Monday, October 25, 2010

One World

A friend of mine recently became an US citizen.

He is not the only one. Over the last decade, a lot of them, my childhood friends, my former colleagues, my family members, have surrendered their Indian passports and have adopted a new country as their own.
Every time that happens, I feel sad. Not just because I see India losing some fine people to some other country but because each time I feel I've lost a part of my former life to a foreign land. Some where back in time, these people were a big part of my life. Now they are gone from me forever.

In August I went to US for a fortnight. Some of my friends who were very close to me once appeared distant. They now have a life I no longer understand. They talk about school districts and health care policies in the US.. They discuss how the recent recession has affected their lives. They discuss the latest Apple products and the best GPS system for their cars. I do not understand their world. Some of my friends told me they chose the schools of their children keeping in mind the number of Indians and Chinese studying there. Apparently the more Indians and Chinese, the better the schools.

Every year they come to India for a visit. They shop and eat. They complain about mosquitoes and pollution. They invariably pick up a stomach bug.They talk about their lives in America. About how wonderful things are there. Meet friends and family. And after the mandatory two weeks, they leave. They do not understand our way of life any more. They do not understand why we tolerate the inefficiency of our people.Why things remain the same all the time. They do not understand why we wait for things to happen. They certainly do not understand why we are never punctual. They have spent half their lives here, and yet the land appears alien to them. There is a gap between us that no bridge could ever connect. I do not belong in their world, they do not belong in mine.

I know it is possible to stay in India and have a good career. It is possible to earn a decent living and send our children to good schools. (Schools that are full of Indians, may be the Chinese will join some day too) It is possible to live in big homes (though in Mumbai that is next to impossible if you are not Mukesh Ambani). It is possible to hold a good job and not worry about recession. So what is it about the distant lands that beckon my friends? A country that nurtured them once, why is that country no longer good enough for them?

Perhaps my views are parochial. In today's world, where going global has become the catch phrase, who cares what colour your passport is? Travel has become easy. Communication easier. No longer we book trunk-calls to talk to our family abroad. No longer we scream into the phone late night hoping to be heard across seven seas. We chat, mail, skype. Distance does not matter any more. Neither does citizenship. To the 33 Chilean miners trapped in the mine for so many days, their citizenship was the last thing on their mind. The NASA along with the Chilean Navy designed the pod that finally brought them up. The drilling equipment Strata 950 came from Australia. To speed up the drill, the supplemental motor was sent by Germany. Japanese cameras were used in the rescue operation.The world took care of these ordinary people, without caring about their nationality. Borders are after all artificially created.

But still, a woman like me, living in a country that is still years away from being fully developed, wonders what is it that makes people leave their country of birth and settle down somewhere else? Is it money? Is it opportunity?  Is it freedom? Is it the convenience? What do they look for? Do they really find it?

44 comments:

Scribbler said...

1st :)

rama said...

I think it none of the things you have mentioned that may have lured them away from their motherland.I think we may never decipher why they left.
However those who have left years ago, are still missing our country, but due to reasons beyond their control, they are not able to come back. India is fast developing, and can develop much faster and be ahead of the rest of world if only we had sensible, young, educated politicians.
I think more and more of the younger generations are opting to stay in India, where life is much more comfortable, there is no job lay offs, no recessions etc. Life is good here despite the critical views held by people who left the country for good.
Yes they can only talk about their so called schools the weather, the local politics and when they are done with that they will start their India bashing, saying they keep themselves up to date with everything that is happening or not happening in India through the internet. They are a pathetic lot, the less we think about them the better off we are. If they love their adopted country so much let them stay there and be happy at least in that country and not come and throw their garbage in India.
I am really glad you wrote on this subject , but i must warn you about these NRI s who would be waiting to come and pollute your space with their hateful comments.
For they are neither at peace with their mother land nor are they at peace with their chosen country.

Scribbler said...

the reasons for leaving one's own country could be various-like getting married to an NRI,studies,a job,onsite project,or just like that [this ones very rare]

Whereas what happens to them once they come back even for a shorter while is something I can relate to a little bit. I've lived in a big city-metro that is-and have seen a better life than what we small towners are far away from. Not that I never lived in Indore earlier but now that I've lived in Mumbai and now back to see so many disorganized things I tend to compare these two cities, my life and it's convenience every now and then. That's what these NRIs tend to do. Which to some extent is natural.

Well,as far as the question why do they leave their country-that's very personal and case to case question I guess. Like if you ask me-I would never want to leave my country and go away-even if that means for good.My reasons are simple-I want to stay rooted to my place and stay near to my people.

So there ! Different people,different opinions,different priorities !

mêlée said...

Aparna, that was a very nicely articulated post on a subject that has been bugging me for quite some time. I identify with your thoughts so may be I like it much more. Others might have their reasons too. But what I fail to understand is what helplessness keeps them bound to the alien country other than the shine and gloss!

Sandeep Kodam said...

nice one...thank you

shilpadesh said...

Oh here is my take. Sometimes we just go to another country for college/university and want to come back to the country of birth as soon as the task at hand is completed. But then life has a way of taking it's own course. That is our story :-)

But I agree with rama. More and more people are opting to either return or stay back in India. I think, in addition to a better economy, the lure of family is stronger for most people who go back or want to go back. (please send a silent prayer for us, that we come back soon!)

Kavi said...

The most point that you make is about lines on the map, leaving indelible lines our hearts.

The world is such a small place filled with so much wonder that many a times i am perplexed that all that was created yet, not many get to see every part and relish beauty !

Having said that i have made peace with zillions of people who have become foriegn citizens and do all that you have mentioned so well in this post. For whatever reason, all over, the world and its inhabitants are the same.

And for one more reason...that we have lesser time and lots to relish.. !

Jyothi said...

I only have one problem with your post. It considers only US Indians as NRIs. By definition, anyone living outside India is an NRI.:)

I doubt if life in any of the Metros would be the way it is now without the western influence. People who have brought back development to India,people who have represented India to the outside world. Many of these were NRIs. :)

I would love to visit all the countries in the world, but I will finally settle down only in India and wouldn't surrender my Indian Passport even at gunpoint! But that is just me, there are many who are dying to reach the US and die there itself! :)

R. Ramesh said...

what a post aparna..amazing..same questons rock my mind often..me and my uncle's sons used to hang from 2nd class compartments with death (in the form of lampposts) just 1 foot away, while working in mumbai..the struggle days of the 80s...now they r americans..hmmm..me confused exactly like u..how can u leave everyone here and just go...god it is real tough decision boss..

Aditya said...

Nice post. I liked the part about the miners trapped inside!

Well, They have nothing against this country or nothing positive to the foreign country. it is just what they get used to. Like for the 1st 1 month in US, am sure we look around in amazement at everything. Thats because we are used to the life at India. Same thing happens when they come back for a holiday, Their body, mind gets used to way of life at US and 2 weeks is never enough to get back to the rhythm.

Nona said...

Everyone has their own reasons! One of my friends wanted to emigrate to another country because of the infrastructure like power, roads etc. This was his rationale in 1997. I'm sure his view has changed.

crackedchronicles said...

I can't say for all those NRI's out here, but in my case I am here because we wanted to travel and see the world. (Yup, we did travel to every nook and corner of India before coming here) A paid extended holiday seemed a better option, than going off as a tourist to some alien land every few months.

It's a funny situation out here. I see Indians who are totally captivated with the US style of living and yet there are Indians who crib and curse about the western morals. They keep telling me that in a few years they will be relocating back to India and these very people are the ones who has applied for a green card etc etc. I seriously fail to understand what binds them to a place they don't enjoy?

Haa the story of schools with Indian and Chinese. That argument is starting to make me loose my patience. Every single Indian in my community tries to make me see the so called light and transfer my son to one of those IndoChinese schools. (He goes to a normal neighbourhood Public school).

Your post does raise certain questions in my brain and I think I should start asking these to every NRI I come upon, who starts their convo with therir pending green card status, benefits of private schools etc etc ;)

I don't know how long it will take...but am sure we will be enjoying our Old age romance back in India only :)

Sonu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sonu said...

Well didi(i think i can call you that),i don't have answers for your questions but i am sharing it in my facebook account because i liked this post very much....
Keep writing...with a smile always..
:)

Rachna said...

I lived in the US for a couple of years and chose to come back. I think it is the quality of life and the standard of living in that land which appeals to them. I think they are justified there. But, family is the biggest factor which pulls you back to their country. As you said, come back once a year for 2 weeks and then speak over the phone is not enough. One misses the food, the culture, the festivals, the community, the same traditions and so on.

dr.antony said...

I just loved this post.Excellent and so well written.And You added a sentimental touch to it at the end.It realy touches you somewhere.

Your questions are genuine.But the answers are there itself.The last sentence,where in you asked an array of questions? The answers are there.Yes,it is basically because of all the things you mentioned.
I just came on vacation from Dubai last week. It took me one hour to reach home,a distance of ten kilometers.Roads and rivers couldnot be differentiated.And the electricity fails every few hours.Some times it doesnt come back till next day.We wait for a week for a gas cylinder for which we have to make a booking.And it takes a whole morning to stand in the queue to pay the telephone bill.And if you have to pay the electricity bill,then the whole day is gone.Often,you cannot do both the same day.And yes, there is no doubt, some thing called a social security system is there.You have access to better health care.You can buy a house and live comfortably, without any hastles.All the nurses who have migrated to the US from our hospital, all live in beautiful houses and their children get world class education.There is no discrimination at the work place,and your rights are guaranteed.Arent these enough reasons?
Rescuing the miners is not a day to day event.It happened so because of the worldwide publicity they got.How many thousands were killed in earth quakes and blasts and who has helped any where?

I don't fully agree with the attitudes of those who are settled abroad.In India,be an Indian.Every country has its own standards.This is nothing to be ashamed of.But if some one opts for better living conditions, who can be blamed?

ani_aset said...

i think money/opportunity all of it..but i somehow like the way our country works..ofcourse we will try to change it with our might

ZB said...

Great Post....True, but sad.
I as a person living outside of the country have mixed feeling for it.There is certain bond bcoz i was born here, my ancestors lived here and its my culturally identity.

I dont know, these days i feel i am an global citizen. I want to live like those studs in Australia-Fishing and trekking etc, and then i want to come back to the land of mystique and spirituality-India ie.

I feel we should adopt the BEST of both worlds, and stop being judgmental."There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."- Shakespeare

Aparna said...

Scribbler :)
Within India you will find so many differences. My husband's family comes from Patna, and that town used to be so backward I had a hard time adjusting to it's life. But no matter what, the small towns are part of our country and there are still many things in common. You do compare, but still some times you come away impressed with their small world charms.

Rama, so far there have not been hateful comments! Some of my friends no longer keep in touch with me, and that inspired this post. I just want to know what is in the west that makes some people forget their roots.

Melee, some times the shine and gloss are reasons enough.

Sandeep, thank you.

Shilpadesh, I am praying for you!

Kavi, you are right, there is so much beauty in this world. I have been fortunate to see some of it and have been awestruck ever since.

Jyothi, my intention was to write about those people who choose never to return and most of them are in the US. Our cities definitely have western influence, no doubt about that. USA is a very beautiful country, nature is absolutely breathtaking there. You will love your stay there. My problem is however with the people who treat India with disdain.

Ramesh, we still travel like that in Mumbai! Not much has changed after all.

Aparna said...

Aditya, one can get used to the comforts of a foreign country but that does not mean one can criticize the country of one's birth, right?

Nona, well the roads and the infrastructure are still not much to speak of!

Sakshi, I have very fond memories of USA, it is a very beautiful country and you are lucky you get to see all the fabulous places.
My problem is with the people who crib about every thing Indian. It is as if they have to tell themselves and others why they migrated in the first place.
Someone asked me there if Ishita's school in Mumbai was any good. I said of course it was, since it was full of Indians!
Hope you get to come back to India before your son brings home the Umreekan bahu!

Sonu, thank you so much.

Rachna, family is a big factor. Who will look after our parents if we stay away?

Dr. Anthony, all the points that you have mentioned here are valid. Here I have to wait longer for a gas cylinder. Better quality of living is desirable. But if quality people leave India to seek greener pastures, then who will make this country better? Many people are opting to stay here and work, that gives me hope.

Ani-aset, I like the way out country works too! It is just that I can not see how though, it completely defies description. May be there is a method to this madness?

ZB, a true globa citizen, won't that be wonderful, a world without borders?

SG said...

Very interesting post. As Jyothi wrote, you are addressing Indians living in USA only. There are many Indians in UK and Canada and elsewhere.

Countries with borders are man made. Why don’t you think that this is one world and people can live anywhere they want to. You asked “Is it money? Is it opportunity? Is it convenience? What do they look for? Do they really find it?”.

In a narrow sense, the same questions can be asked of people migrating from villages and small towns in India to big cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai.

Naturally, many people will say this is one country and we can live anywhere we want to. Same goes for one world too.

The Panorama said...

I am a NRI and the truth is, I do love India but I chose Norway as my home merely because it felt safe. In India I always felt I had to be taken care of or have a chaperone. It isn't always easy being a woman there. I know many will disagree with me but that was my experience. But I don't trash India. I think its a choice one makes, it doesn't necessarily mean you don't like the country of your birth. Good post Aparna!

RGB said...

We've had similar discussions here with friends, family and colleagues. We have so many advantages living in our own country - family foremost; we're always in touch with our roots and culture; decent work, money and lifestyle; our OWN homeland (we don't feel alienated) and such. I often think, why would anybody want to give up all of this, in search of greener pastures...obviously you have to make many compromises being away, in a foreign land! But I guess it's a choice that the individual makes. They perhaps find a comfort space that justifies their prolonged or permanent stay!

The Holy Lama said...

It's simple. We all seek a good life. For you, a Bengali Delhi and Mumbai are the cities where you spent most of your life. Your relatives back in Kolkatta can write a similar post about you not being in Bengal. And then for us who stay back in India even if given a better opportunity abroad, emotions and feelings rule. For others the choice is better school, home, security, infrastructre. Each of us make our own choices. And as you said, it becomes just one world at times like the Chilean miner episode.

But each time I hear the NRI cribbing about India, I try to sympathize with his problem that he can't remember where he came from and perhaps ask," if you got subsidized world class education here but chose to use it somewhere else, can't you be decent enough not to crib?"

Destiny's child... said...

It may be all of the things you mentioned: career, money, better life style...I think the ones who choose to stay there forever are those who found what they were looking for. And in the process perhaps they forget whatever they left behind or the way they came. There is nothing more annoying than meeting NRIs who exaggerate their horror at things we (and they too for half their lives) find commonplace.

Vani said...

Nicely articulated! My two cents - there are various reasons why people choose or have to live in another country, usually a job opp or studies or being married to one who went there for the former reasons. I find it akin to people migrating to other cities in India for similar reasons but the world being a smaller place now, the migration crosses borders more often now than before. I have cousins who lived in other states who knew no Kannada (our mother tongue) and had no inclination to learn either. So were they drifting away from their roots? You bet! And then there was this one family in the US that had deep rooted love for all things Indian - the kids spoke better Kannada than I did, were good classical musicians etc. They live there because that is where their livelihood is. More and more people are coming back to India these days than the previous generations. My uncle who migrated to the US in the late 60s will never come back for good. He used to visit India once every 4 years. Phone connections used to be terrible until a decade ago and his family never felt close to us. He still thinks of India as when he left decades ago. The recent generations visit almost every year, apart from having parents/grand parents visiting more often. The kids too are better connected with India than the earlier gen. A passport does not necessarily define a person. It is what they are doing as Indians (or of Indian descent) that does. India bashing really ticks me off but that does not mean that just because they are NRIs, they cannot discuss India and the issues plaguing it. Don't we? Does that make us anti-Indian?
I'll stop now. I'm starting to digress and my two cents is more like 50 now! :) Thanks for a thought provoking post.

Tomz said...

Nice post..:)

Nikita Banerjee said...

As soon as I read this post, I knew I had to share this with a few friends! My fiancé is currently in Boston for some work and met his best friend there.

He told me things, how he felt and how people started to think once they became NRIs - its a reflection of your blog. He was upset that his friend even got into an argument where his friend [who by the way is living there since the last 4 years only] was glorifying America and looking down on our country.

Aparna said...

SG, I mainly talked about Indians settled in US because there are a lot of them permanently settled there. More over as I said in the first sentence, this was written because a very close friend of mine became an US citizen recently.
Yes there are many people who migrate to Indian cities from villages. But with these people I share a common history, a common culture, some times the same language and similar food. No matter where we all come from, there are similarities. I doubt I would feel the same bond with a Chinese or Irish immigrant in US. That is my view and as I've said in my post, it is perhaps parochial.

Saroj, 15 years ago, Delhi was an unsafe city. Not any more. I have stayed there for a few years with my 2 kids alone. My husband was posted in Mumbai and I had to stay back for my daughters' school. Now I do see a lot of women staying alone in different parts of India, this was not possible a few years back.

RGB, each individual is different but I'd never feel comfortable living in an alien land. To me, the sub-standard housing, the poor infrastructure, the less than perfect education all seem worth it when I see my mother's happy face.

Holy Lama, my father was a central government employee. He was posted among other places, Muscat for a few years. So my I've grown up in various cities but mainly in Delhi. Since then, my father has bought a house in Kolkata where he lives with my brother. My brother incidentally has worked both in Mumbai and in Delhi before settling down in Kolkata. Moreover, i share the same culture with the people who live in these cities. we celebrate the same festivals,we admire the same sports stars, we listen to the same music. Do you know what a huge fan following Rahman has in Kolkata? It is the same as Dhoni in Chennai. Also, the biggest thing is that my mother in law, who is not getting any younger, is staying with her son and his family. It surely would not have been possible if we had settled down in USA or any where else.

kavita said...

There was a huge pressure on us right after we got married to settle down in USA .Every trick in the book was tried on us .We did our continuous study course from NYU but after that returned back home.Nothing in this world compares to motherland !If you remember Aparna ,i wrote a post on similar topic this year - it was in response to a NRIs rude comments about India on my facebook status .Some of them shed their Indian past too along with their Indian passports.I read another interesting article this morning,have a look if you got time.
http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?ID=804

kavita said...

http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?ID=804

Anu said...

Good one, Aparna!! and what a number of comments.. had to scroll and scroll and scroll.. which just shows how grave the issue is... most of my friends and relatives are abroad too, and i have the same questions as you... no matter how people justify things, I guess i will never understand... left to me,I wish I could go back to my roots.. maybe the village we came from, once upon a time... or at least the city nearby....

Ravali said...

very focused post gud one to read.

nsiyer said...

My uncle who went to stay in the US for six months returned within a month. He couldn't stay since he found that the attachment and affection was missing there.
All too machinated with nothing to look for.

wordsndreamz said...

Very interesting, Aparna, and as somebody who has been living in the UK for the last few years, here is my take.

When we first came here, both of us came on projects, and the max, we thought we would stay was 1 year. At that time, it made sense, the career opportunity - in terms of working directly with clients and the opportunity to travel, and make some money was on the top. As time went by, we got more used to the place - I have both Indian and non-Indian friends, my child goes to a state school - nothing fancy, and we still plan to come back and live in Bangalore - if all goes as per plan. I love being in India, we know the problems there and yet know that India is where we want to be - finally. As for the UK, it has plenty of benefits, easier life(in a lot of ways), wonderful libraries but somehow we don't see ourselves growing old here.

Today, I think plenty of people comeback to India after living for years abroad- and happily too.
I think every person has a reason for staying back here or coming back - each to his own.

Onkar said...

In stead of trying to make their own country better, people go to places which appear to them better. I don't think, they get true satisfaction.

rama said...

I read all your recent comments, and everybody seems to have the same feeling towards this issue.
I know people like your blogger friend wordsndreamz, who are the people who have settled there find good things to tell about their adopted country and also have a deep love for their own country, despite its various problems.
My own sister and cousins have been living abroad for years and years, but when they come to India they really have good time, and never complain about the pollution, corruption etc. ( for we all know that these things are there everywhere in a higher scale only the common people are not directly affected by them)
They enjoy eating roadside food, without making a big fuss, and even by chance something doesn't suit them they always carry with them the right medicines for such things.
My BIL specially likes to travel in Brindavan express just so that he can keep eating all the things on offer there. He has found that he is allergic to coconut , but he likes it and if by chance he happens to eat it somewhere he is quite cool and just pops in a pill and keep going.
They also come for 3 weeks , and really feel very bad every time they leave India.
It is those people who forget their origins and think they have all the right to bash India that are a irritating lot. They should always think before they open their American, British or Canadian mouth.

Ravichandra C said...

to my understanding its oppurtunity. Many a times we hear people telling they cannot accomplish their dreams 'cos of dirty pollitics, slowness in things and lack of proper process.

Pradip Biswas said...

Everything is avaiable in India some points are in + status and some are -. The false pride of relatives of NRI is unmatching.

bluebird said...

as usual, Aparna, your writing leaves me spell-bound by the depth, balance and beauty that comes so easily and naturally to it.

regarding the Chileans, I would just say they were lucky, very lucky indeed, that someone took note, and screamed it out to the world. I read that San Sebastin, the company that owned the mine and by compromising on safety let the accident happen in the first place, took no steps to locate them. in fact, after it was found that they were alive, the company stopped paying even the meagre blood-money that they had been giving to the mine's families. The argument? Well, the miners were not dead, were they? Neither were they working for the company anymore, right? Besides, the mine had since been declared as 'closed' also.

Think about the last bit again. Was the company considering demanding rent from the trapped miners for 'illegal occupation'?

I say again they were just lucky, the poor ********.

Aparna said...

I read each and every comment carefully, just addressing all of you together.
I guess, every one has his or her reason for settling abroad. Personally, I could never do it. Who will look after my and my husband's parents? I do not want to depend on any body else for this.
In the last few years, India has changed a lot. It is possible to have a world class living if you are qualified and prepared to work hard. Schools are good, so are the colleges. I know this kind of life style is only limited to large cities, but I have hope.
I have nothing against NRIs. I just wish they would stop trying to ape the Americans blindly. And it would be also good not to hear them deride their country of birth. India is a poor country but it does not deserve to be made fun of.

@Bluebird, long time. The Chileans had a miraculous escape. I shudder to think what would have happened if no one came to know they were still alive in the mine.

Shyam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shyam said...

"Is it money? Is it opportunity? Is it freedom? Is it the convenience? What do they look for? Do they really find it?"

Hi Aparna, in my case, the answer to your questions is: No. No. Yes. Yes. I looked for freedom, space and convenience. And yes, I found them. But the MAIN reason I'm in the UK is because that's where my husband is from. Otherwise I'd be with the rest of my family in the USA.

I did a post on my blog on living in the West, a while back, and here's the link if you'd like a look:

http://shyamram.blogspot.com/2008/01/to-tell-truth.html

You'll probably disagree with my take, of course.

By the way, I enjoy reading your blog. It's not often I come across people who write eloquently and well.

Aditi said...

Been here for 6 yrs now (time flies and you never realise it). I am itching to get back home - to India. But then, I got married recently and he wants a few more years here, now. So I need to put up with this place till then. I mean, yes, US is a great place to work , stay away from interfering folks, but my social circle - 0. I can not stand going to Indian cultural shows, and clubs where folks flaunt their best clothes, talk about school districts and stuff I can't relate to. I can not wait to get back !