ANOTHER brick has come down (datang, menyerang) in the great wall separating India from the rest of the world. Recently, both Starbucks and Amazon announced that they would be entering the Indian market. Amazon has already started a comparison shopping site; Starbucks plans to open its first outlet this summer.
As one Indian newspaper put it, this could be “the final stamp (karakteristik) of globalization.”
For me, though, the arrival of these two companies, so emblematic (simbolis) of American consumerism, and so emblematic, too, of the West Coast techie culture that has infiltrated India’s own booming technology sector, is a sign of something more distinctive. It signals the latest episode in India’s remarkable process of Americanization.
I grew up in rural India, the son of an Indian father and American mother. I spent many summers (and the occasional biting , shocking winter) in rural Minnesota. I always considered both countries home. In truth, though, the India and America of my youth were very far apart: cold war adversaries (musuh, penentang), America’s capitalist exuberance (kemewahan) a sharp contrast to India’s austere (sederhana) socialism. For much of my life, my two homes were literally — but also culturally, socially and experientially — on opposite sides of the planet (benar-benar bertolak belakang, berseberangan).
All that began changing in the early 1990s, when India liberalized its economy. Since then, I’ve watched India’s transformation with exhilaration (kegembiaraan) , but occasionally, and increasingly, with some anxiety.
I left for boarding school in America in 1991. By the time I graduated from high school, two years later, Indian cities had filled with shopping malls and glass-paneled office buildings. In the countryside, thatch huts (gubuk ilalalang) had given way (tersisih, dirobohkan) to concrete homes, and cashew (jambu monyet) and mango plantations were being replaced by gated communities. In both city and country, a newly liberated population was indulging (memanjakan) in a frenzy (hiruk pikuk, kegembiraan) (some called it an orgy (pesta pora)) of consumerism and self-expression.
More than half a century ago, R. K. Narayan, that great chronicler of India in simpler times, wrote about his travels in America. “America and India are profoundly different in attitude and philosophy,” he wrote. “Indian philosophy stresses austerity and unencumbered (tak terbebani), uncomplicated day-to-day living. America’s emphasis, on the other hand, is on material acquisition and the limitless pursuit of prosperity.” By the time I decided to return to India for good, in 2003, Narayan’s observations felt outdated. A great reconciliation had taken place; my two homes were no longer so far apart.
This reconciliation — this Americanization of India — had both tangible (nyata, terwujud) and intangible manifestations. The tangible signs included an increase in the availability of American brands; a noticeable surge (gelora, hentakan) in the population of American businessmen (and their booming voices) in the corridors of five-star hotels; and, also, a striking use of American idiom and American accents. In outsourcing companies across the country, Indians were being taught to speak more slowly and stretch their O’s. I found myself turning my head (and wincing (mengernyit) a little) when I heard young Indians call their colleagues “dude.”
But the intangible evidence of Americanization was even more remarkable. Something had changed in the very spirit of the country. The India in which I grew up was, in many respects, an isolated and dour (masam) place of limited opportunity. The country was straitjacketed by its moralistic rejection of capitalism, by a lethargic (lesu) and often depressive fatalism.
Now it is infused with an energy, a can-do ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit that I can only describe as distinctly American. In surveys of global opinion, Indians consistently rank as among the most optimistic people in the world. Bookstores are stacked (dipenuhi tumpukan) with titles like “India Arriving,” “India Booms” and “The Indian Renaissance.” The Pew Global Attitudes Project, which measures opinions across major countries, regularly finds that Indians admire values and attributes typically thought of as American: free-market capitalism, globalization, even multinational companies. Substantial majorities associate Americans with values like hard work and inventiveness (daya temu-inovasi), and even during the Iraq war, India’s views of America remained decidedly (dengan tegas, gamblang) positive.