“Dad, have you ever been to Hyderabad? I’m thinking about studying abroad there.”
“Well, no, but it’s just a city, I’m sure like any other major city in India. It’s famous. If that’s where you have to study, you don’t really have a choice.”
“I want to meet my family in Patna—”
“You don’t really have any family in Patna, I’ve already told you this. Your Nani only had one sister, my mausi, and we don’t really keep up with her children. The only side we really talk to is Granddad’s, and… yeah, you could meet them. Ask your Auntie Sarita about that.”
“When you go to India in November, could you get me gold swastika and ohm pendants like you have?”
“Yeah, sure, you have to have those made there. Yeah, I can do that for you.”
“And can I give you a list of things to get for me? I want clothes and bangles and things like that. I can pay you back for them.”
“Yeah, sure, that’s fine.”
You probably wouldn’t expect the child to be a half-Irish American desi. And you probably wouldn’t expect the father to be the Indian one in the equation.
What desi kid is begging to go to India—and what desi parent reacts with mild interest (and even slight irritation)?
That seems to be the case more often then not when I express interest in Indian culture in the presence of my family. They think it’s endearing, but they do little to foster what remain as feeble efforts from south Louisiana.
“Oh, you want to learn Bhojpuri? That’s so nice,” they say. “Don’t waste your time learning Bhojpuri. Just learn Hindi.”
I applied and was not accepted to learn Hindi in Jaipur last year. I have been searching for internships in India for the upcoming summer. And just to guarantee that I will go there, I am now planning on spending the next fall semester there.
I will come out of my time there speaking at least a little Hindi, but I don’t expect anything but amusement from my family.
What I don’t think either side of my family understands is that I’m not automatically Irish-American or automatically Indian. I’m both. And culture is learned behavior—and if my family makes little effort to share this with me, I will have neither. The most “culture” I’ve “learned” has been through childhood consumption of American television and films. Sure, I’ve seen thousands of stories and behaviors I can relate to in some way. But they have all been starkly different from my story, my culture.
I have made strained efforts to gather my family history in order to understand where I came from. I have never seen the village in Bihar where my father was born. But I want to, and I can’t unless my family helps me get there.
No one has ever bought bindis for me. No one has taught me how to wear a sari. No one has taught me how to make aloo gujiya. And unlike my aunts and father, I will have to work to unearth my Indian culture, hastily buried under American assimilation. I have to put in effort to learn what being Indian means.
The first generation Prasads are very proud of their Indian heritage—but I don’t know if they realized our American upbringing is different from theirs. Our parents did not spend their young adults lives there. My parents are divorced, so any Indian influence was restricted to weekends and annual family vacations to see my nani (grandmother in Hindi). They rest confident in their identity, a congenital conferment that I still don’t feel confident claiming.
My dad has done a lot for my siblings and I: he has taught us about meditation, Hinduism, our Vedic history. He brought my sister and me to India for three weeks in 2009. He raised us on Indian restaurant food during the weekends. We even used to question what came from India and his pride in its accomplishments. It was something we simply didn’t have.
There’s still so much I need to learn, and I can’t do it if I don’t have access to the information. I need my family to decode our history; explain aspects of our culture. I need Hindi to understand the months I dream of spending in India. If I don’t have these tools, I know as much about “Incredible India” as anyone who has watched “Slumdog Millionaire.”
I want to be an American Born Confident Desi, not an American Born Confused Desi. But if I can’t make my way to India with some familial support, confusion will only begin to set in.