So this journey ends pretty much the way it started: me in my bedroom surrounded by suitcases. They are calling out to be unpacked, but that's not likely until I finish the four stories I promised I'd write for The Post.
Thus this final post is really not a goodbye, as you will likely be hearing from me in the weeks to come, albeit through longer stories, not blogs. There are many elements of Indian life I did not blog about, and perhaps some of that material might supplement those more traditional pieces.
If you'll recall, we began this trip with me in a quandary over whether to pack more saris, salwar kameez or Western attire. I packed a little of all three genres, but I return with a fourth: fusion gear. I first noticed women in the Indian workplace wearing something that looked not quite like shirts and not quite like a kameez. "Kurtis," someone told me there were called -- short, ethnic-looking blouses that can be worn with jeans or flowing pants. They look like they are from neither here, nor there.
Neither here, nor there. That about sums up the Indian economy and country in transition we set out to explore in this space. Consider my last morning in Delhi: I entered a sleek coffee shop in a mall and ordered a cappuccino and a muffin. A pretty American experience, possibly European, I thought.
But as I settled into my seat, Hindu hymns started to blast over the loudspeaker. A manager told me the mall plays them every morning so shopkeepers can start their day with prayer.
I suppose it's not all that different from those rare times these days I find myself in a D.C. nightclub and suddenly hear the deejay play bhangra music -- and white people on the dance floor actually know how to dance to it. It shouldn't surprise me that globalization goes two ways, that despite the marble floors and signs of Nike and Reebok everywhere, a merchant in the mall still starts his day the same way merchants have across India for hundreds of years: with prayer.
On a daily basis, many Indians negotiate between the West that has been allowed to enter and the East they have always known. They have come much further than just embracing American products, but also American ideas and ideals. Perhaps they are shunning naan and rice in favor of the Atkins diet, or employing a "team" approach in the workplace instead of the "top-down" strategy of many Indian companies. After decades of prefacing comments with "sir" or "ma'am," Indians are initiating conversations with counterparts across the world as peers. Their confidence is remarkable and revolutionary -- and necessary in a globalized world.
Growing up, I became one of two Mitras, depending upon the situation: the Indian one and the American one. These last few months, my daughter Naya picked up snippets of language from her Punjabi and Assamese relatives and a Bengali babysitter. She has now returned to a household where her parents converse in English, while her babysitter and I communicate in Spanish.
It will not be so easy for Naya to become one of two Nayas. But after our time in India, I wonder if she even has to choose. I wonder if more people in the world will define themselves as being from neither here, nor there.
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Washington Post Staff Writer S. Mitra Kalita has an interesting view of Indian Kurtis. She says that They are from neither here, nor there. If youll recall, we began this trip with me in a quandary over whether to pack more sari... read more »
Tracked on March 24, 2006 06:37 AM