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How Things Change!

By Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Parthiv N. Parekh
November 2011
How Things Change! When I stepped onto that Air India flight, a Boeing 747—the “jumbo jet,” in 1986, to immigrate to the U.S., I had imagined I was forever saying goodbye to most things Indian. And the shift in my world from Bombay to Atlanta was indeed quite dramatic. In those early days in America, the country did feel foreign in a most enchanting way.

For those pioneering immigrants who came even earlier—in the ’60s and ’70s—that feeling of otherworldliness was even more pronounced. There was hardly an Indian from those days who was not enchanted with their new world.

They believed, however, that the price they would pay for this enchanting experience would come in the form of a gradual loss of connection with their Indian roots. They would have assumed that their ties with their culture, customs, cuisine, as well as language and traditions would become shaky if not fall out entirely.

The relatively short history of migrant communities elsewhere would have confirmed their assumptions. Until the latter half of the 20th century, the patterns demonstrated that the links of the immigrant communities with their native countries gradually weakened with each passing generation. A case in point is the Indian immigrants in the West Indies. While they had continued to maintain several customs within themselves, such as, for example, celebrating Diwali, they were largely cut off from India with each progressive generation.

Thanks to a technological revolution in recent decades that has enabled the world to become a global village that is seamlessly interconnected, things have turned on a dime. In striking contrast to what Indian immigrants in the ’60s and ’70s had assumed, and what the patterns suggested, today we live in an America where we have practically recreated our own mini-Indias all across the country. The Indian grocery stores and restaurants that are generously spread around every suburb of every city are a refreshingly far cry from the fears of the early immigrants who thought they’d have to reinvent their taste buds to eat mashed potatoes and bland black-eyed peas for ever.

Nowhere is the surprise of falling back into our roots—as opposed to progressively getting alienated from them—as striking as it is in the area of religious and spiritual practices. The pioneer Indian immigrants were not even sure up to what extent they would be able to continue the religious practices that they grew up with, let alone their children. But in a surprising turn of events, a good number of the young from the growing generations of Indian-Americans are showing an interest in spiritual pursuits, born out of a genuine inquiry and an inner drive. It is fascinating to see that at an age when many of their counterparts are consumed by gadgets and games, media and entertainment, partying and socializing, and careers, these young men and women are truly concerned about the ultimate well-being that comes from making room for spirituality in their lives.

In the ’60s it would have been close to impossible to imagine that a child from our future generation here would end up leaving behind their American lives and parents to become a sadhu (monk) in the Swaminarayan faith, which was then a parochial organization mainly confined to Gujarat. That’s just one of the many examples in our cover story—of a diverse set of spiritual journeys undertaken by second- and third-generation youngsters, which bring them back to the yogic and religious heritage of ancient India.

How things change!

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