Three stories caught my eye in the New York Times this weekend, but I found reading all three in a row a little dizzying. All three relate to love, dating, and marriage, and say something about life in the Indian diaspora. But the pictures painted by the respective stories seem to have little to do with one another. What happens if we line them up together?
The first, from our news tab, is the story of a marriage between a Sikh, Parminder Suchdev, and an African-American woman, Danielle Jackson. Both have advanced degrees in public health and medicine, with resumes a mile long. Because the Times Weddings/Celebrations section is also kind of a “society” page, they also mention how successful and accomplished their parents are (especially Danielle’s parents, in this case; wow). I walked away thinking, what a wonderful, accomplished couple… and, man, am I a slacker.
Next, a second-gen named Ranu Sinha, in a first-person account of being introduced to a guy who at first seemed to be interesting because of the commonality of “Brownness and Bhangra.” But later she gets mad at him, and it leads her to a blanket condemnation of modern Indian culture:
When I took too long on a buffet line, he was furious for having been left to eat alone. I couldnâ€™t understand at first, but then it hit me: In India, solitude is feared more than anything else. Another time, when I surprised him with a homemade picnic, he agreed reluctantly and then left early. His parents needed him at home. For him, family obligations came first. The ladder of his priorities was long and I, the newcomer, found myself on the bottom rung. But it was from that vantage point that I grew up.
Underneath his modern American clothes, his American degree and his American accent, I discovered the beauty of an ancient Indian hierarchy that could not be taken off â€” of kinship, of family, of honor among men, of the traditions. In his world, the needs of the dozen always override the needs of two.
And with that, I uncovered, what I had never really understood. India is a place where love of tribe trumps romance-novel love.
Where heritage is still sacred and change skin deep. Where the sights, sounds, smells of Western modernity are mimicked, perfectly, as if Indians were characters on a Hollywood movie set. But when the lights go down and the costumes come off, India is exactly the same â€” just as she always was. A place, held together, by the kind of human bonds that last. (link)
Do you agree with her main point? I don’t; while it is true that there you will find a fair number of people out there for whom tribe and family work like this, it’s dangerous to extrapolate on the basis of one experience. Another thought: it’s sentiments like these that give second-gens (ABDs) a bad reputation with other Indians (“first know something about Indian culture before you turn up your nose, yaar”).
Still, at least some of what she’s saying rings a bell: “India is a place where love of tribe trumps romance-novel love.” Maybe, though that doesn’t mean the trump card always wins the hand.
Finally, Harsimarbir Singh, with a column in the Times describing coming to the U.S. to get a Master’s in Engineering at Duke. Most of it made me roll my eyes, though I did chuckle at the following paragraph:
Though itâ€™s been a short time for me at a top-tier American university, I have had the opportunity to see the party culture that the American student craves. The American passion is extended here as well, with young guys and girls passing out and losing control after consuming alcohol. Being a teetotaler, I have stayed away from drinks, but not from the joys, of the American celebration. (link)
That last sentence, somehow, made me laugh. Continue reading →