By Aarti Johri
Our local town newsletter arrived a few days ago. In one corner, there was a small note, “Bullis goes to Bollywood”, it said. Our small town, whose demographics read- 73% white, 21 % Asian, 2.66% other- has just one public school. This announcement was that of its spring auction, a fundraiser with a 'Bollywood' theme. For me, the announcement established once again, India is “in”.
Yes, it is. We all know ad nauseum of the tech boom that has gripped our country of origin; of the billionaires it has churned, of the recent growth, defying the Economist’s oft-quoted but now decade old “Hindu rate of growth”. We know about Bill Clinton’s fascination with the country, his repeated visits. We know about the organizations like AIF, and TiE, who all firmly establish our place in the sun. It was less than twenty years ago when I feverishly scanned the US newspapers for even a brief mention of India, today there is none I can pick up which does not mention India, favorably. Our budget is discussed in the Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama empathizes with Indian students. His father too, arrived in the USA with a student visa, he says.
But when India’s influence extends beyond business and political circles; in simple, everyday life, is when you know that it is firmly entrenched. Two years ago, a friend called, frantically looking for an Indian outfit. Her children’s school, in the wealthy town of Portola Valley, had an annual event entitled something like “Bombay Dreams”. My Versace-clad, Atherton- bred friend, who in the mid-nineties told me she wished her email domain name could be hotmall.com instead of hotmail.com, wanted to be the belle of the ball. She gratefully borrowed a Benarasi saree from me, with matching jewelry, bindis, henna tattoos, the works. My son tells me of how his friends want to go with him to the newly opened Tandoori café instead of their usual haunt, the local Baja Fresh. My husband tells me of the long wait in his company’s café on the day the special reads “Curry”. I cannot help noticing the unmistaken resemblance between Macy’s tunic tops and kurtis. Yoga classes mushroom everywhere, Paris Hilton was recently seen with a Buddhist Yogi (and yes, Buddhism also originated in India).
History has a strange way of tracing its course; unlike rivers, its origin is often unknown, its delta is never established. Lord Macaulay’s notorious speech on the need to educate Indians in English, “to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”, has taken an interesting trajectory. His statement that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”, would be met with bewildered looks by committee members of the Booker prize.
So smile, my beloved countrymen, smile. Your day has certainly come, again. Having centuries ago established that “Swaraj is (our) birthright and (we) shall have it”, we have then signed our “tryst with destiny”, struggled for a half-century, and finally emerged to establish our identity, refusing to sink into anonymity. For me, redemption comes in smaller packages. In the form of a bounding fourteen year old, who exclaims, “My friends really want to come home and have butter chicken and naan. But why do they call it Non-bread, as if it isn’t even a bread?” I think of how the ubiquitous but oft-mispronounced baguette “baggit” and pizza “pizha” have survived and lived to tell their tale; and say to myself, “They’ll learn son, that too, they will learn”.