Monday, July 14, 2008

American opinion on India and Indian?

American desis July 14, 2008: What are certain factors that might be shaping the American opinion on India and Indians? As the adage goes Strength recognises strength. In 1911, the LA Times published a headline ‘A Hindu apple for modern Eve: The cult of Yogis lures women to destruction’. In 2001, Time magazine did a cover story on yoga, with an opening paragraph that read: “Stars do it. Sports do it. Judges in the highest courts do it. Let us do it — that yoga thing. A path to enlightenment that winds back 5,000 years in its native India, yoga has suddenly become so hot, so cool, so very this minute.”Perceptions change with time, people and events. For two nations vast and diverse, it is difficult to summarise the “American perception of India” in a short article. In general, Americans treat its foreign population, including Indians with warmth, and my experience has not been much different. Not to deny occasional cases of racial abuses, like against Sikhs, perhaps, mistaking them for Talibans due to their turban and beard, but such incidents do not make the general rule. So what are certain factors that might be shaping the American opinion on India and Indians? As the adage goes ‘Strength recognises strength.’ India’s advances in the economic field in general and IT field in particular, has definitely contributed positively. How can one not take notice when say Tata Motors buys the prestigious Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motors for $ 2.3 billion? Outsourcing and call centers in India will only add to the list of recognising India’s strengths, and even though there have been critics both in media and among the policymakers, overall the American public has not yet shown an animosity and ‘You people are taking our jobs’ attitude towards Indians. In a country where four out of 10 marriages on an average are believed to end in divorce, I have felt that Indian family values is another factor that evokes respect from a good number of Americans. In fact, during a friendly chat with an American cop near my house, he asked me if I was married. Hearing a no, he said, “I am telling you, marry a girl from India, not from here. My wife is Indian and she values family so much.” It has to be mentioned, however, that most Americans find it hard to appreciate arranged marriages. American public’s general knowledge about India leaves much to be desired. Here are some samples questions and statements that have been thrown at me or my friends on various occasions — “So do you speak Hindu or Indian or Arabic?” “So where in India? Bangladesh?” “In 1947, Pakistan won Independence from India.” “I know Mahatma Gandhi and his daughter” — the last one, a reference to Indira Gandhi!! Interestingly, it was not an American but a Chinese colleague of mine who once asked me, “Do kids go to school in India on elephants?”

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