India Abroad September 25, 2015
August 19 was a hallmark in my life — I had spent more of my 38-year old existence in the United States than in my motherland, India. Exactly 19
years had passed since the day I came to
the shores of this great nation, leaving
behind an empty nest of two heartbroken
parents and a grieving grandmother. They
surely had not expected the only child in
the family to leave so soon, and go so far
I still remember the initial opposition to
my decision from my parents. Only my
grandmother had said bravely, “Go and
claim your destiny.” She meant that I needed to fulfill my cherished dream — of
studying in the United States with a full
academic scholarship no matter what
obstacles stood in my path.
My grandmother was right. There have
been obstacles. The path has not been
easy. The struggle has been almost surreal
at times. But I am happy to say that I have
achieved my dream and so much more.
Today I stand a proud man — having completed a doctorate, achieved professional
success as a clinical psychologist and
writer, published a book, bought a home
and found love, all in the land that I have
adopted as home.
Only one question haunts me at times — Am I Indian or
am I American?
Surely this is a question that many before me have had to
grapple with, and is likely to come up for many more in the
future. When we spend more time in a foreign country
other than our homeland, do we become part of that country, or do we still belong to the land of our birth?
My accent has changed, no doubt. When I went back
home last year to visit, my father thought that I was putting
on a show of sorts when I talked to him in English. He
almost laughed at me a couple of times. When we went to
a restaurant to eat, and I ordered dessert (pronounced
dizzert in American English), he almost fell from his chair.
The bewildered look on the waiter’s face coupled with my
dad’s choleric facial expressions made me feel like an alien.
You see, we Indians pronounce the word as “dezzert” like
sand dunes. This change in my accent has not been conscious, though I have met many others who force themselves to speak in an American accent.
Something else that has changed is my outlook about life.
I have become very opinionated and individualistic in my
assertions. Again, this has been an unconscious process.
I often do seminars on immigrant psychology for other
psychologists and mental health professionals. There I talk
about how Western culture is different from Eastern culture in its individualistic, pull-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps kind of thinking. Americans are taught to respect
themselves and their own opinions from childhood. In
India, I was always taught to be deferential to others when
talking to them, especially to elders.
My dad would be shocked to learn that I call some of my
practice colleagues by their first names, even though they
are two or even three decades older than I am in some
I have learned to fight it out on my own, and to a large
measure, have succeeded. The sense of communalism has
slowly evaporated out of my pores to the extent that it now
only remains when I go to an Indian concert or social event
and mingle with other “desis” (the Hindi term for expatriates).
I will admit, though, that I am still Indian at heart.
Nothing thrills my pores like a classic Satyajit Ray film, or
the melody of a Bengali folk song on my countless stream-
ing devices. I am still enthralled by a good Amitava Ghosh
novel, and I still hum lines from my favorite
Rabindrasangeet (the great songs of Tagore) in the shower.
And what truly gets me going is Indian food. Even after
having lived in the United States for close to two decades,
and having tried out multifarious cuisines from all over the
planet, my favorites remain the foods of my childhood —
Daal-Bhaat (lentils and rice), Mutton Curry, Luchi Tarkari
(puffed fried flour bread with a vegetable dish, usually
I guess I have changed in some ways, and in some ways, I
remain more Indian than ever.
It’s like the Bollywood blockbuster movie, where the hero
pines constantly for his motherland from a distant land
where he has been banished for a lifetime. This pining, this
passion for all things Indian, is what still
makes me Indian at heart. n
Dr Deepan Chatterjee is a Maryland based clinical psychologist, writer and public speaker. His Web site is www.drdeepanchatterjee.com He tweets a@DrDeepChat.
Phir Bhi Dil
over into spending
more years in
America than in the
land of his birth,
India, he looks
within and finds an
American mind and