Monday Musings: Can You Go Home Again?

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Home sweet home." "Home is where the heart is." " Life's a voyage that's homeward bound." What is home? Where you live at a this very second? Where you were born? The country your parents came from? Thomas Wolfe famously proclaimed that "you can't go home again," but Anand Giridharadas might disagree. In yesterday's New York Times, Giridharadas wrote about the phenomenon of second generation Indians moving to India--back to the place forsaken by their parents. The article explains the motivations of this new migration--the opportunities that India's "new economy" presents, the "post-American" world, the large-scale problems America currently faces--but underlying the article is an apologia of sorts to Giridharadas' parents, an acknowledgment of the irony of their sacrifice when, in the end, the author ends up returning to their homeland.

Giridharadas' story seems similar to lots of ours. His parents came to this country to give him opportunity. They lived the sometimes exhilarating and often lonely immigrant life that so many of us have heard tales about--first trips to the mall, our moms learning to drive. They excelled. They took their Indian-clothes-eschewing children to India every few years to visit family. As Giridharadas says: "It was extraordinary, and ordinary."

And it of course makes me think about my own life, my own kids. Only after I had children did I have any pure, articulated desire to make sure they knew "where they came from." Think about all the posts on this blog thus far about making sure our little ones are exposed to "Indian culture"--what does that really mean, as much as it indicates our desire to show our children where they came from? And yet. What would it feel like if, some fifteen years down the road, my children tell me they wanted to move to India. That they need to learn more about where they come from. That they think it would afford them a better life. I can't even imagine.

First I think of the comedy my children as "immigrants" brings to mind. Would they store favorite American foods in Indian yogurt tins (I cannot even recognize some of the stuff in my freezer, currently stored in Dannon plastic containers--mom please come dissect)? How would they respond to the rhetorical "isn't it" and the head nod "no" that means "yes"? Would they open up the phonebook (or the internet) and call up people who shared their last name, as my mother-in-law did when she moved to this country? Would they smile broadly at Americans on the street that they didn't know?

Then I think about that fact that, in this scenario, my kids would end up "more Indian" than their mother. At this point in my hypothetical head-trip, it would be third generation Indians returning to India and, in a way, it would amount to a brand new frontier of embracing Indian culture. And we can't even imagine what this culture is going to be yet. It seems like we are at some sort of pivotal juncture of Indian culture in which--forgive the hyperbole--the motherland is poised to take over the world. Giridharadas' article wasn't in the Styles section (A section of the Times that I love, don't get me wrong) or buried as a feature--it was on the cover of the Week in Review. Slumdog Millionaire is getting buzz as a possible best picture nominee. The brain drain is being reversed, jobs are moving to India, Indian artists and writers are returning to Mumbai while keeping pied-a-terres in New York, and didn't Reliance essentially buy Steven Spielberg recently? Something's going on. Obviously we can't forecast culture or world dominance by a snap-shot of time, but is it just me or is India everywhere right now? Maybe by the time our kids are deciding where to live, moving to India won't be "going home" as much as it will be travelling to the epicenter of something, much like many of us felt when we left the cities we were born in for New York, Chicago, San Francisco?

Who knows, right? Can't wait to see.
9 comments:
Pallavi said...

Funny, I was just talking about this with my parents yesterday: The proliferation of India in the American media. And just as you say, not in some sort of "look at them!" sensationalist way, but as folded into the fabric of the mainstream. This can only mean good things for our children whether or not they end up storing pizza in Dannon tubs in Bangalore! Inclusion is part of progress, I think.

Vinita said...

Great piece. Love the idea of my 2 year old looking for other Shahs on the streets of India! I actually read this article yesterday and wondered if you guys would blog about it! India really is everywhere I think.

JP said...

I have cousins who came to the states to study with every intention of returning to India--which us what they are going to do. They are trying to convince us to move back with them! So yes the the times are a-changing. Never too much of a flag waving American I think this is a great thing and globalization in action. But at the same time I know my "home" is here, in this country, so of course I want it to be great . City on a hill great? I don't know...

Auntie N said...

I would swell with pride if, one day, my son told me he wanted to visit India to learn more about his roots. But move there? Uh uh, that wouldn't make me happy. But I wouldn't be happy if he moved to France or China or Zimbabwe either. It's not wrong to want your kids around last I checked!

Amita said...

Haha my mom did that too (called up random Indians when she moved here). Now that I have kids part of me is sort of sad I don't have those sorts of stories to share with them!

Shona said...

"It was extraordinary, it was ordinary": I really love that. That is what all of our lives are no?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree Shona. I loved this original column and I loved the same exact line about the extraordinary and the ordinary. I am not sure I believe that the depiction of India is really mainstream now, I still thing it is exotified, marginalized but yes it most definitely is more prevalent. As someone who is older than many of the first gens I know, but younger than their parents, it's a uniquely interesting thing to see Americans "awaken" to the land they came from.

Anonymous said...

Home to me is where my babies and husband are. Home is family. If my kids moved to India I would want to move there too. Whether or not they would let me is a different story!

Cox said...

Great topic especially with Thanksgiving so close. I always feel such a mix of emotions when I go "home" back to the house I grew up in for Thansksgiving. I can at one moment somehow be transposed back to high school (with all the requisite insecurities unfortunately) and at the next realize that I am a 34 year old woman and mother. Home is fluid I suppose and as the world becomes smaller, it is seemingly going to become fluid both literally and theoretically. Food for thought for sure.

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