“Do you do Bugger King?” That’s Sam, short for Soumitra, Shamshad, Sameera or Sanam on the flight home with excess baggage and it is not what they have stuffed in their suitcases.
The expat woman is often taken by Mr Worldly-wise but obedient son. Her demure lass act has to do with an image rather than reality. She balances the roles of comely wife and westernised sophisticate on the make. While she is fixing her coffee and munching a cucumber sandwich, she ensures that the hubby gets back to microwaved chapattis.
In the beginning it is easier, for she is curious, enthusiastic and adamant about her new calling. She had probably dreamed about one day being a ‘mem’. Soon, cultural schizophrenia takes its toll. She has to cope with an Asian identity not rooted in her ethos as that would be termed parochial. So, she bravely brushes off traces of obvious ethnicity and makes the great leap forward by hiding her face behind the newspaper in the tube where she can see no outside dirt except the cobwebs gathered in people’s minds. She is not quite there but she knows where to get in and get off.
Meshing into her new role, she is invited to become a cultural ambassador — it could be anything, from helping a politician’s wife with crystal therapy to organising ‘nites’ showcasing ritualistic culture to mundane mundan and milad ceremonies. Her kids learn classical music and dance while she makes sure they land up in the Spelling Bee and the American Idol finals as well, and play baseball, too. There is no escape. However, stories of having to deal with hidden foreign wives/mistresses and physical abuse of the ‘backward’ wife are fairly common. Many feminist outfits are run by South Asian women, making it a ghetto within a ghetto.
The men try to avoid such ghettoisation. They do meet for alumni functions, don pugrees, host dinners, but there will always be a fair sprinkling of friends from the adopted homes. This is to convey that they have made it. They often display fairly aggressive social skills because they have had to fight many more noticeable racial biases and yet sound like citizens of the world. It is this insecurity of being acceptable but not quite accepted that makes them turn to local women in their version of blonde ambition.
Many foreign women give the expat confidence simply by making him aware that he has money, a strong sense of family and will probably be more loyal than the western male. This last point need not be valid, for the migrant is licensed to sow wild oats together with reaping a degree or a job. But he does appear home-loving. Just when he has begun to feel a sense of belonging, he is summoned back to find a wife. He gives in, partly due to pressure, partly because he knows it is more important to be comfortable rather than a passing curiosity. With time, he becomes a curious case.
What is bothersome is not that the expats do not know what they want, but seem to know it all. If they return home for good, it is rarely mentioned as a personal or professional move. They believe their country of origin needs them. They are the revolution waiting to happen.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2010.