jump happened! America, the ultimate catalytic converter of dreams, more egalitarian than most despite all the grumbles from the sidelines, made it possible.  

There were enough to make a tribe. The crossover was there, in the now, or so we believed. 

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