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White skin, brown soul

The ‘Third Culture Kids’ often face huge identity struggles in a land they know and understand, but eventually find ways to reconcile with their uniqueness, reports Riddhi Shah.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2007 03:27 IST

A day in the life of Jamie Alter is not easy. He takes the bus to office — Cricinfo in Bangalore — and is stared at all the way. Teenagers snigger and point. But name-calling and insults are things he’s gotten used to by now. After work, he meets friends at a coffee shop, laughs, teases them affectionately in Hindi. Suddenly, he finds the whole restaurant staring at him. He’s a curiosity — a white man in a group of brown people.

But Jamie, son of actor Tom Alter, isn’t a tourist or long-term expat. He’s Indian and it says as much on his passport. Having grown up in Mumbai and Mussoorie, Jamie understands references to Chitrahaar, not American sitcoms. When he went to the US for his undergraduate degree, he thought he’d blend in. And he did — as far as appearances go. Until he realised his heart was in India. “I missed the chaos of Mumbai. I love cricket, not American culture. I came back because I’m happier here,” says the 25-year-old.

There are others like Jamie — Tara Chowdhry, who returned after an education in England even as her dad returned to the US. Chris Starr, who returned to India after 30 years in the US, to settle down. The Eicher brothers — Stefan and Andi — who choose to stay on despite a daily struggle to prove their identity. And hundreds more whose stories are yet to be found.

They are the children of foreign immigrants — missionaries, social scientists, businessmen — who came to India in the 1950s and the 1960s. And they’re staying because this is home. A land they know and understand, while their countries of origin remain alien places.

These ‘Third Culture Kids’ often face huge identity struggles, but eventually find ways to reconcile with their uniqueness.

First Published: Apr 29, 2007 01:16 IST