Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why our grandchildren are less likely to be part of any Bengali or Indian association abroad- unlike many of our non-Indian colleagues and neighbors?


Sometime ago I got emails from few local Bengali associations that  it need articles for its magazines for upcoming Durga Puja, the greatest event celebrated by almost any cultural organization that has any relation to Bengal or Bengalis- in India and abroad. We all seem to love such events that promote our culture. It includes Bengali’s favorite, mostly sterile adda (that reminds me of Utpal Dutta in Satyajit Ray's 'Aguntak') and food. It provides us the opportunity to skip boring cooking at home for a day or two. This seemingly religious festival is also a great respite even for the atheists.

I visited and lived in few different countries. Witnessed such programs almost everywhere, without much difference- both its unity and diversity (read, division). Initially, it was rather surprising to notice that hardly any Bengali teenagers and young adults attend such Bengali festivals, become part of such Bengali/Indian associations. Young children join such programs till they are under parental control who have no option but to accompany the parents. I do not see almost any second and subsequent generation of Indian/Bengali origin adults there. The picture was and still is not much different for Indian organizations representing different state/region/language/religion from India. Even professional organizations representing India  are no different.

Let's change the gear and get some data before coming back to the topic. About 69% of Indian Americans age 25 and over have four-year college degrees, which dwarfs the rates of 51% and 30% achieved by East Asians and whites, respectively. In 2007, the median income of households headed by an Indian American was approximately $83,000, compared with $61,000 for East Asians and $55,000 for whites (1). But these impressive achievements do not reflect social contribution of Indians. It fail to promote positive side of Indian culture (not the moral bankruptcy, lack of any sense of justice, feudal mentality, social hierarchy and pathetic work ethics) that benefit Indian interest, not just for few ‘elites’ or  specific political agenda, in India and abroad. We can ignore politically correct, motivational speeches by political and corporate leaders of America.

Many parents feel an overwhelming urge to teach their children the value of ‘our’ culture- mostly in the name of religion and tradition- like Durga Puja. But the question arises, what and how much does such effort achieve? Why so many second generation Indians still face severe identity crisis of being ‘Bengali’ or ‘Indian’ origin, despite the fact that Indians are the most or second most prosperous racial group in western world, including both USA and UK (2)? How does that economic prosperity benefit our future generations- both in India and in the host country? 

The answers for most such questions are far from satisfactory. Unlike British or German or Irish or Afro-American groups, I have not seen many third or 5th generation of Indian origin people with foreign citizenship organizing or proudly celebrating Indian festivals outside India- be it traditional, cultural or religious one. Second and subsequent generations of Bengalis (and, Indians) rather learn and perform ballet or salsa than Bharat Natyam or Kathakali; proudly play piano or violin than tabla or dhol or santur, if not coerced by over-indulging parents. Are those musical instruments or classical dance styles from India less artistic or ‘cultured’ that our own kids feel less or no attraction? Or is that peer-pressure from non-Indian friends in a foreign society? Do these children, and more importantly their parents, understand that if they cannot respect their own heritage there is less chance that they can respect other culture?

It’s not that hard to differentiate crude appeasement and opportunistic attitude  from genuine appreciation. Generally, a free and productive society and its leaders do not like cronies even if s/he has great job skill or money. They may need, even prefer, these backboneless cronies to perform certain jobs for the company but do not like to give much social acceptance and recognition, not much ready to consider them as their own. Unfortunately, few rare exceptions from India are also considered the same way, with the same default standard- at least initially. Social profiling is a very innate and seemingly effective skill that we learn from our childhood, not only from the parents and society but also as a policy tool, widely used by many corporate and government agencies (mainly immigration and security agencies).

Even the most docile, good-for-nothing fellow (other than being among the most obedient employees) who had no problem to take dowry and marry a highly docile, typical Indian bride from India, hardly attend and get associated with such Indian associations. To cut the long story short- such evidences indicate how we, collectively, fail to offer the advantage to ourselves and, most importantly, to our children and grandchildren the benefit of being part of one of the most glorious heritage and being among the most prosperous racial groups in western world where they get the opportunity and freedom to experience and embrace different other options and ways of life.

We also need to keep in mind that quality of American higher education, research and technological edge, where most Indians are associated with, are steadily declining since last few decades. As per latest data, the overall global ranking of USA slipped to 16th in 2012 as compared to 2nd in 1995,  when systemic data collection started, so far quality of higher education and research is concerned. It nicely correlate with America's declining economic prosperity and global socio-political dominance. It may or may not be related to demographic change where traditional minorities are becoming majority and percentage of white Caucasian population is declining.

Generally speaking, any immigrant population tends to be more successful. Indian and Bengali population outside India or Bengal (Bangladesh included), respectively, are no different. But that competitive advantage seems to be leveled off by third generation. That is true for any immigrant Bangladeshi or Bengali family settled in either Chittaranjan Park in Delhi or Chicago or Madison in the USA. Financial prosperity of current generation cannot be any indicator of success for subsequent generations, although (unfortunately) parental income does play a major role in future success of children in the USA too, as latest data indicate. But that is an indication of a bigger social problem that USA must address even to maintain its current lower standard of living, economic prosperity and, most importantly, social harmony.

Alienation of subsequent generation of Indians from actual Indian culture or having a wrong impression and/or interpretation about it also give rise to another long term issue when they get involved in India specific projects undertaken by (foreign) governments or private organizations- by virtue of their Indian origin. People who hardly know India and its people can never serve justice to any project intended to benefit Indian society and the host country/company that genuinely likes to achieve positive impact. It’s equally true for those first generation Indians whose knowledge about India hardly goes beyond metro cities and privileged societies there. Watching 'Pather Panchali' or rote memorization of Rabindra Nath Tagore is of no use there.

We fail, first, to realize and then to acknowledge that such Indian/Bengali organizations represent ‘our’ culture to our children. We ourselves and then these organizations are the role models to them. Most of us still promote the same moral bankruptcy, feudal mentality that include sycophancy, racial intolerance (India being the worst among 70 odd countries surveyed), and hierarchical society that we experienced and/or tolerated in India

Even a felon (criminal) prosecuted and convicted for 'domestic violence', who used beat his wife on a regular basis, was occupying 'board of trustee' position in a Bengali cultural and few other Indian associations, including a religious one, in a city in the USA, where I once lived. Almost everyone in the association and, most importantly, the management knew about it. Few meekly opposed that criminal, that too mostly in private conversations, while many so-called 'highly educated' people like professors, doctors, engineers, 'scientists' actively supported and/or helped him to remain in high positions in such Indian/Bengali/Hindu  associations. Abusive behavior, domestic violence against women and children (including girl child killing) seems to be more socially accepted. Such incidences are not so rare among 'educated' and financially prosperous NRIs and Indian origin people abroad as many might think.  Personal interaction with many from Indian subcontinent in the US and Europe made that perception stronger. 

There is less chance that any second (and subsequent) generation of Indian origin person would feel proud being part of any such association when they compare that culture and ways of running such organizations with other similar ones from European origin people or representing different community. We tend to promote those kids and people who have influence (monetary or otherwise) than real talents. Bigger the city and organization, worse the problem. ‘Indian’ organizations in Columbus (OH), Chicago or Washington or Zurich have far worse problem than smaller places like Madison (WI). And it’s not a scaling up issue. The tendency to brew discontent and break up increases, 1) when it has more affluent, influential members with feudal mentality (who think that giving hefty donations entitles him/her to control the organization, micromanage its agenda to promote self, spouses and children depriving many better deserving candidates- both at organization level, culturally and professionally) and, 2) a steady flow of young first generation immigrants who want to get social acceptance and recognition in a foreign country. No wonder, most big cities in the US have more than one such Indian organizations representing same or similar objectives and/or community. 

How wrongly we portray Bengal/India in the eyes of our own children and grandchildren. Surely it has its consequences affecting us, as well as India and the host countries. Promoting actual Indian or Bengali culture after filtering out the issues for which we all are now in a foreign country and not in our own, would help our own children to prosper here in the host country, become more socially productive and successful part of the world (that includes both India and the USA)- than naively refuting or hiding their own origin, suffering from identity crisis and foolishly rejecting one of the oldest and best civilizations and culture the world has ever witnessed. 


I hope our children or grandchildren would not be forced to become immigrant and migrate to other greener pastures in case America’s prosperity declines due to our (collective) ignorance or inability– just like our forefathers in India. It would be a great day to witness Indian or Bengali events/festivals spontaneously participated by 4th generation Indians/Bengalis living here in the USA, as we see for communities like Irish, German and many others. I would feel much happier if I can spontaneously share Bengali literature, culture and traditions without any false pretension or shame with my grandchildren and his/her non-Indian/Bengali spouse. Local Bengali organizations can play a much better, not necessarily bigger, role to help proud Indians/Bengalis like me achieving that- may be with their non-Bengali spouses.






Modified version of this blog were published in Durga Puja magazine, organized by Bengali Association of Madison (BAM).