The Indianisation of America

About a dozen or so years ago, when I first arrived in the US, we bounced around the north-east for a while, changing 4 homes in 2 years. It was with a big gasp of relief that I landed in the Bay Area, where Indian stores and Indian mores were both part of the landscape and I found families who shared my cultural ambivalence.

Lately, though, it seems that the India of my childhood has been making an insidious creep into mainstream American society. Many values that I considered uniquely Indian are popping up as micro and macro trends in the big, bad West. Check these out –

Education – Possibly as a result of the powerful waves emanating from Tam-bram engineering brains, there has been a resurgence in the importance of science and math in early education. Some schools, especially those serving predominantly minority populations, have pared their curriculum down to these two basic functions. With President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, testing and teaching to the test have never been as significant. Without commenting on whether this is a positive trend or not, it does appear that elementary education in public schools is slowly beginning to resemble the rote-driven, drill emphasizing education I received growing up.

Girls gone mild – A new book by Wendy Shalit, a 1997 graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, profiles young women who stand up to social pressures to embrace promiscuity. Her previous book was 'Returning to modesty: discovering the lost virtue'. Apparently there is a growing trend in the country of girls wanting to (gasp!) stay in school, work hard and generally lead wholesome lives.

Abstinence -Thanks to the President's born-again evangelism, abstinence-only sex education has been given federal funding of over a billion dollars. A corollary to 'girls gone mild', this seems to forebode a return to the time when girls were chaste and boys had to wait. 

The Bollywood influence – Suddenly, song-and-dance routines, which used to be a staple of Hollywood studio productions 50 years ago, are making a big comeback – witness the success of High School Musical. Thanks to the cross-over influences of Mira Nair and Gurinder Chaddha, we get to see Nicole Kidman dancing to 'Chamma Chamma'  and our heroines gracing the red carpet at all the prestigious film festivals. Hrithik Roshan was profiled as an 'It' boy in GQ magazine as early as 2002.

The Yoga boom – There is Ashtanga Yoga, Viniyoga, Integral Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Power Yoga, Corporate Yoga, Office Yoga, Zen Yoga, Belly-dancing Yoga( I kid you not) and Pilates Yoga. Need I say more?

Medicine – Thanks to the advances in genetic testing, scientists are coming around to the fact that each individual may require a different set of therapies and medications for the same set of symptoms, a fact that has been a principal precept in Ayurveda for centuries. Kudos to Deepak Chopra for making millions off ancient Indian medical science. Hey, at least he understood the worth of our heritage!

Fashion – Chikan, Zardosi, Kantha, Tie-Dye- these have already penetrated mainstream clothing retail establishments. The long, crushed fabric skirts, that used to be a staple of Colaba Causeway in Mumbai are now so ubiquitous here that I have sometimes found them on sale at the local American grocery store. 

Food – Once dependent on price-gouging Indian stores for my spices and dals, I now find clean, uncontaminated, organic versions in most large grocery chains. Most restaurants in the neighborhood have also bowed to the overwhelming vegetarian requests and now offer a fairly varied meatless menu. The best example is a Thai restaurant a stone's throw away, where the vegetarian menu is so extensive that Friday evenings resemble an Indian Babel. 

Comics – A series of comics based on Indian mythology have hit the stands recently. Check out a review of Ramayana 3392 here

And last but not least, the Pressure Cooker! Imagine my visiting mother's amusement when a Caucasian friend tripped in one evening to announce she had discovered a most wonderful kitchen appliance which allowed her to 'cook stuff in minutes.'

Of course, the India that I am talking about is one I view through the nostalgia-filled, rose-tinted glasses of memory. I suspect that urban India has changed so much since I've been away that culturally, a fuddy-duddy like me is going to be more comfortable here today than back home.

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