The FOB who became an ABCD

December 4, 2011
By

She was a starry eyed fresh off the boat when she landed at the Seattle airport and was driven to her host family by one of the members of the Indian Students’ Association who helped jetlagged, confused, and unsettled FOBs like her settle down the first time they landed in America. Her host family was a respectable and God fearing South Indian couple who had promised to help her with her homelessness for the first few days.

Expecting a Kanjivaram-clad hostess with the welcome thali of flowers and sweets was perhaps too much, but nothing had prepared her for the shortness of the shorts she found her hostess wearing. She had literally gaped at her bare legs in horror, feeling like a true fresh off the boat bullock cart from the nearby village. Her house had seemed like a mansion, and that had thankfully taken her attention off her legs.

It did not seem like some 30 hours since she had labeled her name on the newly acquired American Tourister suitcases, checked her flight timing for the eighteenth time to avoid any am versus pm confusion, touched her grandparents’ feet, promised her parents she will never marry a “foreigner”, loaded the rental Tata Sumo with the suitcases while the neighbors from every balcony watched with interest, and had left for the airport. Little did she know that she would not use most things in her suitcases. She never touched the brick-heavy Biotechnology textbook she had painstakingly packed.

In six months, she outgrew most of the clothes she had shopped for, thanks to the land of milk and honey (and cheese, canned food, and Nutella) that America was. The rest of the clothes (including the formal shirt and trousers tailored at the biggest Raymond’s showroom in Calcutta) soon seemed out of fashion compared to American styles. Two weeks into the program, and she had befriended a couple of Jims, Evas, and Emilys. She was spending her weekends hiking, rock climbing, attending barbeque and beer parties, and laughing at American jokes she did not understand. She was clearly trying to fit into America.

Her acclimatization experience did not come without some ten dozen embarrassing experiences when she made a fool of herself. But she learned well. She learned that light switches worked differently, bathrooms were restrooms, baths were showers, notes were bills, bills were checks, and checks were also checks. She learned to run hot water without burning herself. She learned not to use the word dicky for car trunks, and learned that a fast food chain was called Dick’s. She learned that it was actually okay to ask for boxes for leftover food, and capsicums, brinjals, and lady’s finger had their own names here.

She learned to drop the words sir and madam, and address her professor, as old as her grandfather, using his first name. She learned to acquire cheap junk from Walmart and garage sales. She learned that it is actually possible to score a 90 in an exam and still be counted as below average. She learned that FOBs and ABCDs are as different as chalk and cheese. She learned the irony of American courtesy, where every stranger you passed by would nod and smile, yet there was much hype about space and privacy.

Her steep learning curve was not without many embarrassing experiences. The first time a stranger on the street had smiled and said, “How are you doing?”, she had stopped and asked him, “Do I know you?” She had asked a single mother where her husband worked. She had ordered que-sa-dilla, fa-jita, and tor-tilla at restaurants, enunciating it exactly the way it is spelled. She had called guacamole avocado paste at Chipotle, and had piled up huge blobs of white cheese on her plate, mistaking it to be pastries at the departmental lunch.

She had dreaded dinner parties consisting of green leafy veggies fit for ruminants, turkey sandwiches, bland pizzas, chips, egg dipped cookies, cut fruits, and coke, terribly missing the daal chawal from home. Slowly, this became a way of life. She accepted that she would always be asked if India was still the land of elephants, belly dancers, and snake charmers. She learned that she will always be that brown girl with a Rajesh Koothrapalli-like English accent. Most importantly, she learned that no matter how much she tried to fit in, she would never be one of them. The alienating experience did not come from people. The alienating feeling came from within her. She soon got tired of dressing up for Halloween, going for the happy hour at an insanely loud local pub on a Thursday night, or laughing at jokes where she did not get the reference at all.

Sick with nostalgia after the initial excitement of America had faded, she then recreated her India away from India. She started hanging out predominantly with her Indian friends, trading Halloween costume parties for traditional Indian events, almost celebrating every Indian festival from Sankrantis and Shiv Ratris, and learning more about Indian culture than she had ever done during her 25 year long stay in India.

Every little thing associated with India made her nostalgic, be it the sight of frozen hilsa fish or the chubby Bengali couple at the Indian grocery store, the Satyajit Ray movie nights, or meeting a flock of NRI Bengalis at the Durga Puja who mainly talked about green cards, material affluence, sarees and jewelry. She had transformed from being an Indian in India to an FOB in America, and then to a tearfully-nostalgic Indian in America who wept while watching partition movies or listening to the national anthem. However, life hadn’t come full circle yet.

She was intelligent enough to figure out that no matter how she loved the freedom and the opportunities life in America provided, she would never be one of them. She was not eligible for certain scholarships or government jobs because she was not a citizen. If the economy got any worse and companies were downsizing, she would be the first one to be fired. If she did not make it to the H1B lottery, she would have to leave the country. Her existence in America after graduating from school depended on a string of factors she had no control over. She was light years away from bargaining for a secure life. America was slowly losing its charm.

Life came to a full circle during her maiden visit to India. She was gone for four years, only to come back to a different country. Random aunties dropped in for evening tea and free snacks to ask her questions invading her privacy. People laughed at her when she used words like space and privacy. They asked her why she was not getting married. Many showed surprise that she still remembered Bengali.

They asked her unsettling questions, like if she was going to settle in America. They asked her what she eats, what she wears, and how much she earns. They came home and checked her out as if she was a gorilla in the zoo. They told her not so euphemistically that she had become fat. They asked her when she would take her parents to visit America. They laughed at her when she tried fastening the seat belt. They mocked her when she looked for a trash can dustbin to throw trash. They asked her quizzically why she was not drinking mineral water. They asked her if Indian boys and girls really lived together before marriage in the US. They assumed people lived on burgers and fries, and drank beer all day.

Her greatest shock came during her outdoor visits. The cheapest coffee at a coffee store cost more than hundred rupees. Ordinary looking clothes at Pantaloons and Westside cost her monthly salary back from 2006. People swore by KFC, Subway, Sephora, and United Colors of Benetton. People no longer hung out at College Street or Victoria Memorial, the “mall culture” had caught on as a fever. An ordinary looking dress at an upscale shop that barely impressed her had a price tag of three thousand rupees. Bengalis paid a fortune to eat authentic Bengali food that our mothers and grandmothers have always cooked gratis at home. Ever dreamt of spending a thousand rupees eating Mocha’r Ghonto and Shukto? People looked at her in disbelief when she told them she has never been to a KFC, neither in the US, nor in India. She wondered what was the craze about eating at “Mac Dee’s”, a fast food joint fit for nothing better than a last resort during road trips.

“What were you expecting Kolkata to be? Some village? We are doing equally well as you are, even better”.

It took her a while to figure out who was “we” and who was “you” here. Clearly, she had become “you people” and the rest were “we people”. America hadn’t alienated her as much as India had. If she felt like a dehati in America, she felt like a dehati on steroids in India. People subjected her to harsh scrutiny every time she did things a certain way. She was having dinner with a close friend one evening when the waiter asked her if she needed more water. “I am good”, she said instead of a no, thank you, more out of habit than out of the need to show off her Americanism. The waiter looked confused wondering how “I am good” had anything to do with wanting or not wanting more water. Her friend got extremely upset about this, accusing her of showing off. When she wore traditional Indian clothes in India, her tank-top wearing friends remarked with sarcasm that she was so western that she only wore Indian clothes to show off.

She imagined she was standing in the middle of the streets of Seattle, trying to blend in with the people around her, when they turned to her and said, “You can never be one of us”. The next moment, she was standing in a crowded street in Kolkata, trying to fit in after all these years, and her own people turned to her and said, “You are not one of us anymore”. In more ironic ways than one, she was a foreigner in America, and now she had become a foreigner in India. In less than five years, she had transformed from being an FOB in America to an ABCD in India.

An Alienated & Badgered Confused Desi.

[The author is a doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Her interests other than educational research and designing studies include writing, photography, and globetrotting. She is known as DC.]

[If you would like to contribute an article, read this for details.]

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103 Responses to “ The FOB who became an ABCD ”

  1. Giribala on December 4, 2011 at 2:16 am

    Such a sad story!! Very well written :-)

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:03 am

      Thank you Giribala

  2. Mysoul on December 4, 2011 at 3:05 am

    Oh this is Good!!! you got the details and put them up very eloquently(I am tempted to use a few more very’s like a ABCD ;) )

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:04 am

      Thank you !!

  3. bjigya on December 4, 2011 at 4:05 am

    take heart in the fact that …you are not alone, i am right there with you sister!

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:44 am

      Thank you :)

  4. a traveller on December 4, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Reading this made me realise I’m now a FOB, I suppose. And oh, how it’s all resonating.

    Dreading to think of when I get treated as an ABCD.

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:05 am

      It will all go well, and will be a part of your learning experience. Trust me.

  5. rads on December 4, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Am sorry you feel the way you do. It’s unfortunate you see things the way you put it.

    That aside, excellently written. No doubt about that at all! :-)

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:06 am

      I take it as a part of my learning experience. That aside, I am glad you liked the post.

  6. Neelam Kamdar Bhamani on December 4, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    It’s a lovely post written beautifully! Being an expat myself, I can relate to everything you have put here. But after 14 years, I have come to a stage where both countries feel like home. I seem to have adapted to US life and India has globalized enough to accept my ‘Americanisms’. I hope you find your own equilibrium soon:)

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Yes, I hope so too. Thank you Neelam :)

  7. Priyam on December 4, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Ugh, another sob story. I am so sick of these Jhumpa Lahiri woe-is-me posts. Like you said, the way you feel (“alienated”) is your fault and no one else’s. No one can make you feel ANYTHING unless you let them.

    I have lived in the US for six years after living in India for eighteen and cannot even relate to some of the statements made in your article. Not once have I felt like a FOB (or have been made to feel like one) or an ABCD in India. You should seriously reconsider the people and ‘friends’ you surround yourself with. Sure, there are some adjustments that need to be made when switching continents in terms of speech and attitude/mentality but they are certainly nothing earth-shattering.

    You also have to have an open mind and a sense of humor to approach everything like the adventure it is. I too didn’t know that ‘capsicum’ was called ‘bell pepper’ here and when a friend corrected me at the deli, I wasn’t, like, “OMG, how embarrassing! Shucks, I am such a FOB.” Instead I thanked her with a smile and said, “Thanks for that, I am going to have to remember that!”

    You have a sucky attitude and that’s not something India or America can change.

    • George on December 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      Oh and what year did you step off the boat pray tell. That will truly explain a lot.

    • Roshni on December 14, 2011 at 6:35 am

      Gosh, I didn’t realize it was a personal sob story….just thought it was a portrayal of a typical FOB written with humor!! Maybe you should read it that way too! :)

    • RoshanR on December 14, 2011 at 10:52 am

      Totally agree with you Priyam. Its completely on one’s attitude towards accepting changes and adapting.

    • Sidd on December 17, 2011 at 8:05 am

      Umm… you are sick of these kind of posts, and yet you spend time to write big paragraph comments. Why are you being such a judgmental dick about the poster’s attitude, sense of humor and openness? Different people experience same things differently, and just because you didn’t have the same experience as she did doesn’t make her points invalid. If you cannot sense the humor in the post, and only can see it as a sob story, then I have serious doubt about your intellectual capacity, and I do feel sorry for you!

      Just for the record, she never said that learning bell-pepper is capsicum was embarrassing – you made that up.

    • Tulsi Chakraborty on December 20, 2011 at 5:44 am

      “You also have to have an open mind and a sense of humor to approach everything like the adventure it is.” …Priyam bandhu….Do not advise in such a manner when you yourself lack total sense of humor, your creator must have been going through a traumatic state of mind or may be watching a psycho movie, when He created a sample like you and so He forgot to put the element of humor in you!

    • Partha on December 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      “You also have to have an open mind and a sense of humor to approach everything like the adventure it is.” – It seems to me that this slipped your mind (if you have one) when you read this post. Pretty ironic, isn’t it?

    • tsg on February 8, 2012 at 2:32 am

      Let me guess you are that guy who drives a BMW, has american girlfriends, plays Beer Pong. Your facebook page has you standing with girls in different levels of trampy clothes in pubs or parties. You have a 90k$ paying software job in the bay area or any ‘happening’ location and think of yourself as rich. You are congratulating yourself on having lived the American dream and being the target of envy of all your ‘less successful’ desi friends and relatives!

  8. vadakkus on December 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Awesomely written post! Just beautiful.

    It is not just the USA and India, but different parts of India that make one feel as it was described above. Like when visiting the old village where you grew up after having settled in the big city.

    I am an ex-NRI myself, (like most Malayalees are) and I remember people coming to “check me out” as a kid and asking “Do you know Malayalam?”, “No, don’t give him chillies, give me Maggi noodles” and so on. It was humiliating to say the least.

    The underlying mockery and sarcasm on how Indians try to become pseudo-Americans but fail miserably is awesome! :)

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

      You are right, alienation is inevitable when you move away, and while it usually comes from others, sometimes it is self-inflicted. I am glad you enjoyed reading it.

  9. ACanadian on December 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Well said and beautifully written. But don’t you think this also shows a internal conflict and to seek acceptance in both the worlds and you gain or loose acceptance based on how you deal with these individuals who give you grief. If we have been put on pedestal and judged, then what about the people judging us? are they not inherently FOBs or IBCI(India Born Confused individuals).

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:11 am

      Who says it does not show an internal conflict? The alienation comes from within, as much as it comes from outside.

  10. Akshaya on December 7, 2011 at 3:28 am

    Hi,

    Fabulous writing style! I have gone through the experience of being ‘foreigner in India’after my first trip to India from Australia. After frequent visits and explanations that tag has now been demolished for me!
    I was lucky to have a welcoming community in Australia, so never felt the feeling of being in exile!

    • DC on December 11, 2011 at 10:12 am

      I am glad you had a welcoming community. Living away from home should never feel like the experience of being in exile. It defeats the purpose of wanting to learn from going outside your comfort zone and seeing the world.

  11. Ananth on December 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Well written.

    • DC on December 14, 2011 at 7:04 am

      Thank you Ananth !

  12. Macco on December 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Brilliant article!

    When I went back to india this year, I was like Kentucky fried chicken , really??????!

    By the time, I got back to the US I was emotionally drained.. Unfortunately, people in India (friends and relatives) cannot understand what that means and make fun of that as well :(

    • DC on December 14, 2011 at 7:06 am

      I hear ya !! The great news is, the re-orientation phenomenon gets better with every future visit to India :)

  13. Roshni on December 14, 2011 at 6:30 am

    um….the last part is so me that it is just scary!! However, my last visit to Kolkata was much better…I multiplied my idea of how much each item would cost by 10!! Also, I very firmly put my foot down in going to KFC and shopping malls!! Yes, I AM a dehati, thank you very much…now, let me have more dahi chaat!!

  14. DC on December 14, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Yayy to dahi chaat, roadside phuchka, chicken roll, and fish fry. My immunity and happiness index would not be the same if it were not for these little joys in life. I still take the buses and trams there, because this is who I am, and this is how I grew up :) BTW, thanks for your comment on Priyam’s post. I would have taken that “Jhumpa Lahiri” remark as a compliment anyway, but you correctly pointed out what some people missed, that this was not a sob story. This was supposed to be a humorous story :)

  15. nj on December 16, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Beautifully expressed – just so many things I could relate to. It’s quite a feeling when you come back to the city you called home and find that everything has changed so much that you no longer know what is home.

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:46 am

      Right …. Glad you liked it …. and sad that some people missed the context and read it as a rant post.

  16. Swaroop Bose on December 17, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    I think people in India should really take time and read this article to understand what they act like and make us feel.
    Its simply very well put.I would call it a Masterpiece in its own sense!

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Thank you Swaroop … well, I would not really complain about it .. sometimes certain things done inadvertently makes us feel out of place.

  17. K on December 18, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Nicely written! Would not agree with everything thats in there, but can relate to everything and probably go ‘ been there, done that’ , and I believe you’ll eventually get to a stage where you end up converting rupees to Dollars and go ‘ hey, that sounds about right after all ‘ :) Cheers..

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:49 am

      hehe … I hope so too :)

  18. Vijay on December 18, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Very well written. Every indian international student in the US would have had a similar experience – esp packing stuff you don’t need!

    The “we” and the “us” is spot on. Sadly, being here does change you, even though you don’t want it to. But I am hoping that staying for a longer time in india will change one back :)

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:50 am

      Well, at some point, you stop caring about changes and move on … no?

  19. Raam Das on December 19, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Nicely put. I was questioned about my whereabouts in US when I refused to drink alcohol, during 2 weeks visit in India. And tone was like “Are you coming amreeka or small conservative village.”

    Very well relate. -:)

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:51 am

      hmm …. I know the feeling ..

  20. DJ on December 19, 2011 at 1:21 am

    “Everybody said a lot about it, so I can’t and don’t judge whether you made your points right or wrong, but yes, Beautiful narration.

    —————————–
    -Jo bhi mein kehna chaahuu,

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:52 am

      Thank you DJ :)

  21. Aswin on December 19, 2011 at 2:59 am

    Very True, Very True. The “Brand” craze has become an epidemic for sure. But I’m not sure if I will agree with the “Alienating by Calcutta” part. Yes, dressing fancy and flashy would seem flaunty anywhere in the world.

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:53 am

      Well, alienation could happen anywhere, Calcutta or Calicut, no?

  22. VM on December 21, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Beautifully written! I have been in the US for just about a year now but I can relate to your post so well. I will be visiting home during Christmas and am looking forward to the “new” experience :-)

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Hope your new experience goes well, VM.

  23. Vik on December 21, 2011 at 11:40 am

    I think a lot of your experiences stem from a gender specific standpoint. Let me explain before you pounce on me for any perceived gender bias. I have, for instance, noticed that FOB females tend to be more eager to change their accents. Not so much with the FOB guys. Is it possible that female FOBs are more eager to fit in. Whereas the guys dont really care or dont care as much?

    The insular attitude (of retreating to your Indian ‘ghetto’) is prevalent amongst other communities as well, regardless of their FOB or native status. For example: 2nd and 3rd generation blacks and hispanics tend to stay within their cultural groups.

    But great piece. I had that same ‘you still speak the language’ and ‘ill fitting clothes’ experiences I can relate to.

    Thx for writing it.

    V

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Vik, I cannot comment on your perceived gender bias, because I do not have much personal experience of it. One changes accent to be able to fit in, and to make sure people understand what you say, right? When I teach in American classrooms every Fall semester, I cannot expect my students to understand my Desi accent, right? So there we go …

  24. Another NRI on December 25, 2011 at 7:45 am

    I returned to India early this year after staying outside for 5 years. After being there for more than 3 months, and experiencing what is exactly described in the article, I packed my bags and returned. Previously, I had been to India for my vacations but never felt so alienated as when I planned to settle. Whether its family or neighbors or prospective employers, the first question is – Why did you come back? Next, how much you earned, how much you saved, why haven’t you got married, how come you are still vegetarian, and the list is endless… As mentioned in one of the comments above, I was too emotionally drained with all this.
    And, it’s just not me, my cousins had similar experiences and they returned after staying in India anywhere between 3 months to 2 years… Unfortunately, people in India do not realize how many NRIs want to return and work in/for the country, but the insensitive attitude pushes us further away. Both US and Singapore, my home for past 5 years, have been far more accepting and inclusive than India has ever been. As I say… a foreigner here and an alien at home… I feel ‘homeless’.

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

      Sorry to hear about your experiences, and I know what you are saying…. perhaps the key is to go back every year so that changes do not strike you so harshly?

    • friend on February 12, 2012 at 9:35 am

      Dear Another NRI,
      I was just skimming through all the comments on this post and happened to read yours which made me want to comment. Why should it be just India? Had you been born in any other part of the world, say London, and returned after going to some other foreign land, don’t you think the situation would have been the same? My point here is, its natural for people around you to ask questions like ‘why are you back?’, ‘why haven’t you got married’ ,etc. How else do you want to start a conversation with someone you are meeting after 5 years??
      As I already commented on this post, its not the country or its culture, its you who think in a certain manner that makes you feel that way. Its your inner prejudices and ego, that makes you think you are superior to other people if you are coming from a foreign land and yet want to be treated evenly. Ask your own conscience if this isn’t the truth. Get rid of your presumptions and start to accept things around you as natural. You will be more at peace with yourself.
      No hard feelings intended here. I myself am one of the FOBs here.

  25. AbhishekG on December 26, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Well Written…..I guess living in US we get used to the culture so much that some of the basic things needed in India we forget…as giving bribes, looking down or up to people (much more in India than US)etc.

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Yeah, and it does more actually …. it changes you in a way that your own people find you behaving strangely :)

  26. […] to this blog. I highly recommend reading this and happy to share it. The FOB who became an ABCD http://amreekandesi.com/2011/12/04/the-fob-who-became-an-abcd/ 18.927865 72.824894 GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  27. […] Nandan : For how long you have been doing travel writing ? DC : Well, you might be surprised to know that it all started with Ghumakkar. I was doing general writing but nothing in travel domain. My first travel story was on Ghumakkar in summers of 2010. So I have done travel writing for last year and a half. Incidentally I do non-travel writing. I wrote about my experiences as a stranger in a foreign country, and then a stranger in my own country – http://amreekandesi.com/2011/12/04/the-fob-who-became-an-abcd/ […]

  28. lame on January 4, 2012 at 1:43 am

    Such a standard, trite, stereotypical post (and I am shocked that people think it’s fabulously well-written or insightful. This must explain the popularity of Chetan Bhagat). She makes it sound as though Indians come to the U.S. after living in a cave. Her naivete and bewilderment can only be explained if she grew up pre-liberalization India. Even then, there were novels and newspapers, accessible to lower middle class kids even (it would be understandable if she didn’t grow up in a well-read metro like Calcutta). She sounds too young to be so completely clueless about the U.S. before coming here. Perhaps she is alienated because she is not normally socially adaptable or resourceful to pick up appropriate social cues? If this is attributable to a psychological disabilities, my apologies. In that case, it would be good for the author to let us know–otherwise, such acute social discomfort in a normal situation is odd. If people felt as she does, it would be impossible to attend international conferences or do business or communicate with overseas colleagues. Maybe she’s just unlucky? Her friends in India seem unusually prickly and offense-prone.

    • Chris on February 4, 2012 at 9:48 am

      + 1 for the entire post.

      + 1000 for your comment “this must explain the popularity of Chetan Bhagat.”

    • A on February 11, 2012 at 3:01 am

      I enjoyed reading her article. It is a perspective that many of us share. I don’t think it’s a sad life, but for some very emotional people, it’s been a harder transition. I think many indians who’ve moved to this country have embraced the change. The experience makes you a global citizen and you learn to appreciate different cultures and are more liberal.

    • gabbar on February 11, 2012 at 6:49 am

      You sound hateful. Much of what the author is written is very familiar experience for many I know. For you to completely disregard it and doing so in a disrespectful way says more about your own personality (doesn’t matter where you live)!

  29. lame on January 4, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Oh and if this is satire, then it’s too trite to work.

  30. Sayanti on February 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    If I could have penned down what I felt after my latest visit to India, it will be just the same, WORD TO WORD!!! I am truly moved…

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

      I am glad :)

  31. anand on February 8, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    ahh ! loved it !
    have felt each and every single emotion here…
    but i guess for me , the time is soon for the one lost stray cattle to come back to its herd and then the herd takes it back as if it was never gone… this alienated feeling arises cos you are not there in india… once you decide that its time to go back home , the doors will always be open..

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:05 am

      Well, doors are always open, there was never any question about that (thankfully) :)

  32. Subhasree Basu Roy on February 9, 2012 at 6:56 am

    I relate to every sentence.
    Battling the alienated feeling from within every day. Facing those probing questions from relatives everytime I call them.
    Thanks for weaving these untold emotions into your words so wonderfully.

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Thank you for reading and commenting Subhasree :)

  33. John Dondapati on February 9, 2012 at 7:49 am

    You spoke my mind. I can blindly replace “She” with “He” and “Calcutta” with “Hyderabad” and this becomes my story.

    Very well written. The tone was more of observations than complaints. That’s the best feature of your writing. One could easily drift into a monotonous cribbing when writing about life changes but you handled it very well. Kudos!

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:26 am

      John, I am glad you observed it …. I did not mean to make it a crib-sob story.

  34. Hariprasad on February 9, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Am I right in observing that Bengalis are a self-regarding people? Always thinking like a solipsist and massaging the “tragic flaw” — it’s me versus the universe sob stories? These stories are terribly boring. Grow up and understand that it’s not about you but also about the people who have been jettisoned. Learn how to look at the world through another’s eye. Resident Indians must think about the minor discomforts of escapists. While watching Namesake I was thinking about the couple’s parents all the time instead of their identity crises. Please don’t read my comment as a NRI vs. RI rant but as the unstoppable march of the NRI’s self-interest.

    The Indian middle class is the most callous of all middle classes; within it the NRI class is even more callous; within it the Bengali NRIs are the most callous. They give NOTHING back ever and are cribbing all the time about little tragedies.

    • gabbar on February 11, 2012 at 6:41 am

      And you don’t sound prejudiced at all!

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Do you have something against Bengalis? Something akin to generalized hatred? It is futile to respond to your scathing comment in that case.

  35. Sriloy on February 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    DC khub bhalo laglo lekha ta pore…:D aro onek lekho erom…but i m not a blogger so jani na ki kore pabo……but bhalo lekha thik e pabo ei bissas roilo…:)

  36. Arindam Ghosh on February 10, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I just loved the way you talked about the culture shock both when you came here and when you went back…. hailing from the same neck of the woods as you and studying in the same neck of the woods as you I completely understand where you are coming from. I hope that I dont face the same response from my friends when I go back

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Thank you Arindam :)

  37. gabbar on February 11, 2012 at 6:38 am

    I enjoyed reading what you have described here, in simple words and with humor! A journey that was to a far away land of different cultures and customs; little did you know once you take on this journey your own identity will become a quest of sorts.

    All those criticizing the thoughts here, are just proving your point. And what’s with the arrogance in some comments? Once the glamour of the place is gone, life is same anywhere in the world, doesn’t make anyone better just because they can buy more things.

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:38 am

      Thank you for your comment gabbar, and thank you more than that for responding to some mean and disrespectful comments posted by others. I would not have bothered doing that, but I appreciate it. People do not always have similar experiences in life. What is sad is when commentators get disrespectful, racist, and judgmental. Anyway …

  38. rajeshkhanna on February 11, 2012 at 6:54 am

    I beg to disagree with the article. Your personal experiences cannot be generalised. It is a well written experience though.

    My friends and family treat me the same way they always did. It depends on your upbringing, people around you etc. If you follow the motto, ‘When in Rome..’, you won’t get caught out. For example, in a restaurant, why on earth would you say ‘I am good’, instead of a polite ‘No, thank you’? Out of habit is not a digestible excuse. A ‘No, thank you’ is suitable to any situation in the US or in India.

    • DC on February 11, 2012 at 11:36 am

      Well, when did I claim my experiences can be generalized? And good for you that you don’t have unhappy experiences to share. However, isn’t your comment generalized and also judgmental for a change? No two people go through the same experiences in life, and it is all context-driven.

  39. friend on February 12, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Hi, read your post and could relate with some part of it. I would say, it really depends on how you take things. It was ultimately your decision to leave your homeland and seek opportunities overseas. So, people back home will definitely try to measure and mark you in whatever you do. But, in the end its your choice about how you deal with them.
    The first visit will definitely be more difficult. Luckily, I still consider my country as mine and Indians as my people and never felt like an alien (or was made to feel) in my homeland, on my maiden visit to India. I never tried to adopt the American mannerisms or culture and stayed the way I was back at home. That was what helped me retain myself.

  40. Hari on February 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    The story of my life for the past two years. Verbatim !! Kudos on bringing out such an awesome article !!

  41. Pooja on February 20, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Wow what a story. In my opinion every indian student who comes to US for their bachelors or Masters go through the same sequence of events in their life.

  42. Vineet on March 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    It’s unfortunate that you experienced what you did, but — without being disrespectful — you have to be a little immature and insecure to feel the way you’re feeling. If you have a good sense of humor, you’ll do just fine in either country. It’s disapponting that this article paints a very sorry picture of India and Indians. It’s true that Indians are curious about Indians who return from abroad, but most of them are perfectly nice and friendly, even though a little ignorant. A few nutjobs, anywhere in the world, will always be genuinely rude, but you don’t want to be friends with them to begin with :)

  43. Vinod on March 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Unfortunately, you’ll win only stupid admirers by attacking the people of India. Like Vineet said, most people in India are perfectly nice. You just need to see them with the right attitude. By targeting trivial things such as Indians’ habit of eating at McDonald’s and KFC – a habit I strongly believe isn’t true to begin with – you’re proving one of two things: you’re a sarcastic snob or you have really shallow and superficial friends. If you really want to attack India, attack the overpopulation, the pollution, the corruption, and the below-par sanitation – four big reasons why most Indians decide to live abroad. There’s nothing wrong with the average Indian. It’s our politicians that make us ABCDs. Think about it.

  44. RYF on March 7, 2012 at 2:08 am

    very well written.. but this girl gives a lot damn to what people think about and react to her..i know its difficult to be like ABCD for FOB ..but may be thats good in retrospection. There are a lot of things in Amerika to explore other than constantly reflecting upon your position in society and how u fit in and how u r received..Look around and try to add richness to your experience..’try’ is the word and don’t necessarily try to fit in always. You are special, you know.

  45. Ajanta on March 8, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Very well written and true to the last word! However, in my opinion, this is one of the many phases 1st Gens go through. Give it a few more years and you somehow learn to maneuver around both landscapes a lot better. Your origin becomes a key factor in differentiating yourself in the US and somehow makes you more interesting. Back home, people start to realize that the traditional clothes you are wearing reflect pride instead of pretension and you slowly (re)discover your identity..

  46. Sahil on March 15, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    I’m in the same boat, metaphorically speaking, and I call myself an IBCD – Indian Born Confused Desi.

    Also, dhobhi ka kutta etc. etc.

  47. Neil on April 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    The writer spends more time disparaging the differences rather than embracing them. It’s a fact that there are many cultural differences. Instead of trying to hide the differences it’s better to wear them boldly. It’s not a crime. The truth is that we all are primates and it takes time for us to accept someone from a different background. If you fail to accept their inability to accept you right away, then of course you will be one of the many secluded Indians who go around in small cabals talking shit about Americans in some Indian language.
    Rather than faking laughter at pop references in some joke, she should have chosen to keep quite. I, myself have faced these situations when I first came here and my friends were eager to educate me about the various pop references, it’s not a wrong thing, you were not here for the last decade, so it’s natural you won’t know about these things, and they know it. They don’t disparage you for not knowing, it’s all in your mind. You need to show interest in their culture, only then they will be eager to have you around, instead if you act like a snob and think that your culture is better and superior than theirs’ then naturally you will be alienating them. In fact you would do the same thing if they came to your country and acted snobbishly about their own culture. Also before piling up a huge blob of something she didn’t know, wasn’t it more wise to be a little wary of how much others are taking and then take accordingly, or even asking a friend or someone what that was? She has no right to put blames on the cultural differences for her own gaffe, this could have happened even back in India, if she were to travel to a different state where they might have completely different cuisine and buffet organization.
    As for spending 4-5 lines describing in a sarcastic way about her hostess’s shorts, I would like to ask what is wrong in that? It’s a vogue and even women in India are wearing them, unless of course the writer is one of the women in India who went to the court to protest against an ad of some lingerie on a bill board.
    The writer feels like a foreigner back in Calcutta? well, I would agree, I was born there and I think most of the people there have a cynical attitude towards US and it’s lifestyle, don’t forget it’s a communist ghetto of India too.
    I came to US in Aug 2010,I was received from the airport by an American friend to whom I had only talked over email, I have been accepted in the American society in this very short time. My friends (who are all Americans, except one) here let me use their own car for practicing left hand driving, have always given me rides whenever I needed them, helped me open an account in the bank when I first came here, I go on vacations with them, they share their personal stories with me and I with them, I get invited to everything they do, starting from Christmas with their family, Halloween, Thanksgiving with their family etc To be honest, I feel like this is my second home, I never feel like an outcast.

    So I would say this blog at best to be a viewpoint of one person who suffered because of her own insular viewpoint and paranoia, and should not be used to draw a general conclusion about American and their lifestyle. People commenting “people coming to US must go through this well written post… “, well why don’t we let them see, explore and decide on their own instead of trying to proselytize them to go through this self imposed delusion of being rejected?

    • DC on April 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Neil, you can spend the rest of your life picking on this article. Alternatively, you can nod positively in agreement, nod negatively in disagreement, and move on. Human behavior and interpretation does not follow a set of rules and protocols unfortunately. We respond to different situations differently. For example, if I were you, I would have paraphrased your entire comment as, “Sorry to hear about the meaning-making of your experiences. Fortunately, my experiences in America have been very positive. Don’t worry, we all fit in eventually, some sooner, some later.”.
      Lastly, to keep it short, the article is not a rant about how she perceived people and cultures in America and looked down on them. It is about her inner questioning of how to fit in and where to belong.

  48. DC on April 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Neil, you can spend the rest of your life picking on this article. Alternatively, you can nod positively in agreement, nod negatively in disagreement, and move on. Human behavior and interpretation does not follow a set of rules and protocols unfortunately. We respond to different situations differently. For example, if I were you, I would have paraphrased your entire comment as, “Sorry to hear about the meaning-making of your experiences. Fortunately, my experiences in America have been very positive. Don’t worry, we all fit in eventually, some sooner, some later.”.
    Lastly, to keep it short, the article is not a rant about how she perceived people and cultures in America and looked down on them. It is about her inner questioning of how to fit in and where to belong.

    • Neil on April 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

      DC, Well I agree my comments were a bit too harsh and I apologize. I didn’t mean to pick on you. I can empathize with you, how you might have felt. But at the same time I can’t help myself from thinking that you could have fixed things, but anyways, past is past. Let’s move on.
      But I would like to add, if people started looking at other people as human beings like themselves instead of a completely different set of creatures just because they speak differently, have different culture, and look differently, then the world will be a happier place to live and no one would feel socially ostracized. I love to appreciate this diversity in US, my room mate is from Europe, most of my close friends are Americans, I have friends who are from China, Turkey etc. I talk to them, go to their parties know about their culture, tell them about mine, it’s so exciting. I feel like I am the host of the TV show Travel and Living, and I love this life here.

  49. Prahalad on June 8, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Hi, great article. But surely the author missed out the biggest culture shock between western countrieds and India. In western countries people don’t worship fair skin and you don’t have the racist F&L adverts.

  50. Raina on June 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Deesee , your story makes me come full circle with issues i face , i grew up in a western country ,but born in a country that has Indian people i.e. hindu .. just like in India {yet im denied that truth of being an Indian.. because im not from India}.
    Many of my friends very subtley or kindly remind me that you are not ‘Indian’.
    But i love India to bits and fell in love with it when i visited some 20 years ago, its where i feel that iam actually ‘alive’ ,if you know what i mean .. yet i know if i were to live there i will always be a outsider there too.. yes there too .. because in a western country one who is bought up in Indian values etc can never be a western person, as the sad truth.

    No offense meant to immigrants coming to western countries being called FOBs etc .. they think they have it hard.. like your story – they don’t realise how hard it is for ABCD’s. Because we are constantly in conflict with ourselves , because we constantly search for a place/people to belong to.

    I can speak for myself , that when i moved to a western country in the 1980’s , we had to adjust ourselves to what was in the country ,yet never loosing track of our culture , {sometimes i think this aspect makes us ABCD’s more appreciative & loyal to our Indian culture} but also aloows us the blend to value what another country offers us .. could it possibly be that if we all just remained in our own countries we would not grow as more better people?

    Like i was saying .. when i saw Indian immigrnats coming into the country as students i would go all out to help them in whatever way i could .. and they would gladly accept the help.. yet we ABCD’s are never fully accepted simply because we are a bit different.
    As before still wondering where the buck stops??? Any thoughts anyone? My question is – is it fair that some individuals are constantly pushed to a corner .. because they are not ‘one of them’. With so much immigration into different countries .. will the real Indian please stand up?

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All content on this site is the personal opinion of the writer. It is in no way related to their employer or their official policies. Most of what is written here is in a satirical tone. If it hurts your sensibilities, I sincerely apologize.
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