A semi-serious look at the life of NRAs from the 1990s. In those days Madhuri Dixit was considered the Madhubala on Indian movies. Silk Smitha was the dancer with oomph. We used to take spices (Irony that would turn Columbus in his grave) home as gifts. Times have changed. These days they take ipods home, not cardamom pods. Madhuri Dixit is married and is living in Pasadena. Silk Smitha long gone and forgotten. In this background, the following narrative looks as anachronistic as NTR dancing in 1980’s movies.
NRA or Life styles of Rich, Famous and Low Body fat people
As usual I rush in where angels fear to tread. Yes, in a quest for an afternoon of culture and education, I went to a Telugu movie in Motown. Don’t laugh at me, I have unshakeable faith in Telugu movies, and of course, in my own patience. The movie, paradesi, a genuine "naive bad" movie, is made for us Telugu expatriates, who I am sure live in million dollar homes in California, with in driving distance of grand canyon, New York City and Piers of Chicago. Yep, that includes you, buddy!
I suppose it would be a waste to convince the folks back home that most of us live a life of month-to-month paying mortgages or rents, fantasizing about that new car, or the next vacation. Thanks to movies like these, they know better — we are all cash-rich, time-rich people in wonderland!
To all those Telugus, I present the following letter that I wrote a while back.
- We American Telugus may be different from you Indian Telugus. Most of us left the Andhra shores to come here. We silently took leave from that girl next door peeping from behind the curtain. We took courage to confess to that pretty acquaintance from the bus stand that we were leaving. We bid our farewells with tears in our eyes to our mothers. We hugged our fathers and left without turning back.
We all came here; some long time back and some recently. We all were alone in the beginning. We missed our mothers cooking. We missed the idle chats on the road side. We missed the hot muggy days when every body gathers at the corner shop, ordering tea with vaDa. We missed that girl, whom we saw only once, who may have smiled at us, who may even have talked to us in that angelic voice, if only we had the courage to talk to from across the bus.
We all grew out of it; some immediately, some after a long time. We all made new friends; we all clung to each other — Telugu, Bangla, Gujarati. We watched countless Hindi movies. We even learnt to cook and throw pot luck parties. We confess that we even smiled at girls across the dance floor soulfully. At times, we got them to teach us dancing, and take us to movies, and even care for us when we fell sick.
We all took trips to India; some annually, some less frequently. We all tracked the "sale" events at Wal-Mart. We went to Indian Grocery Stores, and ordered the Indian Pack (cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves) or the luxury pack (almonds, saffron extra). We even took the plunge and picked out some sarees with the help our friends, whom we got to know much more intimately.
We all got married; some here, some back home. We grew quite intimate with some members of the opposite sex. We held hands, laughed watching the late night shows. We reconciled to the other person’s foibles, finding them cute. We convinced our parents and went back and married. Some of us got married here with the blessings of the local priests, in the company of friends and colleagues. The rest of us, went back home, searching for the love of a good woman. Some of us found it in the old acquaintances from across the bus-stands. Some of us took a gamble and married the one looking closest to Madhuri Dixit.
We now live in dual worlds; one ever-changing, the other static. As adults we work and raise a family and live in a world inhabited with Monday night football, Eliot’s poetry, New York Times, and rock music. Occasionally, we slip into our early youth and reminisce about a world we left behind, filled with Ghantasala songs, Vishwanatha’s novels, Krishna Sasty’s poetry, Sitara magazine, Chiranjeevi movies, and Silk-smitha’s moves. For us, it is frozen in time, kept alive by going to the local temples, attending the annual Telugu Conferences, and hob-nobbing with the visiting stars.
What about money? Some earn a lot, some barely make even. Contrary to what people back home think, not all of us are rich. We live from one mortgage payment to next. We struggle to send kids to good colleges. It is true that our India trips give an impression of unimaginable opulence, at the expense of a year of savings. Of course, there are some of us living opulently (check them out in the movie paradesi).
At times, late night before falling asleep we remember the land that was ours. We recall the smell of the earth, green grass, the wet monsoons, sisters in half sarees we left behind, the pretty girls that we never talked to. We hear the words speaking to us from across the oceans.
Yes, we are American Telugus.
Written on Feb 5, 1998