Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Movies and Homeland

My cousin Sumi was born and raised in the US. She once said of her parents who immigrated in the 60s "Their whole notion of India is so unreal. They are stuck in the 50's and its after the year 2000 now. Each time we go back, they are the ones who get a culture shock and I'm cool. Its a lot like over here. It makes me real mad that they try to impose their 50s Indian culture on me in this day and age". It is a very familiar refrain and has often been echoed by the likes of Jhumpa Lahiri.

The parents are stuck in a time warp and remember a homeland in the soft rosy hue of romantic nostalgia. Being strangers both in their own land and their adopted land, they can't actively help their children assimilate the culture of either. The kids pick up fragments of their fictional home while trying to feel comfortable in their real one. Its is a fine balancing act and if Sumi is to be believed highly stressful as well. I have heard similar things from others like her who are of Indian origin but have spent most if not all their lives in the west.

I had an epiphany after watching Pyar Ke Side Effects yesterday. The India that I grew up in and think I know is quite unlike what the movie depicts. It has been a few years since I saw a mainstream Bollywood flick so it made a much stronger impression. Even after allowing for creative license and hyperbole, all cinema is somewhat representative of the zeitgeist that it depicts. To that extent, PKSE could not be entirely off the mark.

Were I to tell J about India, I would be talking about ancient history which the 80s and 90s are. It would not give her a feel for what the country is now. Fortunately for J, the values I try to instill in her are not culled from my growing up in India decades ago. Even so, I realized that like Sumi's parents my trips home will be about learning to accept how things have changed while I was not around. As the divergence between the western and eastern culture narrows, J would feel in her natural element both here and in India.

Over time, I would become the one who does not belong anywhere - I would not know when to let go of nostalgia and get real. Sumi and her generation belong partly in both countries while J's generation would likely belong fully and be equally at home in both. The world is getting so much smaller and so rapidly.


SFGary said...

Join the club. I felt quite a wile back that I don't belong anywhere, neither here or back "home." However when I do go back for a visit it just takes me a couple of days to fit back in the groove.

Heartcrossings said...

SFG - I never had an ancestral home even back home in India. That makes me doubly rootless. I think I'd fit right in anywhere from Mongolia to Belize :)

SFG said...

Sorry for the belated reply, I've been working on my project. In "going home" I meant going back to my hometown and fitting in within that environment, a mental state, if you will. I don't have an ancestral home either :)

Heartcrossings said...

SFG - My hometown changed every other year in India for several years until we settled one place that I found too boring to like.

I want to find a place to call "home" for real and am still looking for it