Magazine article The New Yorker

Fatherland

Magazine article The New Yorker

Fatherland

Article excerpt

The evening after my green card was approved, my father climbed to our rooftop, in Delhi, which lay under the direct flight path to the airport, and beneath the bobbing plane lights he mourned: "We brought up our children to become perfect foreigners." In a second, the sadness veered into scorn: "Call yourselves global citizens. Global bastards, more like!"

Almost all the children of my parents' friends had been brought up to emigrate; across India, the parents were aging alone, summoning and soothing the melancholic tides with whiskey brought back by the global bastards, drifting to the familiar Indian feeling of being left behind. My father kept a certificate in his drawer that awarded him, for his loyalty to the smoky pleasures of Laphroaig, a square inch of peat in Scotland. He joked, "I own land in Delhi and Islay!"

Our emotional rhythms had long followed common migration patterns: winter crowds of immigrants winging back to India bearing gifts of marshmallows, zip-lock bags, and makeup cases they'd received free; Indian relatives heading north, filling the summer skies with ginger pickles, paisley stoles, the last of the twisted family silver.

As the nights turned cold, when I was small, we awaited the Indian-Americans, some of whom had metamorphosed into hippies, some into Republicans. Instead of being considered lowly Indians, they reported that they were mistaken for Spanish people in the streets of America. They bought carpets and cashmere; sampled perfumed dishes that resurrected the forgotten recipes of nawabs; went on luxury tours of Rajasthan, which my father paid for, so that they might reimburse him in dollars on his rare summer visits. I knew that those dollars wouldn't allow him to travel or eat in America any way but meanly, cheaply.

Some years later in the States, I experienced the mounting dread of the revenge visit. The Indians were coming to reclaim their pride! They'd dry their underpants on our subdivision's bushes and, when they were told they were breaking rules, they'd pooh-pooh American freedom. They'd say that the grandchildren were greater morons than the children of the Delhi maid, who travelled from the slums and left the soap black. They'd show what they thought of waste by packing empty jam jars to take back to India. They'd ask, "How many American friends do you have? …

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