Reading the diary of a fellow konkani in Germany inspired me to delve into my own journey. Here I am sharing a few of my thoughts.
I started to ask myself this a long time ago. Particularly for cultural transplants like myself: born in Bhatkal (coastal Karnataka), raised in Bombay, studied and now living in the US, this remains a BIG question.
After many deliberations (with friends, in bars, on hikes, staring at stars, riding bikes or climbing walls) and observations (lotsa desi friends and relatives) – I still don’t have my answer. But it no longer suffocates me. For those contemplating a similar journey, here are two important steps:
1. Don’t be embarrassed by your heritage; Be proud of it! For that, you have to know about it. Know the history, culture and religion and why it is so fascinating. Visit your native villages and experience the generosity of the folks. They may not have the latest fashionable clothes or restaurants, but their generosity is beyond comparison. It is only in the last few years that I have been drawn to our Hindu scriptures and am just completing a book of Hindu prayers. I am already working on the next book of Konkani Temples. And I can gab about it for hours! You have to know it thoroughly to be proud of it. Now, just because I go to a church on Easter, nobody is going to ask me to convert to Christianity. I am proud of my heritage. It may be humble in monetary value, but immensely rich in culture and tradition.
2. Be in the water, but not of it: Like a rock immersed in the river never gets water-logged. The lotus sprouts in swamp-like surrounding, but retains its fragrance. I want to learn, participate and blend in with the American culture, but not surrender myself to it. I may go to an American football game, but also keep in touch with the cricket world. Tasted the cuisines of the world and have my favorites; but I still crave Indian food. I enrich myself from my surroundings, my travels. Learning constantly of the work ethic and discipline. At the same time, I give something back to the culture here, a trace our discipline and work ethic. Not really a melting pot, but rather a metal alloy where each constituent element retains its identity and the whole is stronger and better for it. There is a time for crepes and a time for dosas. Be comfortable in a tux at a black-tie event and in a kurta at the temple. Be facile with the silverware and equally comfortable eating with your fingers. Its a delicate balance of blending in with the culture and also retaining your identity.
The more the world shrinks, the more important it is to retain ones own identify. The world will never be one big ‘mush’ culture, but rather independent nation-states, collaborating and working with each other, through trade and culturally porous borders.
In “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” Thomas Friedman has beautifully articulated the challenges posed by the ongoing globalization and discusses masterfully our desires for the Lexus and the Olive tree. The Lexus luxury car represents our “drive for sustenance, improvement, prosperity and modernization.” To raise our standard of living! The olive tree represents “everything that roots us, anchors us, identifies us and locates us in this world – whether it be belonging to a family, community, a tribe, a nation, a religion or, most of all a place called home.” We need both, the Lexus and the olive tree. Governments can facilitate our drive towards the Lexus, but we have to create our own paths to our own Olive tree groves.
Go in peace