American Songs Everyone Knowns
California: The Eagles song with the easy-singalong
Blowing in the Wind: Answers to every disappointment
came in with this Dylan song
Beat It: This number made Michael Jackson a
star in India
Like a Virgin: This song made Madonna. The
skimpily clad woman turned out to be every boy’s fantasy
I just called to say I love you: Stevie Wonder
finding poetry, Salman Khan doing the same in Maine Pyar Kiya
At home in the United States
south Indian restaurants, Ramlilas… America is becoming a mini India
Oh, boy! Seems like Indians
have outsourced Ramlila to America. And these Yanks are doing a terrific
job of it. This is Dusshera on Long Island in New York. On the ocean front,
as the White-Black-Brown revellers ready themselves to burn the demon king
Ravana, a gora Hanuman jumps out of a copter, opens his parachute and hovers
around, raining arrows on Ravana. One big bang, and Ravana meets his fiery
end. People shout ‘Jai Sri Ram’ as Hanuman vanishes into thin
air. Such Indian — or India-centric — scenes are being played
out all across America these days as Indian communities have grown in numbers
and ‘ghettoised’ in New York, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts,
San Jose, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
The Melting Pot: Americans are adopting Indian dress and food
In New York, you will find Indian grocery stores
and jalebi shops doing brisk business. Want to
have gol gappas? Go to Long Island
Indians have come a long way from the days of Ghadarites who fought for
independence. “In the early days, few Indians succeeded in business
— one was JJ Singh who set up India League before independence. Things
changed when citizenship rights came. Still there were only a few Indians
till the ’50s. People used to call me Young Santa since I was the
only turban-wearing Sikh in Los Angeles,” says Dr Amarjit Singh Marwaha,
who came to the US on a fellowship in 1949. Till 1967, the law allowed only
100 Indians into the US. Then came the new law and a big influx followed.
In the ’70s, Thomas Abraham formed the Federation of Indian Association
which matured into the bigger National Federation of Indian Associations
in 1981. The ’90s belonged to the software brigade.
Today, America is home to 2.3 million Indians — from cabbies, store
assistants, gas jockeys and farm hands to techies, doctors, management whiz
kids, businessmen and corporate honchos. And, the Indian roll of honour
includes Bobby Jindal, Deepak Chopra, Manoj ‘Night’ Shyamalan,
Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Chatwal, the Amritraj brothers, Norah Jones, Kanwal
Rekhi and many many more.
Land at Los Angeles or New York airports, and you will find an Indian cabbie.
“I own more than 200 limos, minibuses and lorries. We are extending
our presence to all major airports in the US,” says Rattan Jeoa, who
started with just one vehicle.
in northern California, Didar Singh Bains is the biggest peach grower. And
his country cousin Harbhajan Samra grows more okra or bhindi than anybody
in the US.
The White House and Congress today join in Indian festivities. In September
2000, Pandit Venkatachalapathi from Ohio performed prayers in Sanskrit in
the US Congress before Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee addressed the joint
session of Congress! Thanks to the efforts of Piyush Aggarwal, president
of the Association of Indians in America, the White House has agreed to
Diwali celebrations on its premises. On the 400th anniversary of the installation
of the holy Granth, Health Secretary Tommy Thomson greeted Sikhs in the
White House with Bole So Nihal.
The Big Apple is the barometer of Indian influence. Look left and right,
and you find Indian grocery stores and jalebi shops doing brisk business
here. On Kalpana Chawla Boulevard at Jackson Heights, you can buy even gur
(jaggery). Manhattan has its own bazaar of Indian restaurants between 2nd
Avenue and 1st Avenue. Want to have gol gappas? Go to Long Island.
Wherever Indians set foot, a temple or gurdwara invariably comes up. The
New York skyline is filled with their domes. Richmond alone has six temples
and three gurdwaras. In Queens, there are more than a dozen gurdwaras and
temples. The story is no different on Long Island. And who can forget the
13-acre temple in Middletown?
And there is no dearth of yoga masters. “If I am right, there are
dozens of yoga ashrams in New York. There could be as many as seven in Manhattan,
three in Queens. On 34th Street is one run by the late Yogi Bhajan’s
Sikh Dharma,” says limo service provider Rajinder Singh Bammi, who
made headlines after he was injured in a racial attack on July 11, 2004.
As Bammi drives on, we reach Union Square. And bang in the middle stands
a Gandhi statue. “I am told seven cities have Gandhiji’s statues.
And don’t forget that the US was the first country after India to
honour Gandhi with a postal stamp in 1961,” he says. America was first
introduced to yoga by Swami Vivekananda. “Decades later, the thread
was picked up by Mahesh Yogi. He had a huge following in Hollywood. During
the hippie movement came Yogi Bhajan. He converted many locals to Sikhism,”
says Inder Singh, who heads the Global Organization for People of Indian
Origin. Bhajan, he adds, combined yoga and spiritualism with business. His
biggest influence on American life was the introduction of vegetarian food.
“When I came here to work with the World Bank, vegetarian food was
simply not available. Then the yogi opened the Golden Temple vegetarian
restaurants. Suddenly, everybody in America started talking about vegetarian
food. His Yogi Tea was a top brand in the US and Canada,” says Dr
Shamsher Singh Babra.
Patels are synonymous with motels. They control about 40 percent of this
industry. A Congressman once jokingly nicknamed Patels as Potels. The ‘Potels’
clan began in the ’40s when one Daya Bhai Patel cut his teeth in the
industry. He would buy dilapidated properties and convert them into motels.
“All Patels seemed to have climbed on to the motel bandwagon,”
says hotelier Chandu Patel of Los Angeles.
Indians wrote a new chapter in US politics recently. After Dalip Singh Saund,
who became a Congressman in 1956, no Indian could make it to Congress till
Bobby Jindal did it last week. About 30 Indians contested elections at various
levels. Many won, including Nikki Randhawa Haley to the South Carolina House
and Swati Dandekar to the Iowa House. Immigrants are partners now.
(The writer is a Los
American Words Everyone Uses
JB Priestley said, “I know only two words of American
slang: swell and lousy. I think ‘swell’ is lousy…”
Lousy: But for many Indians ‘lousy’
Guy: From leader in Italian to poor in American,
now it just means fellow here.
Loser: Had an equine connotation; our cricket
team has made us use it for those who lose.
Skunk: American zoology meets Indian sociology.