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Above: Kiran Kaur


Mixed Feelings


The good, the bad and the reality of India  -  as seen through the eyes of an angry young Sikh-American high school student  - is starkly revealing, both of India as well as America.

It makes for fascinating reading, because Sikh-American Kiran Kaur tells it like it is in the Suburban Journals of St. Charles County.

Consider this: "It angers me that a country with such capability is being torn to shreds because it lacks things that have made nations such as the United States successful. Indians who are educated and learn about life outside South Asia tend to escape to America and other countries. India is losing the people who possess the ability to lead and govern successfully. Has anyone noticed the rising numbers of South Asians in our medical schools, businesses and law schools? They come here because they don't want to deal with India's unpredictability".

At the end of her one month sojourn in the land of her parents, Kiran Kaur observes: "Although India was trying to get caught up with the times, it seemed to me that it was actually going backward".

She explains: "The thing that bothers me most is that India is trying so hard to copy American music, fashion, electronics, even the language. The American way is the best way, or so they think".

Furthermore, she admits: "India is my heart and always will be. So much culture, including fashion and music, has arisen from within its borders, that India has a deep influence on the rest of the globe. But to me, it's as if those good things are leaving India, and all that gets left behind is the bad stuff  -  the stuff that makes people not want to live there. Although I am in love with Indian culture, it is the rise of this bad stuff that is preventing me from ever wanting to stay there for an extended period of time. Really, a month was all that I could handle".

Growing up in suburban America, Kiran enjoyed a life of "sheltered comfort", and was "accustomed to sanitation and cleanliness".

"Expected it, in fact", she says smugly.

As she explains: "I shopped in a frigid air-conditioned grocery store, pushing my cart along the aisles of abundant food. I made sure my lawn was trimmed equally throughout. I went to the occasional neighborhood block party. I was surrounded by people who had money to reside in such a contented society. Honestly, I thought this was the norm".

Two months ago, two days after her high school graduation, Kiran entered the world of India. It was not her first trip to India; it had been seven years since her last trip and now she was back with a different mindset  -  "not so naive, not so green".

Besides visiting relatives, she wanted to explore her family's roots. "If nothing else, I would see life as I had never seen it before. The life that would have been my destiny, had my mother and father not ocean-hopped to the United States".

She knew that "India is definitely the place to go to open your mind".

Kiran Kaur admits that her trip to India was unquestionably an eye-opener. As she explains: "Though I was immersed in jubilant culture and surrounded by people I shared blood with, I began to think of India as a rough draft that needed editing and polishing. There was so much potential within the people in this country, but they didn't know it. All they knew was the life they were living. Though they were used to their living conditions, they knew from the masses fleeing India for other countries that there was something better out there".

Kaur found the contrasts in India striking as well as appalling  -  especially environmental pollution and sanitation. "I stayed in a state called Punjab. More specifically, we were in the heart of Amritsar, which is the holy city of Punjab and houses the Golden Temple. Inside the Golden Temple grounds, beauty was everywhere, from the museum of Sikh history, to the white marble floors, down to the glistening Golden Temple itself.

"But once you left the premises and were outside the holy grounds, you were faced with a semi-industrialized city that seemed to lack the knowledge and organization to keep itself clean, healthy and beautiful.

"The roads of Amritsar are littered. Not just a stray cup here and there. There are enormous mounds of filthy trash that just get thrown into the street, because there is no organized sanitation system.

"In recent years, Amritsar has been plastered with ads for companies that are common here in the states: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Lays, Nestle and Samsung have made a new home in India. The problem is, in Amritsar, a giant billboard advertises a scantily-clad girl with the richest wine, but a homeless family will be sleeping underneath it, not knowing a single word of that billboard, surviving only on people who spot that advertisement, then see them and offer some money.

"In India, the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. It seems like no one is trying to create a more balanced system, to create new and useful jobs that can be given to the homeless, to enforce cleanliness and order. In India, nothing is reliable. Not the electricity. Not the police force. Nothing. The only thing that people have to rely on is God".

Kiran Kaur, who graduated from Francis Howell Central in St Louis, was the editor of the school newspaper and will be studying journalism this fall at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She says she has been "completely infatuated with writing since elementary school, but didn't focus on journalism until high school".

[Courtesy: IndoLink


Conversation about this article

1: Harinder (Mohali, Punjab, India), September 01, 2007, 2:38 AM.

This is why it is called "Spiritual India" ... In the dirt is practised "sarbat da bhalla". It is what makes us tick.

2: Ravinder Singh (Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.), September 04, 2007, 8:11 PM.

Love the article. I'm planning on heading to Punjab next year and this has really set the tone for me. Last time I was there was about 10 years ago.

3: Prabhu Singh Khalsa (Española, New Mexico, U.S.A.), September 05, 2007, 2:31 PM.

What Kiran Kaur Ji should realize is that shopping in her air-conditioned super-market with abundant food, helps to create the underside of society that she sees in India. Currently, the U.S. is powerful and prosperous because we use and abuse nations like India. Our economic and ecological model is based on consumption. We consume the resources from, and leave the trash in foreign countries like India. It's not that we are cleaner and more productive. We use war and division and econmic sanctions to keep people down. We have them produce and throw our trash in the neighbour'ss yard. If you want to see a better India and a better world, use less and give more. Imagine if we could all give as much as we take? I never saw a trash can in Amritsar either, but rather than trying to find a place to hide their trash (like we do) we should all focus on not generating it in the first place. I don't mean to criticize, but I didn't know any of this when I graduated from high school or college. Most people are unaware of how to be a responsible global citizen. I thought I'd mention a few relevant points, since this article does touch on such issues.

4: Tarvinder Randhawa (Pleasanton, California, U.S.A.), September 14, 2007, 1:18 PM.

We all have "mixed feelings" about our former homeland. What we need to focus on is "unity". If India was united, the country would accomplish much more. I see the divisions amongst Indians in the North American communities, even in our high schools here. Do not want to be cynical, but Indians seem to fall short on unity and larger issues impacting mankind as a whole.

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