Health & Wellness

Psychology Of Indian Diaspora

There is a significant difference between the diaspora Indians of the first generation and the next generations

Part 1

First Generation
The Indian-ness or the Indian identity is very strong and prominent in the lives of the first generation of Indians. The first few months and years in a foreign country seem to be like living away from one’s own home. “We and others” that seems to be their feeling, the spontaneous line of thinking, the natural and normal behavior. There are aspects and elements which are deeply imbedded in the Indian psyche and it is almost impossible to wean way those significant elements when they leave India. They tend to carry with them at least five important elements which are deeply rooted in them. They are the language, religion, caste, food habit and culture. The beginnings of integration through assimilation is a process depending on many factors. But every diaspora Indian would want to integrate with the local community and experience the assimilation and have the Indian pride to feel that “Mine is a success story” here in this country. There are also other elements, but for most Indian diaspora these seem to be the defining aspects of Indian-ness.

For most Indian diaspora the world is very small, their family, place of work, place of worship and school/college. Young and old they are all deeply rooted in their family. The relationship with the parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc., continues for the first generation. They tend to relate with the people who speak the same language in a foreign country. The one medium which would naturally help to interact is the local language for communication and interaction. The struggle of having to learn a foreign language is relative depending on the age, interest, exposure, etc. But as long as one does not learn the language of the land, their interaction would be limited to those who communicate their language. The women who have a little more exposure tend to learn the language faster than the men. Men tend to be shy about making mistakes or forming incorrect or incoherent sentences, but for women those are not that important to prevent them from learning a new language.

Most Indians tend to carry their religion with them. The amount of involvement in religious activities, celebrations, rituals and communitarian activities are carried along with them when they travel to foreign countries. Natural search for a holy place of their religion, a temple, a church, a mosque or any holy place of their religion draws them to relate to the same God with whom they are very familiar with. This is deeply rooted in the lives and psyche of Indians. The bonding takes place with the people of the same religion and with those who worship the same God/s. Religious bonding with others takes place through the media of ‘God/gods’. Therefore, it takes to while to have the same feeling of closeness with the people. The intimacy with the divine is natural and almost instant,but the relationship with the people of the same faith takes a while; to interact freely and to feel comfortable with them requires a few more aspects.

The curse or the most natural mindset of being Indian is its caste system. Whatever way one would want to look at it, it is going to be there. Whether you are educated or uneducated, whether it is reasonable or unreasonable, whether it is realistic or unrealistic, whether it is religious or irreligious, butevery Indian accepts the fact that it is social. Within India one of the first unasked query is ‘what is your caste!’ There are many Indians living abroad would spend sleepless nights wanting to find out the background, particularly the caste one belongs to. We do not tend to discuss this with foreigners, for the obvious reasons that they would tend to think, that Indians are backward, unreasonable, unrealistic, irrelevant, stupid, difficult to comprehend, etc. For these and many other reasons Indian diaspora avoids talking about it with foreigners and say it is very special to all Indians. This caste system defines, determines and identifies among Indians abroad who one is and what is one’s background, etc., etc. The caste system is a baggage an Indian would find it extremely difficult to unload and carry whenever and wherever there is a gathering of Indians. There is a sigh of relief and happiness that one belongs to the same caste and the bonding is unbelievably instantaneous. But it takes a while to know what caste one belongs to….

One thing Indians definitely carry with them is their food habits. The taste buds do not change overnight to adjust to the local food. For years they would tend to cook the same way the ‘mother’ had taught them and/or have learnt from the home of the in-laws. The type of food that one continues to eat is a marker or an indication how deeply rooted you are to being ‘Indian’. That which is common to all the Indian cuisine is the curry and that being pungent. But other than that the variation of curry and the level of pungency depend on the region one comes from and also on every conceivable dish of Indian origin. There is nothing Indian about the food, because we have to be very specific from which region or state of India one comes from and much more specific would be from which district of the state one comes from. There is nothing richer than the food habits of Indians. The variety is incredible, the types are unbelievable, that every Indian who begins to cook seem to produce a new recipe with new ingredients. That which is very special to Indians is their food habits and certainly it takes a long time before they begin to acclimatize and accept the local food. ‘It is never the same’ is the curt remark after a meal.

Indians carry with them their local culture. The culture lives on for a long time. There are Indians living in different parts of the world, may be second, third or more generations, but that which lives on in a community of Indians is their culture. The culture determines a group of people and keeps them together. But India does not have one culture, so the Indian culture lives on differently in different countries depending on the place of their origin in India. The first generation tends to follow the culture as purely as possible, while the successive generations would tend to assimilate local cultural elements and adapt to the situation and place. Culture gives identity to them. Among the many elements that which lives on for a long time is the culture. But often what we find would be the modified version of the culture. But we Indians are happy with the “juggard” and comfortable with the modified version rather than no Indian culture at all.

The first generation of Indians have one foot in India and one in another country. They go through lots of inner turmoil and struggle. They process their line of thinking from Indian style to a different and new style. They would tend to develop a new type of behavior from the traditional behavior they are used to. They would want to ‘instantly’ feel comfortable in the new place but unfortunately it takes a long time, and in most cases this happens with the successive generations who are born in a foreign country or who came to a country when they were very young and had done all their studies there. But the second or the successive generations of Indian diaspora is different

Amritha Raj George

Amirtha Raj, a Dominican priest living now in Rome. He has a Ph.D. in Counseling psychology, been a Rector of St. Charles Seminary, Nagpur and Professor of Philosophy, Psychology and Spirituality.

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