Does one have to move nations to feel “Diasporic nostalgia”?

Santanu Majumdar
The diasporic condition can be reflected at minutely microscopic levels.  I moved out of my own house into a rented house in the same locality — barely half a kilometer away– 17 months ago and still sometimes feel myself to be in the middle of the alien and the inhospitable — though a ten-minute walk will take me back to my old house which is being rebuilt and where I hope to return in October.  Oddly I did not get this feeling when I was a student in the UK for six years.  Does anybody have a similar experience?  And can anybody suggest a reason for my feelings?


Bias Against Humanities in Diasporic Indian Families

Amit Shankar Saha
Diaspora formation involves not only the migration of human beings but also ideas, opinions, perceptions and prejudices. Often ingrained biases travel across continents in the guise of ethnic markers and cultural peculiarities. A migrating individual carries the stereotypical notions that he/she harbors. Members of the Indian diaspora, especially of the first generation, display evidence of this phenomenon. This often leads to generational conflicts within diasporic families.
There are many categories of biases prevalent in the migrant Indian population, one being the pedagogical bias. In this category the bias is against Humanities study. With the demise of meta-narratives and grand theories in a postmodern world, the position of eminence that Liberal Arts and Humanities occupied is compromised. In India Humanities education is popularly perceived as second grade education when compared with science education.
The Indian diaspora in the US, where Liberal Arts and Humanities education has found traditional backing and encouragement, has been populated primarily by individuals with science, technology or management backgrounds. The prejudice against Humanities often prevail despite the change in location, society, culture and economic sustainability. The question of sustainability of Humanities education in a world of dwindling economy, where funding is shrinking, makes the bias even harder to dispel.
The second generation Indians in the Us, who are born and bred there, do not harbor this prejudice because their ethnic Indian self and their social American self counteract each other. So in an Indian family in the US, a second generation individual, with an inclination for Humanities, will likely to find opposition in its pursuit from within the family leading to inter-generational conflicts.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth has examples to illustrate the point. In the title story Baba always wanted Ruma to study biology instead of history, which was Ruma’s preference. In “A Choice of Accommodation” Amit is forced to join Columbia Medical School, which he eventually leaves without getting his degree and takes up writing in a medical journal. In
“Hell-Heaven” Pranab, a scientist in MIT, is miffed that seven-year-old Usha is not yet taught square roots and the concept of Pi, without acknowledging her accomplishments in other subjects.


Diaspora of Food

It might be ironic that my maternal family name is Baker, as my family life is revolved around food. Ripped chunks of markouk (a type of flatbread), baklava that leaves your fingers still sticky with honey, the thick spices that invade your nose – this was the food of a Lebanese and Syrian diasporic family. Our familial center is a small Lebanese bakery that has been in business for over 50 years. It’s crowded and loud, the food labels are mostly written in Arabic, but within those walls rests a distilled version of Levantine (Eastern Mediterranean) culture.


Lebanese baklava is steeped in Attar syrup (commonly a mixture of water, sugar, lemon juice, and orange blossom or rose water).

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Locations and Displacements

La Vie en Rose: El Anatsui, close up

La Vie en Rose: close up of  El Anatsui‘s work. This Ghanian-born  artist uses discarded bottle tops to create vast, hanging murals that create fields of colour, mirroring the ways in which people and the goods they consume migrate: as we travel, our genomes, ideas, customs and rituals, our books, our techniques of food preparation, and the technologies we use to make life easier shift and flow, too.

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