Have you ever played the game "telephone" as a kid? If you grew up in North America, you definitely have: it's a staple of school picnics, in which everyone sits in a circle. The first person whispers a word into her neighbour's ear, who in turn whispers it into her neighbour's, and so forth, until it comes back to the original person. It's amazing how often the word that comes back has little connection to the word that went out in the first place: "book" becomes "cake" or something like that.
I can't think of a better metaphor for the transmission of culture: the further it moves away from its home, the more it gets modified, step by step, until, in some cases, it's almost unrecognizable when compared to the original. Indian culture in the West Indies is a good example, and for obvious reasons. When Indians arrived in the Caribbean as indentured labour, they had no contact with their home country's culture, and had to rely on collective memory over the generations to preserve it: what exists today is rich and interesting, but has little to do with anything going on in India.
While we may not want to admit it, Indian culture in North America is not that different. The bulk of Indians here today came in the 1960s and 1970s, or are children of those original migrants. In our electronic age, it's easy to forget that, in those days, keeping in touch with what was going on back home wasn't easy. There was no cable television, no internet, not even direct dialling: I still remember my parents having to book a call with the operator and waiting to see if they could get a line! Not to mention the fact that those calls were expensive, as were airline tickets. Indian spices were almost impossible to get hold of, even if you wanted to cook desi at home. If you were raised vegetarian, as I was, it was well-nigh impossible to get anything in the school cafeteria. The end result was that that generation, and their kids, quickly lost touch with developments in India, and cultivated, and nurtured, a cosseted and at once dessicated Indian culture in North America.
Part of this involves accommodating Indian culture to local conditions. Let me give you a trivial but telling example. Indian meals, as you know, are not served in courses: everything is served at once on a thali. Proper North Indian restaurants in India, therefore, don't have snacks on their menu. At the very most, you will order some dry tandoori stuff with roomali roti to nibble on before dinner. But Western-style restaurant meals typically start with an appetizer, move on to a main course, and finish with dessert. So what we see in Indian restaurants here is the spectacle of diners munching on samosas and pakoras, even chaat, before ordering dinner, having a full meal of naan, sabzi, and so on, then having their gulab jamun afterwards. Equally annoying, you have to tell the waiter whether you want the spice level "mild, medium, or hot". This makes sense, maybe, for a non-Indian, but to ask a desi? Please!
That was a trivial example. For a more serious one, it's striking how Indians here are way more socially conservative than the folks back home. That includes the prevalence of arranged marriage, even amongst the second and third generation. A fixation on religion and caste is another feature. I went to a dinner party in Ottawa a while ago, and it was like being thrown back, almost atavistically, to life in the village: the women dutifully fed the men, who ate first, and the men and women sat separately. I was at a fancy dinner in Mumbai a while later, at which the scintillating society women dominated the conversation and their meek menfolk played second fiddle! The two groups of people would have had nothing in common, except for my presence at both events.
There is nothing particularly unique about this, of course. Italians in North America are stuck in a conservative, Catholic culture they brought with them after the war that resonates little in contemporary Italy, and so it goes with many ethnic groups.
Technology may be our saviour here. I notice that recent immigrants, especially those who come as adults, are savvy about keeping their options open in India while they pursue education or work opportunities here in North America. An increasing number even return to India, contributing to what economists are calling a "reverse brain drain", but which is more appropriately termed "brain circulation", as they don't park themselves either here or there, but rather keep going back and forth. Whether this sort of thing will eventually create a truly hybridized global culture, or instead will accentuate differences in subtler and less easy to quantify ways, is something to speculate on.