Thoughts of a Pravasi Bharatiya

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2005 kicked off with great fanfare in Mumbai. Funnily preffixed Lord Bhikhu Parekh makes an equally confused plea for Indians residing abroad to take an active interest in India purely for the reasons that he dislikes them for. The entire exercise is nothing short of a global trade fair, opening India’s door for investment by its own non-residing sons and daughters. Nothing wrong in that, right? After all, India never cared much for them pre-reform days of 1991. Nor have the so-called NRIs turned their gaze towards India apart from watching tear-jerking Bollywood melodrama. Occasionally a movie with its heart in the right place comes along and subtlety nudges you to return home.

Swades makes the now-clich├ęd argument that we NRIs would be of greater service to our nation by being physically present and offers merely the emotional argument. But why should an Indian living abroad be interested in India or vice versa? Leaving aside the patriotism angle, the need is acutely felt in terms of money, influence and skill — from both sides. As Parekh mentions, the only thing that would work is the mutual enlightened self-interest. Patriotism is a hollow argument considering people living in India cannot honestly confess to being more patriotic than Indians living abroad. Let us not get into the futile argument of quantifying a qualitative commodity and refrain from indulging in crab-behavior. At a tangential thought, we don’t chastise Tamilians in Bombay for leaving their state and earning their livelihood elsewhere (don’t pounce on this statement; understand the implied direction). The world is a growing place; as the world grows and shrinks at the same time, the boundaries tend to blur.

Sometimes an Indian outside India is much more useful than living within its boundaries. For example, I was trained as an architect but by the time I graduated, there were almost 10 architecture colleges in Bombay itself — some good, some errr; not-so-good. Add to that, the continuous influx of architecture students in Bombay, there was an inundation of drafting talent (to put it lightly) and serious pursuit of your chimerical architecture dreams was not possible. Thankfully I was blessed with the opportunity of coming to America for my graduate school. Agreed, I would have got into any post-graduate institutions in India but the overall experience of living away from home, roughing it out on your own and ability to diversify into another field hitherto unavailable in India. If you have a fair idea of my post-graduate program, you would be further from the truth if you thought I was in it for the money (I plan to expand on this on my blog if I think I will be understood)

I have also met many Indians who come here to tread other paths apart from the beaten path of engineering and medicine. The engineering and medical people also work on stuff far advanced than they would have encountered in India. So is the pursuit of self-development to enhance your skills or to expose oneself to much more than what your country offers “criminal” or “emotionally degrading”? I think not. It is the simple exercise of allocating resources to their best utilization. If not anyone, Adam Smith surely would be pleased.

Of course, this begs the question of giving it back to your country. The Chinese have worked out a great model. In spite of being a totalitarian regime, they haven’t seriously blocked its citizens from going out of the country for education. In fact, they have encouraged it. Opening its markets slowly while India was still holding on to its license raj days, has worked wonders for China especially in these times of rapid growth. The Chinese Diaspora invests heavily in their country and uses their connections abroad to channel resources to their country. This trend is increasingly being noticed among Indians living
abroad. The recent tsunami disaster mobilized many Indians living abroad and many generously contributed more than their share’s worth. After all, as I mentioned couple of days back, a dollar still goes a long way. The exchange works well for both parties, without any sentiments attached or continuous whispers of being a “traitor”.   

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2005 plans to honor renowned NRIs, ranging from golfer Vijay Singh to technologist Sam Pitorda. None of these people are expected to return to India but yet their contribution (past and future) to India cannot be denied. No Indian living abroad ever forgets his relationship to his country and rarely have I seen the stereotypical NRI cursing India. I have seen more disillusioned souls lashing India in India without lifting a finger to better any conditions than I have seen here in America. There are bad apples everywhere. Finally as the song suggests:

Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera, Swades Hai Tera
Tujhe Hai Pukara….
Yeh Woh Bandhan Hai Jo Kabhi Toot Nahin Sakta

We are all listening to the call and are heeding it every day. In our own little way. Rome wasn’t built by living in Rome.

6 Comments

  1. hey Pat, I agree with the general idea you got there. Its easy to cloud up your vision with emotion. And its easy for those back home in India to use emotional arguments to criticize expats. This of course comes up either as emotional blackmail from good ol mum n dad, or sour grapes on the part of our peers who believe we are living a priveleged life here. Now I admit, we may be living a more comfortable life, but we work our butt off in our own ways to ensure that life. And noone feels the emotional tug of home and hearth more than those who are away. We give back in the best way that we each can, in terms of money, time, resources.

    And all this talk of patriotism seems superfluous and pompous to me. Over the years, regional and state boundaries have ceased to become an issue ( except for the SS idiots ). Personally, I grew up all over India, and I wouldn’t claim to have a hometown per se. If asked, I genuinely call myself an Indian. And as the world gets smaller, for all its strife, I would like to call myself a citizen of the world. Idealistic ? Hell yeah !
    Idealism built the world…

  2. Ash – Opportunity makes all the difference. Peers who haven’t had the opportunity to explore other horizons often tend to deride other ppl’s dreams. Practice before you preach is cited often but practiced rarely. Nowadays we can often do more for our country no matter where we are located physically. Hope ppl get that. Glad you agree.

  3. I kind of agree with some of your points, but I definitely do not agree with the argument that there aren’t enough opportunities in India. As for the point of ‘the sour grapes syndrome’ I disagree. Do you mean to say that all the people who either choose to stay in India or come back to India after studies are fools?

  4. Seema – I never said that ppl are fools. It just depends upon the their calling. If they find sometime that interests them, they will definitely come back a la Swades. You cannot blame people for chosing a better standard of living. The patriotic angle doesn’t really work always or for long. I have met people who have regretted not going abroad but then again I have also met people who long to go back. There are only couple of million outside and more than 1.1 billion in India. So why are we laying the onus on those handful of ppl?

  5. I think Swades is more about the need for urban, educated Indians, and this includes but not comprises just the NRI population, to notice that apna Desh is not a Mahan Desh, but that its possible to make it one.
    So its not a call for just the NRIs.

  6. Tol – I agree! I liked the part in the movie when Mohan Bhargava says that India is not a great country but definitely has the potential of being one. The penchant to refer to our “culture and tradition” whenever we start to lose arguments can get irritating…much like the generation gap arguments we have with our parents and grandparents.

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