You can spot them in a few seconds; at cocktail parties wafting in and out of the smoky air, at office meetings, at fine dining restaurants; the epitome of consumerism, walking billboards for Gucci, Versace and the Armani of the world.
They stand out from the crowd, perfumed, loud, and accented (mostly American). The accent and those exclamations sometimes gets on to you.
I’m referring to NRIs and foreign returns who have spent a couple of years studying or working, and have come back with nothing more than bumper stickers of their university, and more importantly, a forced accent. While there are many foreign-educated, employed NRIs who have contributed to the growth of this nation either after returning to their native land and setting up successful enterprises or simply by staying away from our country and pumping in foreign exchange for the families they have left behind. There are many who have crossed the shores and come back again and are down to earth, simple beings with no pretensions. But I’m not referring to them, I’m referring to the person in the cubicle next to you, in your carpool, at the billing counter queue who annoys you with constant talk of “how amazingly organized life is there” to “how hot the weather is and how dirty the people are, in comparison to the US of A”, all the while nonchalantly using an accent they know we know is fake.
Beyond all the fun we tend to make of their accents and antics, what bothers is the something deeper beyond the perfume or accent.
Maybe we are forced to talk in Rome as Romans do, follow an American accent, become part of the fabric, merge with the crowd, or maybe it grows on us as we are pickled in the country and the pungent flavours seep in, but why do we hang on to it in this land even after years of leaving those shores? Maybe it is because once we return to our ‘hot, humid country with dirty roads and dirtier people’, we feel superior to the local junta who speaks in varying dialects of English that are often just native Hindi, Tamil or Telugu mixed with a few English-sounding words; or the need to maintain an accent that does not come naturally to us, could be the result of an underlying inadequacy developed in a strange country where we have been treated as inferior beings from a lesser lineage, second citizens at best!
We have often heard these people complaining, “Dude, the roads have become dirtier in the last 5 years”, “don’t these people know how to use a WC?”
They wave their crisp American passports at people’s faces, expecting the red sea of human mass to part and give way, believing they are Harry Potters waving their magic wands, not seeming to realize that they are not in Hogwarts but in Mumbai domestic airport.
Those who take great pride in showing off dollars in wallets and green card status have somewhere conveniently forgotten that countless sacrifices, struggles and hurts later, today’s India is not a trading outpost, pit-stop or colony for some distant country, but has achieved the status of a sovereign nation that has the power to choose its government and issue its own passports and launch nuclear test weapons.
It makes me wonder if 300 years of British rule did pay off, after all, the East India Company has come back in a different form and method to enslave us, if Warren Hastings is having the last laugh. Even after the last traces of the Raj’s rule left us more than 60 years back, the slavery is still in our blood, left hidden somewhere in our genome, and we believe that the firang, gora is the master. We emulate, copy and imitate him, and we are slaves in our own minds!