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Lack of good samosas can cause angst: Shoba

Author: Prajwala Hegde | ENS

  • Published Date: Sep 25, 2012 9:03 AM
  • Last Updated: Sep 25, 2012 2:34 PM

You might have the best fast food chains and restaurant from across the world in your vicinity, but you would still crave for that simple dal chawal prepared lovingly by your mother back home. However, definitely not the biggest of worry for an Indian immigrant living abroad, when they have to worry about getting a Green card, paying mortgage or enrolling their kids for that weekend Bharatnatyam classes (just so that they know something about their Indian roots or ‘culture’), among a million other things.

Shoba Narayan who recently launched her second book, ‘Return to India’, spoke to us about the many dilemmas faced by the Indian diaspora who are straddling two cultures. The story behind writing the book, she says, “It is a memoir about what it means to be an immigrant in a foreign country and what propels immigrants to return. Like most memoirs, Return to India, is about the author (me) trying to make sense of my world; and once I’ve figured it out; attempting to pass on these pearls of wisdom to the reading public. The book took ten years to write and through multiple drafts and multiple versions, I discovered that I couldn’t give up on it.  Like a mosquito bite, it kept itching till I finally let it out to the world.”

Lack of good samosas in New York and lack of good bagels in India are one of the small things that cause the greatest angst, the author admits. “For me, the fact that my “American” kid would not eventually be able to understand or appreciate Sardarji jokes or Rajinikanth movies was something that I had a hard time dealing with. It’s the small things; the pin pricks that cause the floodgates of reverse migration to open.”

‘On the one hand, I wanted her to be humble and respectful to elders like a good Indian kid; on the other hand, I wanted her to be an American go-getter’-reads one of the excerpts from her book. We ask Shoba that isn’t it confusing for an American kid of Indian origin to be able to meet such unrealistic expectations?

She confesses, “Yes. This is why we moved back.  But here too, I am giving confusing mixed messages to my kids.  They are going to be messed up, no matter what.  That is the moral of the story.”

Aren’t most decisions involving migration, matters of the heart (rather than any external factors)? Isn’t it a personal choice, the choice to leave your country and start a new life abroad? So, why is it portrayed as a ‘struggle’? She replies, “Going abroad isn’t a struggle.  When I was in college, I was dying to get out.  It is whether to come back that is a struggle– to some immigrants.  Lots of Indians love living abroad.  More power to them if they have made their peace with it.  Lots of other NRIs however are unable to give up on the Return to India question.  They are like Trishanku.  It is for them that this book is written.”

Shoba was awarded a Pulitzer Fellowship at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. About her experience at the J-school, she reveals, “Columbia’s J-school is like a boot camp– or an Indian wedding in which random aunties and uncles tell you uncomfortable truths: “Hello, you’ve become fat,” is my personal favorite.  At the J-school, professors play the role of that village aunty.  In the process, they teach you to observe better, ask questions, analyze data, detect bullshit, cultivate sources, and find your writing style.  A tall order for a J-school but Columbia delivers on it.” Her first book- ‘Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes’, is a food narrative that combined delectable Indian recipes with tales from her life, where the author contrasts her upbringing as a Brahmin in  caste-conscious south India with her life in adopted America. The most startling difference when compared to Monsoon Diary, she says, is there no recipes in ‘Return to India’.

The author is a memoir writer and columnist based in Bangalore who has won the MFK Fisher award for Distinguished Writing.

Copyright © 2012 The New Indian Express. All rights reserved.

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