Just fresh off the boat

Just fresh off the boat
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First Published: Sun, Jan 18 2009. 09 46 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Jan 18 2009. 09 46 PM IST
Freshie” and “fresh off the boat” have never been terms of endearment in the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. While the entire jurisprudence of cricket etiquette is in the throes of interpretation, the term “freshie”, which has not yet been exalted to quite the same plane as “monkey”, nonetheless merits a deft examination. Being neither a fashionista nor a hairstylist, I did struggle through the analysis of a term, which for the most part concerns the external appurtenance of a migrant in a faraway land, susceptible to easy detection and free jibes!
Migrants from the Indian sub-continent to the US, the UK, Canada and Australia are particularly singled out for “freshie” treatment. Another peculiar fact associated with this phrase is that it is geographically limited in its usage to major migration destinations within the Commonwealth which are, or were at some point in the past, seafaring nations. This term germinated in the pre-air travel days when the only means of docking on to a foreign shore was some form of a boat, along with the genetic and eugenic baggage of nativity.
Historically the host country populace was usually at fault in perpetuating the term “freshie”. However, the advent of modern liberal education has in many ways brought about political correctness in the day-to-day conversations in such countries. If you keep aside the punks, who cannot really be taken into account before undertaking an analysis into the behaviour of an otherwise rational society, the term “freshie” ought to have been repealed from public memory by now. However, it does unfurl itself with venomous vivacity from the twangy tongues of the “freshie” offspring every now and then. These youngsters have grown up under challenging circumstances, probably subject to “freshie” treatment in their schools and playgrounds. What they find bewildering is the mounting affluence and influence of the neo-“freshies”—many of whom are highly skilled Indian information technology and financial services professionals. These neo-“freshies” are boisterous in cinemas and restaurants, offer their prayers during the festivals and carry their Indianness with panache, and to top it all, are very good at their workplace. What they lack are the Abercrombie and Fitch labels mutilated in all the wrong places and the hairstyles which give the pre-dish antennae a run for the money.
A trip on the east-bound Hammersmith and City Line in London, which passes through several areas where Indians have traditionally lived, was indeed an eye-opener. The children who grew up there have not had the benefit and burden of an Indian upbringing, nor the typically English rearing of their peers, thus finding themselves unable to snugly fit into either group. It is this ill-tailored rearing, combined with the intense desire to assimilate and be counted as English, that has in many ways propelled them to despise relatively recent migrants to this country. While the real Englishmen and women have moved ahead, with rare departures, the “freshie” offspring continue in their “Trishanku” state and perpetuate this term on their arguably more successful country cousins!
I do envisage a day when home-grown and home-bred Indians who earn a place for themselves on the world stage would be admired by the “freshie” offspring. The foreigners are already won over—the only resistance is from our own race. The kind of excitement that a Lord Swraj Paul or a Lakshmi N. Mittal has started generating among “freshie” offspring could just be the beginning of the eradication of the word “freshie” from popular culture and usage.
Saionton Basu is an advocate in the Supreme Court. Comment at otherviews@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Jan 18 2009. 09 46 PM IST