A place has a lot to do with developing people. It nurtures and fosters creativity and intellectual growth. Such was the case of impressionist Paris. Artists all over Europe converged. Art, architecture, philosophy blossomed in the cafes of Mont Marte. Same was true of Rabindranath era Kolkata. Poetry, Revolution against the British, Science, and even soccer saw their heyday in the 19th century Kolkata.
I was born though in the latter part of the 20th Century in Kolkata. A Kolkata where thoughts were stiffled, a Kolkata that was fast falling behind the rest of the Indian mileau. I went to an all girl’s Catholic school, and then to Presidency college, a college that had the repute of turning out scholars and revolutionaries. Yet, the 80s Presidency College I attended, with an English major, sought to stiffle my original thoughts. If you wanted the grades, you had to conform to the pattern of writing that was “prescribed ” for you. Creativity had no place.
As was the case of most women in Kolkata at that time, I was never given a chance to develop physical prowess. No gyms, no biking. And of course, wearing a swim suit in public was out of question in my conservative family. How I cursed Kolkata when I wanted to learn, but found so difficult breathing in the water for swimming in the US. It took me a whole three months before I could swim two laps without stopping. Kids learn that in one week.
On the emotional part, dating was frowned upon. Even if it was allowed, you were never allowed to date more than one guy in your life time. So you better meet your perfect match on the first date, or be doomed to an arranged marriage, where the only thing that mattered was the guy’s education, ability to earn, family (ie no one was divorced, or had any bad reputation)and of course a perfect horoscope match. I take that last one back. You can bribe any priest in India, like most other things in India, and get that perfect match if your parents really wanted that match.
Yet with a billion people, things dont come easy in India. We had to work hard for the grades, and your social life depends on your standardized exam scores. Thus the value of education and hard work were ingrained in me.
So I journeyed across the ocean, and today I am proud to be an American. Law school taught me how to think analytically instead of conforming to a pattern. The society gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. I am still proud of the fact that I drove by myself from Canada to Rochester New York to see the lilac festival, a feat that Americans would take for granted shortly after I came to the US. And I can swim, run, bike, do whatever I want, in clothes that do not encumber these activities. When I see Indian women in my gym, wearing long pants and sweating like anything, I feel so glad to be an American, wearing shrots, without caring.
But also my drive to achieve and hard work propelled me forward. After graduating third highest in my law school, I practiced law, but also focussed my energy on raising my kids. A combination of American thought and Indian work ethic led my children into ivy leagues and subsequently into med school. And that is the value of America, where the thought, culture and opportunity is mingled with the old world hard work and ethics. The end result of immigration then is SUCCESS.