The I in NRI
I think it all started with the Indian Independence Day when some folks in my FB list called out pseudo-patriotism, especially amongst "NRIs". For my non-Indian friends, NRI stands for Non Resident Indian. While it refers to Indians who reside in any country other than India, it has over time become synonymous with Indians residing in the United States of America. It does not matter whether they are yet citizens of USA or even if they are still citizens of India. All that matters is that their current address has a state and zip code that is not Indian.
It apparently upset some of these folks that many of us proclaim love for India via social media on Independence Day - "Who are you to say you love your country? What are you doing for your country sitting oceans away, earning in USD in a fully equipped residence with modern amenities, lightening fast Internet and no looming power cuts? Do you think you are a patriot by updating your profile picture to the Indian flag or by using hastags like #iloveindia? Patriotism is not a one
day activity. So stop your pretense"
With some others amongst these folks, NRIs expressing their love for India is a constant source of amazement and consternation: "Why bother to feel emotional for a moment, when you know that you are going to be back to normal the next day, just to feel emotional again after a while. You have made a choice to not be in your country, just stick to it and be happy in feeling 'Indian' on festivals and continue your wholehearted attempts to be American the rest of the time. Don't torture yourself (and bore us) by being sentimental over some random ad or song or movie"
All of this sometimes-direct and sometimes-sarcasm-laced and poorly-disguised venom made me go back to the source of it all, the word itself: Patriotism. The dictionary defines "Patriotism" as devoted love, support, and defense of one's country or national loyalty.
Here's an analogy for all of you who subscribe to either or both of the opinions I mentioned above.
I love my Mom. I don't live in the same house as her, but clearly that has never reduced my love for her. I may not be an ideal daughter in any sense of the word, in fact I may have been a really bad daughter at times, which is not something I am proud of and I admit it and try to be better. But none of this ever makes anyone question my love for my Mom. When I post a heartfelt message to her on her birthday or simply some day when I am missing her, no one questions the integrity of my emotions. No one tells me how hypocritical I am not to live with her and yet claim to love her. No one snorts at the fact that I am just reminded of my love on some random day and will forget all about her the next day. No one calls me an emotional fool when I feel tears of happiness and pride sting my eyes on hearing that my Mom has gotten out of a serious illness.
For me, loving my country is the same. Am I an ideal citizen? No and I am not proud of it. Am I serving the country as much as I would want to? No, far from it. Am I complaining about any perceived bad state of affairs in India? No. I am not, because unless I can do something to help, I don't think I have a right to complain at all. And I will help. I know what I want to do and how I want to do it. I have plans for my life, like everyone else, and my country is a big part of my plans for my life.
So, I have some requests to make of all of you mentioned-thought-subscribers.
I would request that you stop making assumptions about my state of mind and sentiments and telling me and the world that my emotions cannot be permanent enough to matter or make a difference. You are not an NRI. So I am sure you do not have any experience to be able to associate meanings to my words when I express love for my country.
I would also request that you stop taking that condescending tone with me while telling me exactly how NRIs feel and how they should feel. I would like to pull the "you are not an NRI" card here as well. You simply cannot know how I feel. When you make comments about me trying to be more Indian than ever in a foreign land, you do not know that I do so cautiously because I do not want to antagonize the folks here who have welcomed me in their country. When you joke about me trying to be an American, you do not know that I do so because I want make an effort to understand their culture, which is a very small token of appreciation for their openness to my traditions. I understand that you just want to engage in "harmless" humor. Which is fine, because you don't really know what it's like. So it would be great if you can stop claiming to know at all.
Finally, I would request that you stop assuming that your public commentary will not be taken personally. You may disguise it as advice, but no one is really naive enough to believe that you don't have an opinion about NRIs. I mean, really now. We may be "emotional fools" but we clearly are not foolish :)
Now may be the time when you go down the "you are not taking it sportingly" route. But believe me, there are many of you, and there have been many posts from all of you over time. So if you have survived reading through the end of this, I hope that this gives you a chance to ponder over my side things and my side of the world. I would like for you to come experience it once so that you can see for yourself why some things become personal, and why I sometimes feel more welcomed in a group of "foreigners" rather than in a group of fellow countrymen who judge me for my choices.