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Of Tandoori Chicken and Apple Pies

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July 2002
Of Tandoori Chicken and Apple Pies

They say what you focus on, expands. This can often play tricks on perception. What appears an oasis could turn out to be a mirage.

For the Indian American observers and pundits who are more often than not focused on the native, a Booker prize won by an Indian, and a Hindi film nominated for the Oscars, along with a few such references peppered together, and viola (!) it?s a trend; it?s a phenomenon! ?Indians have arrived!? they claim.

Granted, in literature, Indian authors are winning Bookers and Pulitzers. From the sensational Salman Rushdie to the scholarly V. S. Naipul and a score of Indian authors in between such as Arundhati Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri have had a definite hold on Western literati; and in the process have managed to familiarize Indian characters and nuances to them.

True, Madonna, the queen diva herself has sported a saree and a bindi. True too, that Bollywood films like Lagaan and Devdas are being noticed in the West. In England, in the last week of July, Devdas ranked 5th in box office sales. In America too, the movie has seen success with mainstream distribution. It was the first Bollywood film to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival. Other Indian themed movies such as Monsoon Wedding are also gaining visibility if not an out-and-out following in America.

Yet, before we proclaim such sparse, albeit increasing hints of Indianization on popular culture as a pronouncement of successful assimilation, lets not forget the 1960s. After all, wasn?t the counter culture of the sixties characterized by Indian imports such as Nehru Jackets and eastern spiritualism along with its meditation and yoga? How about the ?RaviShankarization? of the Beatles? Looking at such references, one would have believed that the Indian American had assimilated smoothly in the mainstream. And yet, Peter Seller?s Indian character in The Party, (A film not too far from that era of the sixties) was so painfully out of place in America that it rendered the movie its hilarity. Sadly, that characterization was not known to be too far out from reality.

It is with such awareness and caution that we approach our cover story in this issue. We have sought to examine whether or not recent references suggest if we are indeed moving towards the mainstream, or is it just another passing fad? Talking to a cross section of professionals ranging from entertainers to educators and futurists reveals two distinct scenarios that are emerging. These scenarios suggest that perhaps it is indeed the early signs of a paradigm shift that will see gradually increasing Indian influences in the mainstream.

First, it is the rising synergies between India and America in geopolitics and in commerce ? similar to the India-USSR relationship from the Cold War era. With increasing importance of India as both, a political ally as well as a bulging marketplace for American capitalism, it is natural that there will be a corresponding interest on the part of the media and the masses.

The other scenario involves an increasing number of second generation Indian Americans who are finding a firm footing in the marketplace. Demographically, these young movers and shakers are not only at the top echelons of formal education, but also come from financially sound families. Thanks also to their first generation parents, they are still quite steeped in Indian culture. Moreover, being born Americans, they are equally confident and comfortable in the mainstream. This set of conditions provides a ripe environment for them to serve as the ideal conduit for transference of Indian influences into the mainstream.

These conditions and the resulting references discussed above prompt us to ask the question, ?Are we headed towards a kind of Indianization wherein tandoori chicken might well become the popular meal to precede the true-blue apple pie?? Only time will tell.

- Parthiv N. Parekh


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