By Teja Dusanapudi
Smiling, happy, and picturesque, the faces of the Brady Bunch are icons of the 1970s to many, but perhaps to none more so than Piyush Jindal, watching the family participate in zany antics and heartfelt resolutions within an easily digestible 25 minute plot arc.
Piyush’s Parents Amar and Raj Jindal, an engineer and a doctoral physics candidate, met in Chandigarh, India while pursuing degrees at Rajasthan University and Guru Nanak Dev University respectively. In 1971, they crossed the seas and moved to America. Soon after, Piyush was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a quiet subdivision of green lawns and white picket fences. It was here, he says, that Bobby Jindal became Bobby Jindal, changing his name from Piyush, meaning amrut, ambrosia, and nectar of immortality, to the famous and fun-loving Bobby of the Brady Bunch. Bobby was the youngest son of his family and Piyush the oldest, but both, perhaps, felt overlooked, whether by a loud, laughing family or the very world that idolized white faces.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what your last name is,” said Jindal in a recent interview. “You can be anything in America.” And while last names might not matter for Jindal, it appears that first names, in fact, do.
The change of Jindal’s first name, of course, was more than simply a new label to a renowned child character. Being “Bobby” meant switching from the Vedas to the Bible, a move that was controversial. Jindal previously stated that he used to read the Bible in the closet with a flashlight, so as to not attract his parents’ attention to his changing worldview. But “Bobby” could not stay hidden for very long, and soon Jindal converted to Roman Catholicism while at Brown University. It would be this, the marriage of “Bobby” and Jindal, that would lead to his emergent and turbulent political career.
In later years, the born-again Bobby would begin to regularly go hunting, taking pictures of himself and his family decked in camouflage at shooting ranges and across duck ponds. The family even became hosts to grand political dinners, mixing family, friends, and the political elite. Bobby finally befriended the people that Piyush grew up watching on his beloved television screen.
It was for these dinners that former friends of Bobby reported being encouraged not to wear traditional Indian dresses or outfits and instead adopt Western styles of clothing, a trend which continued through the years as Jindal hosted fundraiser after fundraiser and dinner after dinner–collars not kaamez, shoes not chappals, American not Indian.
Hearsay and speculation aside, perhaps the most cutting statement of the politician comes from Jindal himself: he pointedly notes that he does not consider himself an “Indian-American,” but, “simply,” just an American. This process of conversion, he suggests, is implicit within immigration, telling audiences that his parents arrived to America not to be hyphenated Americans, but rather “simply” Americans to the core, through and through.
Jindal’s political stances reflect his personal ones; during a series of speeches across the country, Jindal stated that “immigration without assimilation is invasion,” attributing contrary arguments to the “politically correct left.” Jindal further supported legislation crying for a border wall between Mexico and the United States, prohibiting same-sex marriage, and teaching intelligent design alongside evolution. These policies place Jindal squarely with other conservative white male politicians across America, and away from the identity of Piyush: the child of well-educated immigrants is running on a platform of nativism and religious hobnobbing.
Much like the change between “Bobby” and Piyush, the distinction between Indian-American and American has its own cultural schism and problems. To reject one’s name is to present evidence of its limitation; to reject Piyush is to consider it closed off, the identity of the young Jindal in some way incapable of reconciling with the world around him. Hence “Bobby” the bright, plucky child of the television and the 70s, with dreams and aspirations like every other American child, from going to space to being the president. And Bobby certainly followed his namesake, albeit unsuccessfully, in a bid for nomination as the 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Can Indian-Americans be governors, or is that limited to the “Bobby”s of America only? Would Piyush have been successful? Would Piyush have been able to attain the position of governor carrying the name his parents blessed him with? Would Piyush have forged a path for the millions like him, children of immigrants, with their own hopes and dreams? Would Piyush be able to be like his namesake, like amrut, and live immortally in the minds of history?