July 4th: An Indian-American Shares his Thoughts

The World
Reporter Deepak Singh lives in Virginia, but he recently went home to India to visit family in Lucknow. He sent us some thoughts about observing July 4th in another country. Visiting my parents in India, I decided to take my American-born daughter, who is almost four, to the elementary school I attended in Lucknow. As soon as we entered the premises, she said, "Papa, look, the squirrels are so tiny." She was right. The squirrels she was used to seeing in the US were three times as big. I had nothing to compare them with when they ran up and down the towering, knotty Ashok trees, the same ones I ran around as a child. We walked inside the building and saw kids in grey uniforms sitting in front of teachers in blue saris. I stood outside the room and pictured myself sitting somewhere among the students. While my mind took me back thirty years, my daughter said, "Too many kids, papa." When I sat on a squeaky wooden chair among 50 students here, it never occurred to me that there were more students than could fit in that tiny room. I took it as normal. My daughter goes to a pre-school in the US where the student-teacher ratio is ten to one. I tried to explain to her that schools in India are different, but she wasn't happy with my answer. We went on and saw little kids walking between classes carrying bags heavier than themselves. I used to do the same thing, bending forward, balancing the weight. Then I looked at my daughter, expecting her to say, "Why doesn't the school have lockers like my school?" I found her looking at the walls that had pictures of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi instead of Abraham Lincoln. We walked out to the playground, where all the kids had lined up for the assembly. After a small speech by the principal, everyone started singing the Indian national anthem. I felt a little nostalgic and then it dawned on me that it would soon be the fourth of July. Three years ago on that day, I sang the star spangled banner at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, and took the oath to become a citizen of the United States. Wandering around with my daughter and seeing things through her eyes made me think about my own identity and hers. We both belong to both places, but we see them very differently.
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