Wednesday, July 03, 2013

I like to be in America, okay by me in America

from 1957
Right from when I was a kid—a long time ago in India—I was familiar with the importance of the Fourth of July in the United States because of a family connection: the standing joke at home was that my parents lost their freedom when they got married on the very day that Americans celebrate their independence day.

So, yes, anniversary greetings to my parents.

I left the old country behind years ago.  After gaining American citizenship, the Fourth of July is, of course, way too special for me.  Perhaps it is a typical immigrant emotion after all when I think that my love for this country is special because I consciously weighed the alternatives and worked to come to America. The American citizenship was not an accidental birthright.  Not an ovarian lottery that I won.

Immigrating to America or any other country is so easy now unlike a few generations ago when most of the world’s population stayed at, or close to, the places where they were born and raised.  We humans are now seemingly on the move all the time. We move from one region to another within a country, and migrate across international borders, to strange places where they might speak strange languages and eat strange foods.  The surroundings.are alien to us. Yet, we move.  Because, moving is better than staying put.

Grandfather, during his final year at college
In our family, many, many decades ago, my grandfather too had an opportunity to move away, when he was offered a job in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) because of his valued metallurgy qualifications from a reputed Indian university.

If grandfather had sailed on that ship, my family’s history would have taken a different turn.  I might not even be blogging this for you to read.

However, he was compelled to reject that offer and stay back in India.

My grandmother and great-aunt always got excited to narrate this story.  Grandfather had no choice but to reject the offer.  Not because the job did not pay enough--the offer was apparently a phenomenal one. But, his mother, who was deeply rooted in the traditions, threatened to commit suicide if he went too far away from her!  Even more, she could not bear the thought of being separated from her son.

Ah, mothers, without whom psychiatrists will be jobless :)

The distance was not all that much either.  Grandfather's hometown, Sengottai, and Ceylon’s capital city, Colombo, are not even 250 miles apart. But, 250 miles in the days before telephone and planes and emails!  Grandfather's mother had justifiable reasons to worry.  He then ended up taking a job that was relatively close by.  A job for which he was tremendously overqualified.  A dutiful family man he was.

The grad student in Los Angeles
In contrast to that, a few decades later, I traveled half way around the world, in order to be here in the US.

A distance of 20,000 kilometers.

The distance did not bother my mother; she cheered me on.

In an interesting coincidence, I left India on its independence day--August 15th.  So, I now have my own addition to the family joke: I gained my independence the very day when they were celebrating in the old country the anniversary of the end of the British Raj and the beginning of self-rule :)

America has been home since the day I landed in Los Angeles, and has been a slow northward migration since.  To quote from the musical, West Side Story, “I like to be in America, okay by me in America.”

Happy Birthday, America!


Ramesh said...

Happy Birthday America .

Small footnote to your grandfather's story. The reason his mother might have objected so vehemently was the fact that he had to cross the seas - a reason for excommunication !! So it was perfectly OK to go to Karachi or Kabul (which was farther away) than to go to Colombo - or god forbid Singapore ! How times have changed.

And an even more quirky fact. The way of salvation for the excommunicated was to undergo a ritual bathing in the sea - curious that the penalty for crossing the sea was to bathe in it :)

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, times have changed a lot .... and mostly for the better.

Strange thing this crossing the seas ... I think it was all a reflection of how afraid people were of the world about which they didn't know much. Perhaps a century later, humans would laugh at us for not venturing beyond Earth! You think????

Ramesh said...

Centuries later , humans would lauch at us, not for lack of space travel, but for placing more importance and spending more on Viagra research than space research.

Sriram Khé said...

hehe ... hehehehe ;)

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