When I arrived in India about eight years ago, I was pretty typical for my age. I was your ordinary, garden-variety, pimply, scrawny teenager complete with the standard hormone-induced craziness.
It was a bit weird adjusting to the new school life, but one school and two years later, I was pretty much in my own private Valhalla. Things started going well. My marks improved. My sports participation became better. I joined the debating club. I learnt to play cricket. And then, there were the GIRLS. THAT was something which had never happened before. They looked at me. They talked to me. They were INTO me. Even a grunt like me could see that.
And I had no idea why. I may have been good at math, but I wasn’t a Rockstar by any stretch of imagination. I didn’t think I was that handsome. I wasn’t even the Cricket captain, for god’s sake. There was something weird about it, alright, but I didn’t care that much. I was too busy enjoying my new and improved Casanova persona. My parents chuckled at my experiments and gave me the usual reminders about setting limits etc etc. Life was good.
By the time I was halfway through Ninth grade, I had a steady girlfriend. Everything became cooler. The sky was a deeper blue. The evenings were mellow and sweet. I don’t think we had that much in common and I had no idea why she even liked me, but the experience was amazing. And, like most things which are that awesome, it didn’t last.
One afternoon, during dinner, I had the following convo with my elder sister.
“Hey, N, are you DATING that Niharika girl from your class?”, my sister said through a mouthful of rice.
I raised my eyebrows. “Um, yeah. So?”
She laughed at that for some reason, which, of course, irritated my teenage self.
“What’s your problem, S?”
“God, you’re such an idiot! Can’t you SEE?”
“She doesn’t even like you! She’s just showing you off. One-upping her friends. I overheard her on the bus today.”
I stared at her like she was crazy.
“One-upping? Why would she do that? Why me?”
“Because you’re the… I dunno… hotshot NRI with the American accent and the ‘growing up in DC’ stories. Makes you popular”
“Oh, come on!”
“It’s the truth. Take it or leave it”
It turned out to be true, of course. I found out for myself soon enough and that was the end of it.
The funny thing is, I’ve seen that kind of behavior even from adults in India. They’re enthralled by the accent. They’re enthralled by the American-isms. Completely star-struck. Many of them pay lip-service to the “America is evil” school of thought, but their attitude doesn’t reflect that. I’ve recieved preferential service at posh cafes and restaurants for that reason. I’ve even seen people who’ve never been out of the country for any extended period, don faux accents, and consistently use the typical North American *kh* and *r* (“kharrrot”) or speak in an almost perfect RP. It’s cool to speak as though you were a foreigner and apparently, kind of attractive too. Makes you seem more intersting, it appears. Damned if I know why.