The Perplexity of Being an ABCD

“Abe ABCD… Chup.” (Shutup, ABCD)

A typical answer that I have sadly gotten used to when I’m in conversations with my friends from the subcontinent about anything related to the subcontinent. Confused? Why recite the first four letters of the alphabet to me? I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the brightest all throughout primary school, but thankfully I have, by now, learned my alphabets, so there’s no need to teach me. They also aren’t serenading me with the ABCD song (For those that need a trip down memory lane in 3D)

By calling me an ABCD, they’re actually attempting to ridicule me. According to the always reliable Urban Dictionary, ABCD is a derogatory term used for those from the subcontinent who were born or grew up in the United States and are confused about their identity as an American, Indian or both. American Born, Confused Desi. (Desi [d̪eːsi] is a loose term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora. For me and the following rant, Desi is centered around India.)

For quite a long time now, here in the States (where I was born and brought up) and in India, people have used that term against me. I’ve grown up with that term. No matter my understanding of the Upanishads, the political Panchayat raj system or even something as basic as knowing the several different national and regional languages used in India, I will, according to them, never be “Indian” enough.

As someone who considers himself as American as Indian (to be honest, a bit more on the latter side), I haven’t come in terms with that word. Why is someone defining my identity for me? Why, even after my knowledge and understanding of the culture, religions, politics, history, and people, will I never be to their standard of “Indian.” Exactly what is the standard of being a true Indian? Is a dark navy 30 page booklet issued by the government of India (a passport), or having a CBSE certificate of passing your exams suffice as a proclamation of being truly Indian? No.

The reality is that it’s in the human nature to do what is better for you, your family and your future. When you get an opportunity to study and grow up in an atmosphere that will enhance your future, knowledge as well as give you a further understanding of the world, you take that opportunity. Just like the 102, 673 Indian-origin students studying in the United States who took the opportunity to expand their opportunities and moved to the States, my family did what was best at that time for my future and career.

No, I don’t define my understanding of India or being Indian by re-watching Shah Rukh Khan movies or eating rajma chawal. I don’t think that I understand Inda and its plight by watching Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate. I don’t sit back in my comfortable New York City apartment with my feet up on my table as I watch the news that talks about all that is wrong with India and shake my head in agreement. I don’t talk abut about how corrupt and hopeless India is and that nothing can be done about it. Nor do I prophetically talk about all that is wrong about India, and how it can be fixed. But neither do I blindly and patriotically talk about how wonderful India is and chant “Hindustan jindabad” to all the naysayers.

I have been to 23 out of the 29 states in India. And when I say that I’ve gone to these states, I don’t mean just staying at a 5-Star hotel as I enjoy the views or party at clubs. I’ve stayed in cities, districts, and villages in all these states. I’ve spoken to the natives of those areas in different capacities, trying to understand their views, issues and characteristics. I’m not saying that’s enough, it’s nowhere near enough to just visit different parts of India for a short period of time and say you “understand.” That’s never enough. But that doesn’t warrant you to take away my identity, culture and passion. Yes, some might say that calling someone an ABCD isn’t that bad, but you don’t get to decide what is acceptable, especially not while you continuously ridicule someone with that term.

I’m trying. I’m trying to help my people and my nation. I didn’t have to be born and brought up in India to be empathetic towards my own people. I didn’t have to be born and brought up in India to understand the culture, religion and language. I didn’t have to be born and brought up in India to be passionate about my country.

My name is Sudhanshu Chaturbhuj Kaushik. I was born and brought up in Alabama, and I’ve had the honor to experience different cultures and traditions all over the world. I might hold an American passport, but I am just as Indian as any of you will ever be. You can’t take that away from me. I won’t let you.