A forward thats quite backward....

June 8, 2011

Here’s the forward, first:

A typical conversation with a visiting NRI….. Self: Hi! Home for a holiday? Are you going back…..or…? NRI: Yes…yes…I am going back as soon as possible. Self: But…your parents are here. There are also many new malls now where you can get everything you want. Its even cheaper than in the US, Europe or Canada or Australia. NRI: Yes…..things are real cheap here in India….products are very good……the malls are also very good…..restaurants are excellent. But….the roads and the traffic are so terrible….I can’t wait to get back. Self: Yes…I agree….but….that’s only one relatively small factor….surely you can adjust and put up with that. The situation would improve once the Metro is operational. NRI: No…No. Why should I put up with the traffic and the crowds and the garbage? Why should I adjust? Its impossible. Self: OK….lets change the subject. How are your parents? I heard your mother had some health problem. Is she ok now? NRI: Oh… yeah…she’s ok! Doctors have given her some medicines. Dad is there to take care of her. Self: But he is old ……how will he manage? Besides, both will be missing all of you so much. Loneliness is terrible. That itself can lead to so many diseases. NRI: He’ll manage. He has to adjust, I guess. Self: OK…..how is life in America? What do you eat at home?. The usual Idlis, Dosas Upma etc. that you like so much? Indian food, particularly South Indian food is considered the healthiest! It contains all essential nutrients in a very balanced way. NRI: Well…no…not really. We normally eat cereals for breakfast….straight from boxes. I carry sandwiches for lunch or eat some salad at the cafeteria (everything is so expensive). For dinner we take out some food stored in the freezer and heat it in the microwave….and that’s it. Its difficult to cook every day, you know….so we cook once a week and store it in the freezer. Self: But that’s not healthy. Also, eating packaged & processed food every day could lead to many diseases. We read about this every day. NRI: Oh…. no problem. We adjust. We sometimes eat meat to make up for the proteins. Self: But you are traditionally a vegetarian, I thought. Vegetarianism is considered a better option for general health, animal rights and for spiritual reasons….. and many westerners are now becoming vegetarians. So…why have you switched to non-veg? NRI: Well…its no big deal really. One has to adjust. Self: It must be cold where you live…..you have lived all your life in warm South India. NRI: Yes…its terribly cold out there with months of snow….but we have central heating. We don’t go out much….but its...ok. We learn to adjust. Self: How is your wife? Does she also work? What about the children? NRI: Of course…! She has to work! We can’t manage with one person working. We have mortgages to pay. We both leave our home at 8 am and are back at 6 pm. We have only one child who comes from school and stays alone till we come home. He watches TV and eats something from the freezer. Some of our friends are even opting not to have any children….so that they could save all the trouble. God!…..Children are such a responsibility! Self: Yes…that they certainly are. NRI: Children are also very expensive. Their clothes, food, eating out, vacations….buying new stuff every few months just to keep up with their peers in school….its terrible! Self: So how do you manage? What about the culture? The sexual freedom, pornography, homosexuality and so on? Aren’t you worried about these adverse influences on your children? NRI: No one bothers about all that. Its part of life. If my son adopts that lifestyle…that’s ok with me. We need to adjust and get on with life. Self: I understand that due to the recession and its aftermath there is a subtle antagonism towards foreigners and immigrants. Is that true? NRI: Well….yeah…sometimes you do sense a mild discrimination and bigotry. Recently in fact, someone shouted out an abuse at my wife when she was out shopping. Someone at school called out ‘Paki go home’ to my son. But these things are rare…. because…. by and large, we keep to ourselves. We rarely interact with the whites or the other immigrants. Even they prefer to keep to themselves. We have our own small Indian groups with whom we socialize. So…such racist incidents are kept to the minimum. We adjust and learn to manage. Self : What about entertainment? Do you get Indian TV channels and programs? Do you eat out often? NRI: Indian channels are usually pay channels and very expensive. So…we don’t have them. We manage with the local english programs. We do see Indian movies sometimes. They are expensive and you need to drive for an hour to get to the cinema hall. So….we don’t do it very often. Eating out is very expensive. Indian food is even more expensive. Self: Where do you live in the US and do you own a house? NRI: We live in a locality with lot of Hispanics, Koreans and Chinese. We have bought a house on mortgage recently. Its not very big actually. Just a two bedroom twin home of about 800 sq ft. Unfortunately prices have dropped recently. But we like it. Self: But you have a fairly big home in India……... NRI: Yes……but…..what have I got in India? Nothing! Self: What do you do if one of you is ill? Do any neighbors help? NRI: Actually….one of my neighbors is a Korean man who lives with his girlfriend. On the other side are two….er…..homosexual men. We have to help ourselves most of the time. Our Indian friends live some distance away…..and no one will help if we are ill. Everyone is so busy with their own work. Self: What sort of work do you do in the US? Is it some highly specialized cutting edge work……. for which you cannot get a job in India? NRI: Actually…..I am a software engineer. I had a good job till recently, but I got laid off and had a terrible three months. I have recently been called for an interview for a temporary contract position. I may get it. Things are looking good…yeah…..I am ok! Self: But you would be able to get a very good…highly paying job in India. India’s booming with a very high rate of growth! NRI: Yes…I know. I’ll probably get a much better salary than what I get in the US…. and maybe I’ll be able to save much more too…. but…it’s so difficult to adjust to the traffic and the crowds in India…you know. Its impossible to come back. Self: OK then….. goodbye and good luck! (I think to myself as I say goodbye)……Yeah.. right! You can adjust to packaged food and poor health, small dark wooden home, heavy mortgages, terrible weather conditions, lack of family, lonely parents, bad cultural environment, racial abuse, loss of dignity & self respect, job insecurity and even your basic principles……but you can’t adjust to simple traffic conditions in India! How incongruous can you get!
I found this forward very judgemental and highly inaccurate. India is now (especially for mall goods) amongst the more expensive in the world. Not all people in America eat only packaged foods, do not know their neighbours, and so on. Also I dislike the value judgement that vegetarianism is better than non-vegetarianism, that a south Indian diet is very balanced, that children have to stay near their parents, that the "sexual freedom" (read promiscuity) of the West is somehow inferior to our sexual hypocrisy....and so on. Indeed, the tone of superiority, and superciliousness, seems to be implicit in this entire forward. We have some terrible problems (not only with traffic!) in India. "When the Metro is operational"....what a joke (at least, in Bangalore, where a 3-km stretch is stretching way beyond schedule). The corruption and inefficiency in India is of titanic proportions. One example: we write excellent software for the world, but our own government, banking and other domestic websites are pathetic and abysmal in their quality. Malls in India, OR abroad, are awful temples to conspicuous consumption (alas, that is MY value judgement!) , and to tell an NRI that he should stay back because there are malls here is to validate the position that malls are somehow very desirable places. Another thing about this forward is the equally ridiculous assumption that an NRI lives only in America....and can only be a software engineer. There are hundreds of other countries in the world where Indians live and work. Why target ony those who live in the US? What about people who live in France? Iceland? There are hundreds of other careers that Indians follow. I know many Indians who are highly respected in their countries of residence, and who are very happy there. Why do we want to put our heads in the sand and pretend that ONLY India is great and somehow life abroad is bad? There are pluses and minuses in both places, it's a matter of personal choice, and there should not be any kind of value judgement passed, wherever one chooses to live.