City, family, help, henry, Holt, Karthik, letter, m.t., new, NYC, request, rushdie, salman, story, thyagarajan, york
Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
115 West 18th Street
New York, New York 10011
1 MAR 99
I am an Indian-American man, 32 years old, unmarried, living in Brooklyn, New York. My father was among the first post-independence Indians to emigrate to the United States – in 1957 as a post-doctoral fellow in Organic Chemistry at Northwestern University.
He went back to India in 1959 and then worked to bring his family to the US in the years that followed. My mother, sisters and I immigrated from Madras to the US in 1969, four days before the first lunar landing.
My father struggled to bring us here only to have his family disintegrate in a bitter divorce. The story is still whispered among our society of Ayer Brahmins in Madras. The bitterness in our family has been taxing.
My father is an old man now and I’m his only son. I believe that telling our story will bring some peace to our broken lives and help other immigrant families who face similar difficulties. I seek help in this matter.
My eldest sister chose to return to India and lives in Madras. She married into a Punjabi family that had emigrated to our city from the North in the forties. My sister was, by the magic between two Indian newlyweds in the autumn of 1958 in Evanston, Illinois, born an American citizen.
She was taken back to India at two, brought back to the US at 12 and then returned to Madras at 15, back again at 20 and finally returned to India in 1982 to marry.
The repeated trans-continental travel at a young age reduced her emotionally and exacerbated the divide between my parents who had very different views on raising Indian children in the US.
Both my sisters and my mother are now estranged from my father. They have exchanged a handful of words in fifteen years. I am the only person who speaks to everyone, though I have not been back to India since 1991. There is a sadness among us all.
My father moved us to San Antonio, Texas in 1974. My second sister and I were raised Texan. She is now a converted Baptist living in Denver, Colorado. Three years ago she changed her name to Kate. She has assimilated to an American life.
I live in the New York metropolitan area among the largest population of Indians in the US, but I am lonesome and not close with the community here. With my eldest sister being in Madras and my parents divorced in Texas, we are a wholly divided family. Separated by geography and our anger.
My father was born in a hut with a dirt floor in South India with five sisters, while my mother was raised by a wealthier Madrasi family. Both families were orthodox Hindu Brahmins. The forebears in our patriarchy were strong-willed, powerful men. My fathers father was an idealist, a Gandhian who was jailed during the pre-Independence days when he marched the salt satyagraha. My mothers grandfather was a Congress member and a barrister, esteemed in Madras society circles. His sons were raised as anglophiles. My parents were a “love match” that went terribly wrong in the US. My sisters and I were raised in a chaotic and discontinuous way.
In 1981, the year I became an American citizen and you wrote “Midnight’s Children” there were perhaps 200,000 South Asians in the US. By 1989, when I graduated from University, there were more than 800,000. By 1995, when I finished Graduate School we numbered more than one million. My father was among the first 1,000 to arrive and I was among the first 40,000. That’s my generation.
Soon I will have to move back to Texas as my father is alone at 70 and will need care. I have come to New York to ask for help to write (and in many ways reconcile) the story of my family. I believe the telling will be a healing experience for us and a literary work of significance for other immigrants to the United States. I turn to you as a student seeking a teacher. Can you help me?
with utmost respect,
Brooklyn 718/ 383-9621