Sunday Schmooze // The non-reliability of the NRI acronymSun 08 Nov 2020
We live in politically volatile times, so it was with a certain amount of circumspect glee that I noted a friend’s social media thread being stitched into a battleground. She — an Indian by birth, an American by naturalisation, and a badge-carrying Democrat — had posted a pro-Joe Biden comment, triggering off a war of words.
Now, the significant point about the exchange was that the “opponent” was a person based in India, an alleged Trump fanboy. He wrote Trump is “better for India”, to which she retorted (rightly) “[even if that were true] Americans don’t, or shouldn’t care, what is right for India [or any other country] while voting… they should think about their own country.”
The desi gent sneered: “Never trust an NRI.”
Ah, NRI. Non-Resident Indians.
The ones who don’t pay taxes in India and always complain about things “back home”. Also known as “non-reliable Indians”.
Only problem: my friend is not an NRI. She’s American. A citizen. A social security number-holder. An NRI, on the other hand, is someone who’s an expat, who lives and works overseas, and carries an Indian passport.
Said friend immediately set the record straight with, “I’m not an NRI, I’m an American.” But I am continually mystified why Americans, Britons, Aussies, Canadians, Mauritians and so on, who may be of Indian origin, are referred to as Indians who live abroad and therefore NRIs.
They are not Indians — even if they like their palak paneer and wear saris on special occasions. I mean, the whole purpose why they (or their forefathers) took up citizenship of a different country was because they didn’t want to be “Indian”.
Al Pacino may be of Italian origin, but he’s American, no fight about that. And yet, only the other day, someone in Delhi, while watching Archie Panjabi (in Shetland), immediately piped up with, “She’s Indian!” I had to say, “No, she’s not, Archie Panjabi is British.”
This typecasting is almost as confusing as British citizens supporting the Indian team whenever there’s a cricket match between India and England. A bit rich really — calling yourself ‘British’, living off the system, being covered by NHS, boasting about your property in Wembley, yet refusing to give your country’s team its credit at Lord’s.
Getting back to the US elections, a lot of Indians in India have suddenly appropriated Kamala Harris as one of their own. Leading newspapers are carrying pieces on her love for idlis. And what her becoming Vice President could mean for India. Surely, American foreign policy from here on cannot be hinged on meting out special favours to India just because one side of her family has Indian origins?
I wonder how long before someone else who doesn’t understand the difference between NRIs and other countries’ citizens calls Harris a “non-reliable Indian”.
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