Sent off to India

Of the many events in White Teeth, I found Samad shipping his son back to India among the least shocking (though functionally kidnapping him did take me aback). I’m not sure exactly why, but I think its because I’ve seen such a threat (though it wasn’t actually carried out) first hand. I’ve been dating an Indian girl for quite some time, and early in our relationship her parents seriously threatened to send her back to India if she continued to date a white boy. Much like Samad, they were (and are) frightened that their daughter will be “corrupted” by whiteness. When she told me this, I could not help but note how ironic it was. Her parents love American culture and have many more American friends than Indian friends. This love of America, however, does not extend to their daughter dating an American. Just as Samad’s own actions are riddled with contradictions (i.e. the affair), so were her parents’. They fear important aspects of their own culture, including their religion and holidays, will be lost if “the blood line becomes diluted.” These attitudes are very similar to how Samad felt about his sons, believing that they were losing important parts of their identity. His desire to return them to India was a desire not to see them swept away by a great white tide, and I have no doubt my girlfriend’s parents felt the same way.

Prior to receiving the threat from her parents, my girlfriend had just visited her family in India. She told me stories of how westernized India has become, especially the younger generation. When her parents threatened to send her back, I couldn’t help but feel what a waste it would be; the likelihood she would be exposed less to the West seemed very low. When Samad’s son returned far less traditional than when he had left, I imagined that the novel wasn’t too far off the mark (in terms of how it would play out in real life).

I believe, however, the novel isn’t exactly accurate. I asked my girlfriend if sending her back to India would’ve made her more traditional. Her response was a terse “Obviously.” Though she would’ve still been exposed to the West, she would’ve been more Indian than American. The novel, however, shows us the opposite, and in doing so I think it obscures an important reality. Being in India will probably make you more Indian, just as being in America will make you more American. I know that Smith being ironic, but I’m not sure what point she is trying to make in this instance. I certainly wouldn’t support sending a child back to India against their will, but I don’t doubt that such a move would be effective in returning that child to her roots.



~ by nickmbrown on April 18, 2010.

One Response to “Sent off to India”

  1. I believe that my experiences with Chinese culture have been similar to your girlfriend’s. My family is from Hong Kong, which returned to China’s jurisdiction in 1997 after half a century’s rule by Britain. Though there is enormous western influence in terms of economy, culture, and education, the western influences complement more than overtake the inherent Chinese culture. From visiting other Chinese cities, I believe that they have also received a similar effect.

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