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More Thoughts about American Fulfillment

May 2007
More Thoughts about American Fulfillment

Last month, I began writing about happiness and the American Dream, a process that offered me no resolution. Today, after viewing Mira Nair's moving film, The Namesake, I'm still mulling the subject over. Many of my generation will identify with Gogol's character and his somewhat blind and then finally tempered pursuit of the fruits of American living, but most of my parents' generation will relate to Ashima's need to return to India for her retirement. Their nuanced story of bicultural identity, of being compelled to jet back and forth between two worlds, is also unable to point to definite solutions for finding fulfillment.

When I was nine years old, I wanted to move to India, too. This was 1985—not the India of Zee TV and cyber cafes. It was an India of maybe three channels and the radio program Chayageet. It was an India of no Coke but instead something rather hokily called "Thumbs Up," an India where chocolates were rare, and pizza sauce was made from ketchup. It was an India I returned to every third or fourth summer, an India that meant being disciplined by other people in addition to my parents, long days filled with extraneous relatives, our kiddie needs salved by Archie comics and plain baked potatoes baked.

Yet, this was the year I saw Bangalore for the first time, (which may have had something to do with my push to emigrate), and, more importantly, it was the year I began to miss something at home. I began to be cognizant of infrastructure: roads, parking lots, natural wild life sanctuaries—as well as mechanization: the frailty yet convenience of travel on airplanes and the consequences of industrial pollution. It was the first time I realized that I was living in a world for whose present state I was not responsible. I was living in a world over which I had no control, a world where sometimes trains on course were dramatically derailed.

Perhaps some of this awareness led me to plot expatriatism with my parents, to instruct my father on how to ship our possessions from America to the outskirts of Bangalore where I wanted to live in a joint family with my uncle, aunt, and pair of same-aged cousins. Did India, in the midst of my growing understanding of technological inundation and bland convenience, promise me a life of something purer and thereby more enjoyable? How could I have felt then that hop-scotch on the compound floor and a game of Dhabba! on the terrace would be better than Pac-man on the Attari?

Ultimately, these plans never materialized, perhaps due to Regan-era economic prosperity, or maybe even due to my parents' allegiance to their adopted homeland. During this time period, it was, perhaps because I was a child, also particularly easy to be proud of America.

My parents and I have had countless conversations about the reasons for my generation's ennui, but I had always assumed that the fault lay, somehow, with us younger people and our indulged sense of entitlement. I suppose it has been easier for me to assume that true and lasting happiness and contentment is possible and within reach if I just change my attitude—far easier than assuming that it is out of my control because of forces beyond my control.

On whom or what can I put the blame now, as I try now as an adult to set the best plan into motion? Of course I see the irony of my situation—that life may now be more prosperous and safe in the country that my parents left more than thirty years ago. That my own budding family may have to move someday to Bangalore in order for my husband to keep pursuing his IT career. This seemingly amusing twist of events furrows my brow. Perhaps the real work of my life will be to keep answering that question of where to live and how exactly to settle down. Maybe by the time we move back to Bangalore—back to India—it will be the kind of place where everybody eats frozen dinners and people e-mail their neighbors instead of calling across the compound. Maybe one day we'll be able to look back and talk about the U.S. as a simpler, happier place—a place we'd all like to return to, someday.

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