If like me, you belong to the fourth generation NRI category, an identity crisis is definitely on the cards at some point in your life. If you are the first generation in your family living outside India, then not so much. For you guys, things are nice and easy. For instance, when people ask about where you are from, you are able to give a short one line response (i.e. I’m from Mumbai and I currently live in the U.K.). When it comes to adaptability, you only have to deal with the fusion of two cultures( that too, you will still be 90% Indian with a 10% hint of global flavour). Essentially, you are still Indian, with zero chances of an impending identity crisis. But for us fourth Gen NRIs on the other hand, oh boy, it’s a whole different story. Why, you ask?
#1 Queries about our place of origin are enough to make us doubt our own identity
Aunty: Where are you from?
Aunty: Ahaan, but where are you really from?
Me: Oh, I was born in Malaysia but moved to Australia a while ago.
Aunty(now annoyed): Yes, but originally? From Tamil Nadu or Kerala? Your features are very Indian.
Me: Well,I’m sure several generations ago my ancestors were from India, but everyone in my family including patti(grandma) and tata(granddad) were born in Malaysia. I have no idea which part of India we are from.
Aunty: Aah that’s what I’m telling na, you’re Indian.
Me: …… yeah, I guess.
#2 India is home, but India is not home
Making a trip to India brings about a mixed bag of feelings. Everything is so familiar; the sounds, the smells, the food, the people, the culture, but at the same time, there is no particular part of India that we can call home. There is no family or family home to go back to. And so, we experience India much like tourists would, living in hotels, eating in restaurants and getting around in taxis. It’s fine because India lends its charm to everyone, foreign or not, but it would be pretty cool to have an ancestral family home in a quaint town somewhere!( cue dream sequence vision of family members in sarees, hair laden with malli pu (jasmine) , anklets tinkling as we walk around a Kula Deivam Koil(ancestral temple). Sigh.)
#3 We understand our mother tongue, but aren’t confident speaking it
We love the sound of Tamil and are quite capable of understanding and formulating sentences if need be, but because everyone from our parents to grandparents speak in English, speaking in Tamil doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s so nice to observe families from India speaking in such beautiful Tamil to each other and we really should try to learn our mother tongue! There are some classically Tamil sentiments and expressions that English just can’t do justice to.
#4 We belong neither here nor there, when it comes to pretty much everything
We aren’t typically Indian, nor are we Western. We have no idea which subsection of Indian familial classification we belong to ( a result of a long line of inter-cultural marriages once the family line left India). Our values are Indian, but we aren’t fussed about caste or creed. We aren’t as good as Indians at pronouncing Indian words, but we aren’t as bad as Westerners at pronouncing them either. Indians recognise us as foreigners(unless we look super traditional) and so do Westerners! Along the way, we have incorporated a little bit of the culture of each place we have lived in, resulting in an amusing blend of socio-cultural adaptations(i.e. yours truly, the South Indian looking, Hindustani music loving, English speaking, Malaysian food eating, Australian Tamil Girl!).
As confusing as it can be to be a fourth-generation NRI, we still manage to maintain our Indian heritage abroad and that in itself is an amazing feat.So to all my fellow NRIs, chin up and keep celebrating the glory of our beautiful culture! Let’s learn more about our traditions and culture so that they will be vibrant for many more years to come.
What are the dilemmas you face as a NRI? Leave a comment below:)
I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. However, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Happy reading! – Divya