By Sagar S Jul. 04, 2017
I grew up in Singapore, Chennai, and Mumbai, but the culture I truly followed was America’s. I’m now reconciled with the fact that I’m a Desi Born Confused American.
When I was but a wee five-year-old boy, barely able to master the famous Indian nod, my parents moved to Singapore. I grew up as a young Chinaman but before I could master Mandarin, I was bundled and taken to Madras where the Mandarin mingled with the Tamil making for an unholy mix. To this cauldron, Hindi was added when I finally moved to Mumbai.
It was a confusing time; I kept my mouth shut during Hindi class, and felt laughter bubbling in my stomach when I was asked to read out loud. When I did speak Hindi, I sounded like Aishwarya Rai from Josh and looked like Hrithik Roshan from that Jadoo movie. So I played safe and just focused on English, which really seemed to work everywhere. Plus the Fresh Prince of Bel Air had debuted on TV and through it, a fourth culture made its way into my life. Americana.
America came into my life furiously from all directions. F.R.I.E.N.D.S., Star Movies, and that holy grail of all things American… American Idol. I was hooked to that shit, dawg. My friends and I started to discuss music more likely to be seen on the Billboard charts than in the next Dil Chahta Hai-type movie. I bought an acoustic guitar so I could also sing/songwrite like my good friend Bryan Adams. I comfortably settled down in a new “rapping 50 Cent” bubble, no fucks given about the country full of a billion people around me because it was time for CSI Miami.
My mom would call me “angrez ki aulad” and we’d laugh. Delhi boys told me, “Tu rehn de. Netflix dekh” and I would nearly cry (they were mostly huge and angry, and had no patience for my counter that Netflix has a great selection of Hindi movies).
By the time I became an adult, it was no longer about the language or TV shows. The slang, the culture I consumed, the news I read, my interests, my friends’ interests, had all come from a country I have, to this day, never set foot in: the United States of America. The way I thought of India from within my bubble is the same as the way Americans view Indians: Poor India = real India; do some yoga; pet a cow and hate Pakistan.
I’m starting to think it’s hilarious how much time I – and a few of my peers – waste admiring America and the people it projects as heroes.
As a person who has never been out of Asia, it’s weird to think that you could just fly down to Texas, put on an accent (à la Piggy Chops), and not feel out of place. I even know the name of the stupid American football team they all love in Texas, the Dallas Cowboys. I know the capitals of most American states, a few of their Presidents, their role in World War II, and all the other wars they’ve started since. I can list down ten members of SNL before you can say Golmaal.
Once it dawned on me that I could technically live a double life as an Indian-American right here out of Andheri East, it started to feel a little strange. It isn’t just me, there’re many such bubbles; I’d like to think of them as many “Little Americas” sprouting up around the country. The Little America is usually settled in the heart of a city, but has no real connect with the culture of the country, its politics, the fact that 90 per cent of it lives in poverty. We don’t have Modern Families or Man vs Food. We have Traditional Families and Barely any Food. It’s literally a whole different world in here.
Today when I think about America, I think of disgusting reality TV. The Jersey Shore bros from VH1 days, the Pimp My Ride with Xzibit that turned out to be a giant sham. I just don’t understand the appeal anymore. I don’t think it’s an achievement that Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn Jenner. Or that Kimmy made a sex tape. Call me old school, but I think the bigger achievement is that Caitlyn Jenner ran a damn decathlon not that she was on a show with the Kardashians.
I’m starting to think it’s hilarious how much time I – and a few of my peers – waste admiring America and the people it projects as heroes. Even Will Smith, the Fresh Prince from earlier, turned out to be a weirdo who believed that humans were brought to Earth 75 million years ago by the leader of a galactic federation named Xenu.
Kobena Mercer, a critic, once said identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis. I have a feeling that one more music video about Nicki Minaj’s butt will bring me to that crisis. The more I think about it, the more I realise I don’t admire America for anything really. Not its politics, not its culture, and definitely not the fact that they like guns more than they like Indian people. But I can’t just switch to being a son-of the-soil overnight.
So while I sit here country-less, wondering what culture I could appropriate next, there’s two options ahead of me: 1. Reconcile with the fact that I’ve become a Desi Born Confused American and wait with bated breath for the next season of Bojack Horseman, or, 2. Travel through every part of India to discover more about what I’ve blocked out. For now, I’ll do both.
Sagar has lived in Mumbai for most of his life. You can often find him complaining about potholes and local trains when he isn't out having a mediocre time.