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?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mean Kids

My school days were all about innocent fun and everlasting friendships. I could not wait to go to school every day to meet my friends. My friends put up with my idiosyncrasies and bad humour. They helped me with my homework. They shared their food and class notes.They supported me when I went through any crisis.

My daughter however disagrees with me. According to her, school is full of mean boys and meaner girls. Kids take every opportunity to pull down each other in her school. They wilfully hurt and spread rumours about each other. They kick, slap, punch and call each other names.

There are days when she comes back from school in tears just because she has been insulted. Her friends sometimes do not invite her to their birthdays and gleefully inform her that she has been deliberately left out.  Once, a girl walked out of my daughter's birthday simply because the food served was not to her liking. ( I had served aloo parathas instead of pizzas)  Just a few days ago, she cried the whole afternoon because some girls called her gay as she did not have a boy friend.

My daughter is now in tenth grade. She goes to a prestigious school in Mumbai that figured in the top ten schools of Mumbai recently. The boys and girls are all above average students. They come from supposedly good families. I have met the parents of her class mates, they all seem rather nice. Then how come these kids find such inexplicable delight in ruining some one's art work or taunting some body's hair style or making fun of some one's body? My daughter is not like other 15 year olds. She finds it difficult to make friends. She finds it difficult to fit in. Therefore she has been a natural target for bullies on more than one occasions.

She is not the only one. There are many more like her who are bullied every day. The teachers complain about lack of discipline at every student-teacher meet I have attended. The kids write cuss words with permanent ink on the class room walls. They disrupt lectures. They bunk classes.Sadly, they are not even in high school. What will happen when these children enter India's work force? Will they carry this behaviour to work place?

 The innocence that I expect from a 15 year old has vanished. These days, kids say "Screw you, bitch/man" and show each other the middle finger all the time. They use the F word like some punctuation mark in their sentences. They call each other ugly names and mean them too.They are often cruel to their class mates Is it a big city phenomenon? Because I often get the same response when I talk to my friends from Delhi, or Bangalore.

My daughter identifies more with the characters of Glee than with the eternal friendship of Jai and Veeru of Sholay. She thinks school is all about peer pressure and politics. She thinks childhood is a phase she has to quickly grow out of as it is very cruel.

I am devastated to know from her that school is no longer fun. It is apparently, a jungle out there.