Okay, I’m fed up. Everyone I meet is trying to analyze my choices of the last few years, and they are driving me up the wall. Figure this out:
First there are the people who cant understand the decision to come back to India after completing my undergraduate degree. One of the first questions I was asked at my recent job interview was why I am choosing to return to India after doing so many “interesting things” in the USA (umm, and there’s nothing interesting to be done here?). One person actually asked outright why I am “wasting” my American degree, i.e. coming back here when salaries are so much higher there… next someone will ask why I didn’t just marry an American and settle down there! Others are more subtle, but their incredulity is obvious. And annoying.
Then there are a handful of people, and several recent newspaper articles, that sing praises of Indians who have “given up promising careers abroad” and come back “to help the less fortunate in their motherland.” Since I am looking for work with NGOs and such, some tend to lump me with these people. Umm, no. That was NOT what I was thinking in choosing to come back. Sure, I want to work in the villages here, or in alternative education here, but I do NOT pretend to be doing it so selflessly, to be giving up what I really wanted in order to “help”; in any case, that sounds incredibly patronizing, as if those are situations where you just give and don’t receive. I want to do this stuff because I enjoy it and because I have learned more in such situations that I have anywhere else; I came home because this is where I want to be. That’s all; stop trying to make martyrs out of people like me and thereby demean what was really just an honest decision to come home and follow my heart.
But right now, I am most irritated with the other extreme– the JNU-style “communist” intellectuals who insist on speaking contemptuously of my college experience in America, for no reason other than that it was in America. I just met one such person today: she tried to convince me that my education there was meaningless, that there was nothing I learned at SUA that I wouldn’t have learned at Delhi University, and that there is no such thing as the “independent research” I believe I did for Capstone and for several of my classes. Anything positive I said, even to someone else in a different context (for example, my amazement at the fact that I became conversant in Spanish in just two years, whereas I cant string together a sentence of French after five years of it in high school) was brushed aside, loudly and definitively. At most, she might acknowledge that Mexico or Argentina were good for me, but America? Never.
Where do you even begin explaining yourself to such people? First off, SUA opened the doors for me to even go to Argentina and Mexico– there was no way i was going to do that directly after college here; it simply wouldn’t happen. Besides, I treasure my experiences in the USA just as much as those in Argentina and Mexico… in each of those places, I learned several important life lessons and made several incredible friends. Oh ya, she (and people like her) also think it amazing that I have friends from Mexico/ Argentina/ France/ Peru/ Japan etc., but if I talk of my American friends, they think I’m a wannabe American who can’t get enough of that country. Again, how do I tell her that I don’t see my friends that way? I didn’t make friends with Lili because she’s Peruvian; I made friends with her because she’s Lili. I didn’t make friends with Masako because she is French; I made friends with her because she’s Masako. And I didn’t make friends with Wendy or Mike because they are American; I made friends with them because they are Wendy and Mike. I don’t like this arbitrary assigning of value to my friendships– who the hell is a random stranger to decide which of my friendships is most valuable, depending simply on which country that friend comes from? Why is it that I can speak of all my other international experiences with all the love in the world and have people tell me how lucky I am to have had these experiences, but the moment I talk of my US experiences with any trace of affection or nostalgia, I’m branded a sell-out to US hegemony?
I’m far from claiming– or believing– that everything about the USA is great and about India terrible (let’s face it– would I have come home if I believed that?). At the same time, I will not therefore claim that everything about the USA is terrible and about India is great. I DID have a wonderful four years at college there… i cannot speak for the average American college (I don’t know if that exists, and if it does, I don’t know what it is), but i CAN speak for my own college experience there, and it was incredible. I DO believe that there is no other place where I could have met and befriended people from all over the world as I did in the USA. I DO respect many things about the people I have met in the USA; yes, the USA went to war in Iraq, but the USA also has the millions of people out on the street protesting that war, making their voices heard… I don’t remember a single large scale protest against India’s nuclear program here in the capital; yes, the USA still has its share of prejudices and doesn’t allow gay marriage, but men in Delhi get arrested for being gay. And, now that I am back, I am becoming strangely defensive about these things.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sad: The people who tell me this belong to the so-called “progressive” groups in India. These people think of themselves as having absolutely nothing in common with Bush. But actually, they mirror his us-against-them mindset, even if they flip who the “us” are and who the “them” are. Dr. Ikeda once defined world peace as “a global network of friendship”; as naive as some will think that, after SUA, I know it to be true. I can never fully be at peace with a label, but I cannot be otherwise with the face, the name, and the story hidden behind that label.
In a world that still thinks in terms of “nation-states,” it is hard to explain a global identity. I feel I have a global identity. People I love are scattered all over the world, so I don’t think of those blobs on the map as nations but simply as places where I have a friend, as the home of someone I love. I refuse to undermine any part of this identity– the American part, the Indian part, or any other part– and it seems like much of the next few months will be a process of making people realize that my world is not, cannot be, black and white.