Above: Holiday lights showcasing the Taj Mahal in Philadelphia
This may sound strange and duplicitous for someone who left her country to pursue greener pastures to say, but I’m going to talk about it anyway…I still consider myself deeply patriotic. Having aspired to travel the world as an ambassador from India (by joining the Indian foreign services) when I was younger, I still cannot erase the idea from my mind that I represent my parent country even while living in the US. I am going to be judged as an Indian most of the time (most people realize pretty soon that I am “fresh-off-the-boat” or a first generation immigrant, probably due to my accent, if not anything else), and I always want to put my best foot forward as an Indian.
It hurts me deeply to see everything that is wrong with my country…and its not just about the poverty and lack of infrastructure. I am saddened by the apathy of people, the plight of women, the rising reports of violence against women, the tangled web of corruption…all the ways in which we Indians fail our country. (By the way, I am still an Indian citizen, so calling myself an Indian is factually correct.) I wish the deep-rooted attitudes could change, not just at the surface, but deep within.
What irks me most is the paternalistic society that India has. Women in India are probably more repressed than in any other secular nation in the world. I am not talking about rural areas or uneducated sections of the society alone. Even amongst people of the highest class, the respect awarded to women is deplorable. I had not even realized this until I came to the US, and I had lived and studied among educated people in India all my life. What appeared to be a normal way of being treated by men in my country would actually be quite derogatory here. In the US, several women have confided that they find many Indian men lacking basic manners when it comes to dealing with women.
I usually do not feel comfortable criticizing India. I make a conscious effort to remember everything that is good about my country, like family ties, respect for elders (my professional performance reports by my mentors consistently mention my respectful attitude, which appears strange to me because that was ingrained in me right from the beginning, but it is not something people take for granted here), secularism (people are surprised that I know about other religions or that I can sing Christmas carols), and more than anything else, commitment to work that transcends comforts and pleasure because that is how we were raised (especially useful in the field of medicine).
Tall words from someone who left the borders of India. I am acutely aware of my runaway situation, and have deep respect for colleagues of mine who chose to stay behind in India, and are constantly trying to help their country by bringing new medical technology to India. This may be a lame excuse, but my choice of specialty in the field of medicine (cardiology) was one that was (and still is) underrepresented among women in India, and I could foresee many barriers to practicing that specialty in India. The challenges in the US are far less for a woman cardiologist.
When I get started on the topic of India, it is really difficult for me to stop. So I’ll end here with this poem that I love-
Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.”
― Walter Scott