I once put kheer on my rice. Ok, I’m not proud of this and I already regret telling you, quite frankly. It’s not that I’m that overly American, because I conceptually know the difference between raita and kheer. I suppose that my faux pas was related to the fact that I was speaking to someone while walking through a somewhat disorganized buffet line. It’s probably also related to the fact that I’m an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) and my Dad is a BBCD (British Born Confused Desi), who speaks little Hindi and, at best, broken Punjabi. My Mom, on the other hand, fluently speaks Urdu, Punjabi, and über-Hindi. What is über-Hindi, you ask? It means that she speaks Hindi so well that she teaches atStanfordUniversity. Yes, that’s right. You heard me. She teaches a language at an Ivy League school that her husband and kids can’t speak at all. Periodically, I will run into some of her former students who will start speaking to me in fluent Hindi and then, unaware of my language ignorance, apologize for their imperfect accent. If in a smug mood, I tell them that I was impressed, but that they might benefit from practicing a bit more. Other times, I break down and tearfully admit that I don’t speak a word of Hindi to an astonished and somewhat disgusted Stanford graduate.
So, as you can see, I’m certainly not an immigrant, but I’m not quite a first- generation either. I’m what most of your kids are – a watered down (paani’d down) Indian or a sort of “half-baked samosa,” if you will. On the other hand, my childhood American friends of the 1970s thought of me in the opposite regard. They considered me to be a substandard American who brought weird food to school. They also thought I worshipped weird Gods, smelled like curry, and had parents who dressed decidedly “foreign.” One particular day, I spelled and repeated my name for the 20th time that week to a flummoxed substitute teacher. The teacher asked me if I preferred a nickname. Inspiration struck and I went with “Peter” which worked like a charm until my Mom found out and forcibly “converted” me back to my given name. My Mom’s methods of force consisted of a series of verbal Punjabi insults and, more notably, a wooden cooking spoon-weapon. This particular spoon was used against my head so many times that I developed a spoon shaped dent in my head! Not surprisingly, I became far less mouthy and much more compliant when the spoon made an appearance. Punjabi discipline is just something you learn to respect.
In closing, I’ll admit to being pseudo-Indian, semi-American, and vaguely British.
As confused as I may be, I feel that it’s a privilege to grow up steeped in multiple cultures…even though it can be a very awkward existence at times. You can read more about my writing on this subject – see https://www.amazon.com/Are-You-Indian-Humorous-Growing/dp/0578116138 .