It has been two years since I moved to San Jose, the place I had always dreamt of, the place where some great companies have been born. Majority of students who graduate in technical backgrounds vie for jobs here, so getting an admission from a ‘Silicon Valley’ based university got me really excited.
Soon I started working as a research assistant under one of my professors. Not a well-paying job, but it gave me the confidence to spend money on a movie occasionally. Mind could not accommodate such a huge shift in lifestyle. The respite was that San Jose state university was pretty much like an Indian university in a foreign land with 90% Indian students.
Professors expected you to be like Indians, i.e. respecting them, not interrupting their classes, meeting them after class, being in their good books etc. wouldn’t say all of them, but a fairly good number of them.
The difference between me studying in a university in India and studying here was the racial discrimination, not the American kind, but the Indian kind. Americans discriminate between races, that I can still swallow, but we Indians discriminate between states. A North Indian girl does not want to be in the same team as a South Indian guy. A South Indian girl feels better being part of a North Indian group. North Indian people are not interested in speaking with people who can’t communicate well in Hindi. I am not stereotyping, but I could not be friends with some Indians because I do not speak Hindi.
In cultural events, South Indians felt odd to perform to a Telugu or a Tamil Song. They felt it great to understand and sing in Punjabi. Hindi is the national language, so I understand wanting to perform on Hindi songs, but Punjabi?? Seriously!!
I had read a lot about enjoying being in a different culture while in a foreign land, but never thought I would enjoy a different India in foreign land! I call this phenomenon a Tri-colored Indian phenomenon. Indians settled in USA can be broadly classified into three categories; green, white and saffron.
Green – These people are really helpful and nice. The moment they find another Indian needing help; they are ready to go that extra mile to make sure the person’s need is met. We look up to them because they are just really nice human beings.
Then, White. These people are just so funny. They want to be Americans. They just want to be called Americans in every action they do. If Americans do not do something, they are bound to stop doing that immediately, even if they had been doing it throughout their life. They feel India is no longer in their history. They look down on India as a third world country. Now the funny fact is many Americans think of India as an exotic country to travel and eat great food, where as these Indians of our white category feel strange about eating Indian food.
Then comes Saffron. These people are the most amusing to me. They are Indians who don’t want to be called Indians because they think Indians take advantage of them. They pretend to be Chinese, Vietnamese etc. But their faces say they are Indians. I have met a few of these people, lucky me! During my apartment-hunt days, I walked into a leasing office and there sat this Indian guy, mid 60s with a bald-head. When three of us approached him, he immediately started speaking in a strange accent. One of us asked which part of India he was from, and he instantaneously replied he was Vietnamese!
Then I attended a New Year party where a private DJ was playing Hindi remix songs. I approached him and asked if he had any South Indian music. He in our conversation thought it necessary to tell me he was Chinese! My head went bonkers. I wondered why these Indians did that, because they were clearly Indians. These people either fear that they will be taken advantage of or are too scared to start a conversation.
Despite the strange people and situations, I found a job where I am the only Indian guy. This helped me learn about American culture and brought total satisfaction to my desire of experiencing a twin culture. I found that I was a lot more comfortable with non – Indians all of a sudden. That moment I felt, maybe I was becoming one of those “White” Indians who admire everything about America. Sometimes I wonder if I judge Indian people too much but there are certain balancing factors that say I am not entirely wrong.
When someone who never calls me usually, calls me to drive people around because I have a car, I feel like becoming a “Saffron” Indian and staying away from people who take advantage of me. At other times, when I see a happy student face I give them a big tip, or a good reference, I feel the “Green” Indian emerges out of me. It has taken me two years to adapt and understand Indian lifestyle in America.
I realized that Indians cannot be broadly classified into three colors, but every Indian has all the three colors. It only matters which color dominates the other two. For me, Green gives me satisfaction whereas the other two force me to judge people and lose friends. I started accepting people as they were and tried to find happiness in the few moments with them. I find life more colorful that way. It is good to have knowledge of who takes advantage of me and act wisely, at the same time; it is good to understand that what matters is not which color category the other person belongs to, but the color to which I belong.