Category Archives: Why we love Phoren Countries

Of Waifs And Sins In America

Here is Achala Srivatsa’s follow up essay on the Modern Indian Expat. She now takes you to meet our brethren in the Land Of The Free. Read on!

A disclaimer. This piece will shamelessly stereotype Indians in the US. So if you plan to read on – please set aside your moral outrage.

I will talk specifically of those who live on the East and West Coasts. The Bay Area in California – the IT mother ship and the home of the twice-born Brahmin   and the East Coast – the home of erstwhile IIT (computer) engineers who have shape-shifted into Wall Street Suits.


The Basics

Let’s start with New Jersey. First off, you should know that the moment you say New Jersey, you show yourself up to be the laughably ignorant person you are and your Indian American neighbor will roast you alive on his newly acquired barbeque. The correct name, to be said with an air of casual nonchalance, is of course – Jerrsey. The fact that the state motto mirrors that of Bangalore (which of course is the Garden City) is no coincidence since half of Bangalore- quite literally- lives there. It’s practically a suburb of Bengaluru – give or take a few thousand miles.  In the old days, grandma used to drive across town to Jaynagar to meet the daughter , cook for the grandchildren and play with them. She now hops across to Edison – to cook for the grandchildren. Do you want to know the precise exchange rate of the US dollar? Ask Savitri Aunty across the road.

If it is Fine Dining it must be Creamy Yogurt Risotto with Chipotle

Now San Francisco. Know that you date yourself very quickly by referring to it as ‘Frisco. Only Indians bred on a steady diet of cheap American novels of the ‘70s would make this (heinous) mistake. From now on, you will say San Francisco or, if you must, San Fran.


The Well-settled American Indian Family (or WAIF)

The WAIF have lived in Jersey for over 20 years and the grocery store in Edison holds no mysteries for them. Their mantra has been “Huddle for Survival” and they are your go-to team for help on settling in. Ask them where you can get the best paan, the best jalebis and the best kachories. They know every Indian family within a 5 mile radius, the elderly Gujarati lady who will make phulkas and dal and also cook a full party dinner at a pinch (her dhoklas are to die for), and the Indian travel agent who can get you cheap tickets to India.  They are prepared for all emergencies. On flights back home to the US from India, they will pinch the little pre-packed dahi served with the meal (as a starter to set my dahi at home).

Road trip? No problem! The Vegetarian WAIF  is prepared. Junior might want the odd burger and fries but will eventually want to slurp up his curd rice.  So gigantic containers of rice and the ingredients for a quick basic meal along with a handy Prestige cooker are thrown into the boot of the SUV.  Thank you TTK.


Junior’s Education

The adolescent Indian child of a WAIF in America is doomed. In most cases, the parents have determined that nothing less than Ivy League will do for Junior. (I was once asked by a bunch of Ambitious Mothers (AM) what “school” I had graduated from. My answer- “Bangalore University” had them wiping tears of laughter as they sincerely thanked me for making their day.) The AM sits up with the child supplying strong coffee and milk drinks through the night. Nothing shall distract the child from his/her holy mission – Columbia or Yale. Sports are out ( what for? He doesn’t intend to go pro…), girls are verboten and forget about sleepovers.

Once Mission Columbia has been achieved – the task of the proud parents does not end. Weekends are spent carting huge boxes of puliyogare and curd rice for the son and heir who is confined to the dorm for the duration of the parents’ visit.

Years later ( perhaps 2?), when he makes VP at Goldman Sachs, he will thank his parents through gritted teeth for their support and love (with meds, touch wood, the nervous tic and the nightmares will soon be a thing of the past)


The Single Indian in New York (SIN)

As we all know, New York these days is teeming with young Indian professionals. This is a hybrid creature that has some unique traits. If he/she has recently moved from India, an immediate makeover is indicated. The motto is – Blend Or Die.

Men realize that the thing to do is to lose the luxuriant moustache. American women seem strangely repelled by it and anyway, everyone in the office is clean-shaven. Women quickly master the New York scarf knot, invest in boots and of course acquire the “I am a New Yorker” attitude.  This is readily recognizable by:

a) a deep and abiding contempt for all things Jersey b) a quickly acquired knowledge of the best pizza, the best burger and the best mojito in town c) a blasé, jaded “impress me”  attitude. The only thing that gives me hope and joy is to see how quickly this evaporates when they enter the sambar – redolent premises of Saravana Bhavan on 26th and Lexington Avenue.


WAIF’S parents arrive for the annual visit

The grandparents land in Newark airport quite dazed by the long haul flight and are whisked away to the son’s (or daughter’s) home in the suburbs.  The joy of reunion is, needless to say, tremendous. After the obligatory day or so of rest , the grandparents are exposed to the Mall. In the days to come, the grandparents come to understand the meaning of Living in America, aka Living in the SUV. The daughter/daughter-in-law spends 90% of her time in the SUV – driving to and from work or driving the husband to and from the railway station, picking up and dropping the kids off to school, to ballet class, to karate, soccer practice and of course let’s not forget Bhagavad Gita classes with the option of Bharatnatyam. Kim Kardashian aside, we must not forget our glorious culture.

The grandparents watch this whirl of activity in a slack-jawed fashion, with the sick realization that this will continue for the length of their stay. Their fond hopes of spending time with the children have been downgraded to hanging around while the children get through their long week.  They have a window of 15 minutes each day – after dinner and before the family watches TV (a 52 inch 3-D Home theatre system – “Latest, Amma and the biggest”) when they can timorously broach the topic of ummm… returning to India. What??? You don’t enjoy living in this huge house? With the big TV? We even have a couple of Indian channels! No no please don’t go… Occasionally, they are carted off to dinner where they meet other grandparents – recognizable by their glassy eyes and brave efforts to sound like they are… really… having a great time. Of course, before leaving, they will make sure to cook up 200 chapattis and a story of how much they enjoyed their six months in the Garden State.

Meanwhile, on the west coast… but that’s another story.

The Modern Indian Expat In Asia

Here is a delightful first post on this blog by my good friend Achala Srivatsa. Read on, about the Modern Git!

Many years ago, I read an article written by the brilliantly funny Jug Suraiya where he talks about the Great Indian Traveller (or GIT) whose credo is “I am very bore”.  Armed with this philosophy, the GIT proceeds to wreak havoc upon holiday destinations. His presence is detected by empty packets of chips strewn around freely and  boom boxes blaring “chikni chameli” (I decided to make the song more contemporary. I don’t think it had reared its head those days) and the GIT’s offspring also declaring that they are still “bore”.

Deeply impressed by this, it struck me that the Modern Indian Expat in Asia is no less worthy of being immortalized in an article.

The MIEA in his country of residence in Asia is readily recognizable by two things.  One, his deep conviction that all the Caucasians in his office are being overpaid and that he is being underpaid. Second, his abiding belief that he is personally indispensable at work. These convictions make for a nice combination of superiority, a sense of being wronged and self-righteousness.  To be fair, the MIEA works his butt off but ensures that weekends are spent playing golf and drinking rare Single Malts with his buddies.

This is important. There are only 3 rules of the Single Malt Club- a) the name must be unpronounceable and must have at least 8 consonants ; b) it must be from the most remote Lowland brewery (Highland malts are so passé) ; c) it must smell like superior disinfectant.  (Only Glynywwwlllyyn will do),

Madam MIEA  has a busy life. A typical day consists of supervising her super efficient household staff ( dinner for 8 tonight), her coffee morning with her “girlfriends”(an Americanism that has been quickly embraced).  Lunch with a neighbor, tea with a friend and a quick nap before dinner, and that takes care of her day.  GroundHog day fashion, this repeats itself the next day – except the dinner will shift to a friend’s home. Life is so hectic, you know. I’m so tired of socializing.

The International School keeps her busy as well.   New customs and traditions have taken root. Halloween is big (must do the pumpkin carving and the costume), birthday parties are intricate social exercises involving the most appropriate venues and activities, the perfect return gifts for a multi-cultural crowd) and ensuring that no peanuts get into any of the food. Junior MIEA (with his truly enviable ability to switch from flat, nasal  American vowels to a “good” Indian accent) has very specific needs vis-à-vis his birthday celebrations. After all, he needs to be invited back!

From birthday concerns to university concerns. The rule is – must be anywhere but in India or the country we are now in. If not the UK or the US. any friendly East European country will do.

The MIEA family is also recognizable by their holidaying habits.  Mention the word “tourism” and they recoil in horror. Tourists are ignorant pond scum – doing guided tours and gawking at the Eiffel Tower.

“Doing” a place is much more civilized. It implies that you “get” the country – you avoid the clichéd spots, you immerse yourself in the culture and emerge a more interesting dinner companion – with better, brighter, more insightful stories with SOUL (“this little boy in the souk… he took me home and his grandmother made me real Moroccan tea out of a 14th century pot”). And think of the FB post that would make.

No more SEA (so crowded darling, who wants to go to Bali again?). Nope. The thing to do is to choose the most politically and culturally correct destination and then “do” it. “This summer we plan to do Petra and then Praha. Prague to you” Popular destinations are – Jordan, Burma or Myanmar (choose your PC version), Ireland, Morocco, driving in NZ (always) and of course that old favourite – New York – again.

The MIEA and his missus like to call themselves foodies. While traveling they fall upon  the local cuisine with a vengeance. Pierogies in Hungary, damper in Oz, aglio olio with a light shaving of truffles, bratwurst and other wursts while in German… but hang on – I spot a “Shalimar Tandoori Palace”.  Any interest in further approaching (another) slab of cold European meat vanishes at the thought of good old butter chicken and dal makhni. God bless all the Shalimars in the world – even if the food tastes like a vague facsimile of Indian food, nostalgia adds a ton of flavor to it. You really can’t take India out of the Indian expat – Thank God.

Next week, we look at the MIE in the land of the free and the home of Obama.