Do you expect a child of Indian origin, born and brought up in US, to be proficient in her mother tongue? My personal experiences, garnered from intermittent encounters with NRI families over the course of past ten years, suggest she will understand the language perfectly well, but prefer talking in English even to her parents. The situation is similar to me being able to comprehend Hindi, and at the same time being extremely uncomfortable in using it as means of verbal communication.
Although it is painful to see a Bengali child conversing in English with her Bengali parents, I should not be passing a moral judgment. My own grandparents migrated from Bangladesh, and I have very little emotional attachment with our neighboring country. Perhaps the kids in question see themselves primarily as US citizens, and just like me, have little interest in the region her immediate ancestors migrated from. Intriguingly, on most occasions, the parents of these kids are quite fond of Bengali culture. They listen to Rabindrasangeet, take part in quintessential Bengali addas with their friends and colleagues in the weekend, and behave just like any other person residing in Kolkata. It is not uncommon to see the parents trying to initiate a conversation with the kid in Bengali, only to get exasperated as she invariably replies back in English.
There are a few plausible explanations for this behavior. It is true that the child has no option of learning the language in school, she has very few Bengali friends. Her only exposure to the language is at home, at the adda sessions with her parents' colleagues, and during the annual trip to Kolkata.
The paradox is each of the above statements hold equally well for a kid born and brought up in Bombay or Bangalore; but you rarely see such a child speaking in Hindi with her parents.
Yesterday marked the end of second academic year in grad school. I am going for an internship at a research lab in Silicon Valley for the next twelve weeks, followed by a biannual month long trip back to India. I will visit Kolkata for twenty days, and spend rest of the time in Mumbai, a city I consider to be second home. Life is good.
As an Indian studying in US, I often wonder - shall I return to my home country after graduation? Having debated the issue threadbare, I am reasonably sure of a positive answer.
It is said, and rightly so, US nurtures an environment that helps a person thrive professionally. An overwhelming proportion of great universities and research labs are located in this country, whereas in India, most institutions are plagued by internal politics. There are further reasons to settle in US if one is aspiring for better income and a lavish lifestyle. However, I subscribe to the view that beyond a certain threshold, an increase in income does not necessarily lead to an increase in personal happiness. Having grown up in a Bengali upper-middle class family, I will be content to live a life where I can afford the amenities I used to enjoy during the college days in Kolkata.
On the other hand, it is sheer impertinence to claim I will be doing a service to my nation by settling there. In a country ravaged by malnutrition and casteism, where half the population is illiterate and more than a quarter below poverty line, I belong to a privileged few. By churning out papers as a researcher or minting money as an IT professional, I will not even get to know the real Bharat.
I wish to return to India simply because it is my home. It may or may not be the greatest nation in the world, but it is my nation, a nation whose fate I wish to share, a place where I was born, and wherein I wish to spend the most of my tiny little life.
I was born in Mumbai. Before committing myself to a life of deprivation, boredom and poverty (in other words, before joining a PhD program), I spent twenty one years in a beautiful place called Kolkata. And I started this blog to express my thoughts on a beautiful journey called life. Cheers!