Mother India beckons me… o’, does she?

My friend and I often ponder about returning to India… someday! In my own mind, though, I believe we are merely flirting with the idea of returning to our motherland… back to Bharat mata.

Neither of us are anywhere near the retirement age.  Besides, there’s every possibility that by the time we do approach it, the official retirement age may get pushed farther back… retirement, therefore, is still a long way off. So, will we ever move back to India to take up a job there, or to set up an India-based venture?

We hear and read about numerous ‘success’ stories of repats (or ‘returnees’), including former East Indian immigrants, Indian-Americans, non-resident Indians who, after living outside of India — mainly in the US, Canada, UK, or Australia — are returning to their country of origin.  Quitting jobs in Seattle, or at Sun Microsystems, or, from venture capital companies in Silicon Valley… technocrats are gung-ho about heading start-ups, or funding Web 2.0 apps; India’s booming economic stratosphere lures venture capitalists to lead as head honchos of hedge funds! But wait, are all the repats ‘successful’ or ‘happily settled’ in India?

As a working adult in a large metropolis, or, if you’ve lived, studied, and grown up in India, all the visible chaos is simply accepted as ‘a part of life’… the struggles of the people; the national politics at the macro level; and work-place dynamics at a micro level; the bureaucracy at the government level percolating down, and through to the private sector; the farcical current education system with parallel private tutoring; the perennial search by households for a reliable ‘maid-servant’; the annual monsoons, the droughts, the daily commute to and from work during the summer heat… all the tedium is a part and parcel of daily life… but what is apparent to the rest of the world is India’s fast-growing, booming stock-market, with consumerism scaling new heights, and a middle-class that only seems ‘modern’! Living by a new set of rules, with new values, attitudes, and behavior, the burgeoning youth population seems alien from any previously known Indian generation.

Hey, this is just the surface… scratch and scrape just a wee-bit, and it’s not hard to see that age-old behavior patterns, beliefs and psychology prevail. Once the novelty of the ‘returnee’ wears off, the repat will have to ‘fall in line’. The ‘system’ compels them to accept age-old lackadaisical work ethics of the nation. Expecting a higher degree of discipline? Chances are, you’ll be disappointed. The fault lies with the expectations of the returnee… the changes in the ways and values of the local people, visible at first glance, are all a mere illusion. So, how can you be truly happy? If you’re not happy, would you say you’re successful?

Attitudes take far longer to change. To get ingrained or locked in the DNA takes far longer… but then human behavior analysts would know that, right? In a vicious cycle, it is for the very same reason that old set of attitudes take far longer to change… you can expect the changes to occur over a long period of time… over several decades… hence, may be in a generation or two.

Interestingly enough, India appears to be a fast progressing, upwardly mobile, youthful nation that seems to be breaking away from the psychological shackles, and Victorian values and vestiges of the Raj era gone past. India, today, boasts of a new generation born to parents of the post-Independence era who, neither experienced, nor suffered the travails of their own parents i.e. the previous Freedom Fighters’ generation.

Paradoxically, the early immigrants from the mid-20th century, across the Indian diaspora, were educated Indian professionals from the very same Freedom Fighters’ generation. It is their children, or their grand-kids today, who are seeking opportunities in what was once their homeland… India, to them, is the country they often visited during their childhood, or viewed through their grand-parents’ rose-tinted glasses.

Listen carefully to Indians in India… Has anybody sensed the contempt in their voices towards the US or towards Indian Americans? They express a lack of interest or desire to visit the US. Once, not too far back, Indians clamored for immigration to the US. The difficult US immigration process and the officers may be one reason for the disinterest now, but there are other reasons as well. Today Indians have a choice… Canada, Australia, the Middle-East, South Africa, Botswana… who knows, may be even Timbuctoo. But most of all, this contempt seems to stem from India’s newly acquired power and wealth… a new attitude that mocks at a nation that has been thus far the super-power.

Even so, I don’t see the new generation boycotting American, Canadian, Australian or any other foreign goods or services… be it jeans or their latest jalopy; higher education at NYU or a vacation in the Rockies! I don’t see malls proud to display local brands! Why are parents sending their kids to IB schools? Why are cruises to the Caribbean or Alaska so popular? Foreign brands in India are raking it in. There seems to be no embarrassment in embracing foreign labels… but then, this is not a new phenomenon. For decades, Indians and Indian businesses have been eager to ‘tie-up’ with foreign collaborations. Indians would rather seek acceptance from a “foreign” boss, even in their own nation, than allow the Indian-American ‘returnee’ to succeed in his homeland… have Indians truly broken away from the shackles of the British Raj?

Think again… my dear MIT friend… the work you do here will, at some point in the future, be adopted by your country cousins… if routed through the ‘appropriate’ channels. But if you decide to move back to India today, after 20 years of being away… you will be saddened when you do arrive on Indian shores… for good.  My feeling is, let us continue to flirt with the idea… the idea is exciting… but succumbing to the idea may actually mean death of the dream!

Of course, my thoughts may seem fragmented… they were triggered this morning after I read Heather Timmons’ article, “Some Indians Find It Tough to Go Home Again”. Although I now live in the US, I spent a fairly long period of my working career in India. I’m quite familiar with how folks think out there, how most people work out there, and how unlikely it is that those attitudes would have changed since I left the country. I was considered ‘self-righteous’ by the so-called ‘successful elite’, and ironically, ‘way too professional’ by some in government service, ‘to succeed’ in a world that measured success by a set of values diametrically different from mine.

Ironically, home was never home for me… and today, as a relatively new immigrant I’m still trying to make this place my ‘home’ since several of my friends who grew up here, who went to school here – earlier immigrants – wish to head back ‘home’! As I see it, I behold India from afar… she is exotically beautiful, but has a long way to go before she is bold… bold enough and comes into her own! Who knows, I may be unknown and alone here… but to move away from India, I must have been bold… enough to be here on my own, far away from my family and friends, and from all that was familiar, into the unknown!


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