There was a time when your NRI cousin and family were your gateway to the world. The things that came out to their suitcases were your Kool-Aid, literally. Vanilla Coke, Disney merchandise, airport Toblerone, a Starbucks cup, and CDs of games distributed to kith and kin were obsessions for days. Then there were the stories of a ‘liberated life’ — school parties, Dubai life, even relationships — spoken with a twang and drawn out accents. You would practise saying ‘inner-net’ not ‘in-ter-net’. All of that has done a ghar wapsi now. And it was rubbed in our face with Indian-origin British influencer Kamya’s video decrying hatred against ‘us Hindus’.
Now, we desi Indians see movies the same time our NRI cousins do, we Netflix and make Dalgona coffee too. We party, work, make TikTok videos just like teenagers in the US or UK — or we did till a few months ago. We are ‘with it’. But the larger transformation has clearly happened to the NRI cousin — who says ‘Na-mas-tay’ and participates in Indian Matchmaking, calls Sima Aunties for traditional matches, and even dresses up like Zeenat Aman in Haré Rama Haré Krishna. She talks about spirituality — and has all the merchandise for it.
They now want a piece of us, a piece of the ‘old Indian world’. They want an Eat, Pray, Love tour of pilgrimage sites. The ‘cool’ NRI kids are so 1992 now.
As G. Sampath wrote in a column, “No one loves India more than the NRI.”
A few days ago, the video of Kamya crying because others ‘look down’ and ‘bully’ Hindus and spirituality went viral on social media. She calls herself a spiritual guru and calls out the ‘hate’ that Hindus receive. Her video is particularly interesting because she compares the alleged hatred against Hindus to — wait for it — slavery in the US and displacement of Native Americans. She talks about being bullied for wearing a bindi and chanting mantras.
And to think how mad a significant proportion of this very NRI community was when Miley Cyrus and several other singers before her started wearing a bindi.
Predictably, her video became a trend on social media. And on the very day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the bhoomi pujan at Ayodhya. Many wrote on social media saying, Hindus are certainly not the ones being bullied in India, neither is Hindu spirituality under threat. Others, who had just watched Indian Matchmaking, saw a deeper diaspora problem.
Kamya later put up a post on social media saying, “The woke liberal mob is not welcome here…Stop your Hinduphobia,” and “India is the only place I’ve been bullied and mocked for practising basic dharma.”
But she isn’t the only one. Another viral video, this time from TikTok, shows a desi-accented teenager attempting to define the caste system — and butchering the explanation.
According to him @WokeHindu, the varna system is just about choosing the job that you want and is “not hereditary whatsoever”.
Another Instagram account called ‘The American Hindu’ that claims to explore history and culture through “the lens of young Hindu Americans” is full of posts such as a campaign to ‘take back’ the Swastika — as if one can just erase Nazi history.
And if anyone wants a crash course on dharma, karma, fasting — check out Instagrammer ‘youngndharmic’ because of course, one cannot lead a good life unless one follows these pearls of wisdom.
Channeling Kajol from K3G
It’s rather ironic if one thinks about it. Now that we are not the ‘traditional ones’, our NRI cousins have become the repositories of ‘sanskaar’ and values. Suddenly, they are ‘mera Hinduism mahaan’ Kajol from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham….
Of course, one also needs to remember that this cultural ‘reclamation’ is only limited to certain things. We dare not disturb the desi aesthetic with the real problems that plague the India they so love — such as inequality, unemployment, or even the workers’ crisis.
These accented, wannabe bohos only seem to care about sanitised cultural fetishisation and how good the jewellery, bandana and bindi look, especially on Instagram. Everything else is unnecessary.
For us, it’s a strange realisation. Maybe our NRI cousins are a bunch of contradictions just like us. Maybe, they believe, as Sanjay Dutt’s character says Rudraksh (2004), “Doing puja is cool.”
But a survey last year showed millennials and Gen Z in India are less religious than their elders. Another survey of Hindus in the US by PEW Research Centre showed that ‘absolute belief’ in God has significantly increased from 2007-2014 among all age groups.
Remember Netflix’s Never Have I Ever? It was hailed as the NRI series that broke Indian stereotypes. But it really didn’t. It showed a community desperately holding onto ‘culture’ and ‘traditions’.
As Sharanya Deepak notes, in Never Have I Ever “Brown is Indian is Hindu is Brahmin is wealthy is cisgender is Ivy-league-aspirational – a linearity that forms the prime packaged deal in ‘model minority’ South-Asian identity politics.”
Even our so-called ‘firangi-desi’ idols such as YouTuber Lily Singh, actor Mindy Kaling and television host Padma Lakshmi engage with Indian culture as superficially as possible and without any real meaning. They fall back on their Indian origins only when they need to. All other times, they’re as Western as they come. The exoticised and fetishised incense-stick-and-junk-jewellery vibes don’t make it any better.
I think it will take a while for it to sink in — but NRI cousins, with their much-sought-after goody bag from the US or UK, are no more the ‘best’ version of you.
Views are personal.