Bhangra, Cricket: Exotic To Me
Image via WikipediaBhangra and cricket are very Indian. But they both remain exotic to me. I hear cricket is big in Nepal by now. But it wasn't when I was growing up. It was soccer, and volleyball in the hills. I am from the plains.
My mother's side of the family is Indian, Bihari to be particular. Because there are so many Indians out there, to claim the Indian identity is to claim humanity itself.
Getting my maternal uncles to read Nepali in their peculiar Indian accent was one of the fun things to do. Indians emphasize the syllables differently. Don't let the shared script between Nepali and Hindi fool you.
And in America, I have met a total of five Biharis so far. Meeting Indians in America is like meeting the French and the Germans and the British if you are perhaps Polish. The Tamils, Marathas, Gujaratis and Punjabis are all over the place. I have lost count of how many times some white person asked me, "Are you a Patel?" I have been left with the impression the Patels are a huge clan in America, perhaps the biggest of them all.
But the Indian identity is hugely scalable. I feel very Indian.
I was in Kathmandu in a boarding school for a decade of schooling. And I was living in Kathmandu right before I came to America. Eating dumplings is the best thing I learned in Kathmandu. (My Secret Sauce) A few weeks back I showed up at this place in Jackson Heights for some momo, Nepali word for dumplings. It is right by the train station on the way to Patel Brothers, same street. In the front you have a Bengali restaurant, in the back you have a Nepali/Tibetan corner. When I opened my mouth to order momo, the girl just burst out laughing. Later she explained she laughed because the idea of perfect Nepali coming out of a Bengali mouth was hilarious.
My first language is Maithili. Maithili and Bengali are the two languages closest to each other in the family of languages. I never actively learned Bengali but I can understand some of it. For my first few years in NYC, I lived in Little Bangladesh in Brooklyn, it is south of Prospect Park. I have walked every inch of that park.
When I would go out for grocery shopping, store owners would talk to me in Bengali. They simply assumed.
There are strong anti-India sentiments among the ruling elite of all small South Asian countries. But India is too big to do anything about it. And so who ends up bearing the brunt is Indian looking people who might be around, people like me. I feel like I had to come all the way to America to be able to claim my Indian identity.
I have never said no to the question Are You Indian while traveling through America's heartland/hinterland. For one, it's true. I was born in India, my mother is Indian, my hometown in Nepal is 10 miles from the Indian border. And it is a see through, walk through border. You simply walk over to India.
But I have not said no primarily to avoid having to explain who or what or where Nepal is. I prefer you google things up.
Once I met a Mexican who had never heard of India. "Too far? Too far?" He said. As in, is it so far away that I have never heard of it? But that is another story.
But even so you would routinely meet people who had that one Indian friend by the name of so and so. Would you by any chance know him/her? Over time I learned to give the right reaction. Say that one more time. Sorry, no, that name does not seem to ring a bell.
I am amused when Reshma Saujani gets referred to as a minority woman. There are so many of us, we are trying to control the population down there. Don't be calling us no minority.
One reason I like New York City so much is because it reminds me of both India and America at the same time. I love the city full package. Crowds, filth, everything.
Bhangra and cricket are exotic, Bollywood, though, is another story. I grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan.