After spending almost three cool decades of your life in India, moving gear to a totally new country like the USA is sure a change of a lifetime! In addition, if you are struck in the face with a cultural shock, it is all the more difficult to cope up with the transition.
Believe me; my cultural shock didn't come in the form of Californians wearing bikini tops and shorts to the supermarket. I knew the culture of America, and thanks to my avid reading habit, I knew what to expect. But, the immigrant Indians trying to copy Americans was a shock to me. The beautiful bhindis (a dot on the forehead) didn't adorn their faces anymore, the Indian clothes gave way to shorts and their black hair welcomed shocking colors.
A smile escaped my lips when I saw a seemingly newly-wed couple in the Wal-Mart. The girl obviously had never worn anything short, not even her hair. And here she was trying to adjust her short skirt now and then, looking around to make sure that nobody noticed her long legs. The husband was trying to teach her to overcome her fears and "act" normal. Her hair was short to her ears, what I presumed could have touched her waist for all I know, when she was in India.
A lot of people have always asked me then, and still do sometimes even today -- what is the little dot that I have on my forehead, which surprisingly looks like a tattoo to them! I simply say, "This is my culture," they smile, admire it and walk away. Some of them, especially the 'Iskon temple followers,' do know about India's culture so much that they put a lot of us to shame more often. They come forward and say, "Isn't that dot on your forehead a symbol of you being married? "Or "How did the colorful 'bindis' replace the traditional red dot? " "Why do South Indians have a dot on their forehead whereas the North Indians have it in their hair-parting?" I explain as much as I can, knowing very well that as much as our knowledge of our basic traditions is losing out in India, it is gaining popularity outside the country.
Now, this brings me to say that Indians who come to the U.S., immediately remove their bhindis, their 'magulsutram' (the wedlock necklace-a marriage symbol) and their toe-rings in order to become Americans. Knowing very well that our Indianness is written on our face, no matter how we dress up, every lady starts to feel that a bindi would give away her country of origin! Now, I would never understand what is wrong in being an Indian!! Jeans don't go with bindi, toe rings don't go with stilettos and 'mangalsutram' shows in a tee. Nice excuses, indeed!
Even today, Americans look up to India for its rich culture, and our immense traditional living. Indian girls who look and behave Indian are given more "looks" than girls trying to eat burgers with forks and mouthing "you-know-what-I-mean" for no reason. I know this because, when I wear a sari and walk to my car, all the Americans around my house give me admiring looks. I have gone shopping in my most expensive sarees, as much as I have gone in a tee and jeans, and both the times, I didn't get any weird "looks."
The totally unknown culture or a little knowledge of any culture always arouses curiosity in people. Cultural differences will always be there, but culture and traditions shouldn't change for anyone for the sake of changing. After 14 years of living in this country, I don't think I have changed much except for a little accent now. My tee shirts have matching color 'bhindis', my toe-rings cozily hug my toes, and my "mangalsutram" plays lovingly on my bosom. And I have the most American friends ever possible, partying at my house, eating 'samosas' and 'Naans'; dancing to Bollywood tunes and admiring my Indian clothes!!
This is culture for me. This is how I want to be known as, an "Indian"! You know what I mean, don't you?!!