Forty-Something Years in Ninaland

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Indians in America

MehdhiDo you ever wonder what it’s like to be Indian? Let me give you a glimpse into my culture. Now I’m talking about Indians who grew up in my generation and their parents. I think we are called first and second generation Indian Immigrants.

When you are a kid and you are Indian you often times are born with hair on your head, dark hair. I was one hairy baby. White people are stunned by this since most white babies are bald. I’m not sure if my parents were disappointed that they had a girl because I don’t remember my birth, but they ‘claim’ they were happy.

Indian mothers will coddle you, spoil you and feed you. They don’t play that game where they let you cry until you are cried out. They hold you until you can’t breathe for your first few years. Later on, they will cook for you and you will eat until you can’t breathe. If you come over to an Indian person’s house and their mother is cooking…you better eat…or there will be consequences.

indian food 3

Indian fathers will try to educate you while you are still in the womb. My father started to educate me at a tiny age. We would spell words like cat, hat, bat, etc. My father taught me what negative numbers were when I was like eight. I didn’t understand the concept. In fact I can’t say I really understand the concept even now. I was never a math person. He has never accepted that and tried to teach me calculus concepts at age fourteen. I just looked at him funny.

Just so you are clear, all Indians are not geniuses, but the Immigrant Indians that happen to come to America are usually the smartest people in their generation. My mother is a doctor and my dad is an Engineer. When I was a kid if I said I wanted to be an actress or a teacher, my parents would correct me: You will be a doctor. It was like a mantra for them: You will be a doctor. You will be a doctor. Mind control. I actually wanted to be a doctor for a good part of my childhood. The closest I ever got to the medical profession was dressing like a doctor for Halloween and the game Operation.

Indian doctor

Young Indian people call their parents friends ‘Uncle’ and ‘Auntie.’ This is all across India, regardless of religion or caste. My dad would tell me to call the neighbor, Bob, Bob Uncle. Not Uncle Bob, but Bob Uncle. The name of the individual comes first. Like Ram Uncle and Preeti Auntie. I was like six or seven and I understood then that Bob wouldn’t understand why I was calling him Bob Uncle so I would try to avoid calling him by name. Even if I don’t know an Indian person that is my parent’s age, I will call them Uncle or Auntie. As far as I’m concerned there are almost a billion Aunties and Uncles in this world.

In America, when older Indian people see other Indians in public, they either befriend each other or give each other dirty looks. I don’t understand this one myself; just trust me that it happens all the time. If you hear Indian people talking in Hindi in public and you think they are talking about you, if you stare at them long enough, they probably are.

Now there is this concept of the ‘Indian Party’ that my white friends never understand. We would go to other Indian people’s homes a lot. To this day my parents have like two or three white friends, all of their friends are Indian. I would play with my friends in the basement and my parents would sit and talk to their buddies. A lot of times the women would sit in one room, the men in another. They would clap their hands together loudly when they laughed. Indians in America also speak Hinglish to each other, Hindi mixed with English. And they usually have a third language like Punjabi or Gujarati that they mix in there too. You literally have to understand three languages to get what they are saying.

When I was growing up I had two sets of friends: my Indian friends and my white friends. These two sets of friends did not know each other, and I was not allowed to sleepover at anyone’s house unless they were Indian. And if they had older brothers it was questionable. My mother would drive an hour to my Indian friend’s home rather than let me sleepover at my neighbor’s house.

I told my parents at the age of fourteen that I was interested in boys. I tried the honest approach. Totally wrong, my sister had the right idea and would sneak boys into our walkout basement. My parents told me there was no way I could have a boyfriend so I better shut up. That was the end of that.

When I was young my parents were convinced that I would get an arranged marriage. Almost all Indian people their age had arranged marriages and none of them were divorced. First they wanted me to get married at eighteen, then after college, now they would appreciate if I would just get hitched in my lifetime. They no longer think I will have an arranged marriage. In fact they have given up on the idea that I will marry another Indian. At this point, I have tired them out to the point that all they want for me is a husband with a job.East-Indian-Sikh-Wedding-ceremony-s22

I still remember when I was in college they tried to introduce me to this foot doctor. We met and didn’t hit it off. OMG did I hear about how I could have married this dude and been happy with children and healthy feet. My parents only very recently stopped mentioning the random doctors etc. that they tried to ‘arrange’ me with.

When I was in high school I started to do poorly in math. My dad would not accept lower than an A, an A- was not good enough in his eyes. When I started to write and love English and Creative Writing, my parents thought this was a hobby. “What is this writing shyting?” my mother would ask. Indian people will often say a real word and then make up a rhyming fake word after it. For example “Are we going to eat cake shake?” or “Let’s drink chai shai…Where is the bottle shottle?” Why they do this is even a mystery to them.

There is also this thing called IST, Indian Standard Time. If you invite Indian people over at six-thirty, they will come between seven-thirty and eight. An hour to an hour and a half late to a party is expected. In fact the host is not usually ready until an hour after they invite people. I make the mistake of being on time to Indian parties and my friends get pissed. They look at me like “What are you doing here?”

OK, so let’s clear this up…Are Indian people cheap? Yes and no. My mom cannot pass up a sale or a bargain. She once bought a gigantic soy sauce bottle at Sam’s Club because it was on sale, and we are not Chinese nor do we eat any Chinese food. When asked about the soy sauce, her response: “It was on sale! I also bought five boxes of frozen egg rolls, they were five for ten dollars!” They were nasty.

My parents don’t understand the concept of tipping, because no one tips in India. They still think ten percent is OK. I finally taught them twenty percent so I could show my face at restaurants. My parents will buy thousands of dollars of Indian jewelry, however, they shop for groceries at Wal-Mart despite the fact that I have told them it is an evil company. “Evil, shevil,” my mother will say. “We save at least twenty percent there…It’s not my fault they don’t pay their workers.”

In high school, all my Indian friends were in A.P. classes. We were all smart, some of us were nerds, some of us were ‘cool.’ Some of us were just different and weird. I was probably a weird nerd. But honestly I wasn’t doing well enough in school to be a true nerd. I tried to get out of honors math, but my counselor wouldn’t let me. I swear it was ‘cause I was Indian…

Indian people also do this thing where they have elaborate parties for every occasion. I’ve been to high school graduation parties that could rival any wedding party in fashion and expense. Indian people like to entertain, and when I was growing up there was a competition to see who could have the most extravagant graduation party. I went to parties with belly dancers in halls that fit up to three hundred people.

Indian Party

To Indians at the time I was growing up, the college you got into was EVERYTHING. I somehow managed to get into University of Michigan. My parents could finally show their face in public when I got off of the waitlist. When I got into Columbia for grad school they had hope for me. Now my dad will chant: “Can’t you sell a bestseller? Why don’t you write a children’s book? The girl who wrote Harry Potter is richer than the queen of England!”

Now that I moved back in with my parents, they want to impose the same strict rules they had for me as a child. I wanted to have a party, and my mother said she didn’t want young single men in her house. I told her most of the single men were gay, and her mouth dropped. They still get upset if I come home after twelve at night and tell me that I ‘roam’ too much. My mother even thinks it’s bad that I go to café’s alone, she thinks it’s not lady like.

I could probably go on for days about the Indian culture and I’ve probably missed a lot of points, like how extended family is so important, until you get into a fight with them over land in India. But that’s not the point; the point is after all this Indians are some of the most successful communities in this country. We are educated, we are cultured and we have morals, for the most part.

Indians are awesome!

nina

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 October 20th, 2015  
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