By Ankit Chandra
Remember that movie starring Raj Kapoor, ‘Jis desh mein ganga behti hai’ ? Raj kapoor played the role of a guy from I think Banaras, and goes on to use his sanskar and values to transform a group of dacoits. I think the assumption in the movie was that Raju had complete faith in the values of the mother land.
Cut to Champaign in US. I have met a lot of NRIs here. Some have no traces of India in them, some still have a very thick Indian accent, some dress in ways you wouldn’t imagine on Indians, and then on the other hand you would have people dressed in Salwar kameez, but as soon as they open their mouth, you get amazed at the American accent that hits your ears.
It is interesting to interact with these people, as they aren’t Indians anymore, but thats what they identified as, or they identify themselves as (when they have nothing Indian in them). So in a restaurant, you would hear an Indian American talking to her American friends talking about Aishwarya Rai and saying that Indian people have beautiful names, and that Aishwarya Rai has a portugese ancestory, as Indians don’t have the genes for such beautiful green eyes… Or I heard another NRI in a party saying that Indian people gang up against NRIs coz they are rich and if your car hits a person in India, they would get after you, coz you are a rich NRI and thus you should be punished for that.
I wondered, what was the reason for these people to leave India and come to US… Was it the land of opportunities, or was it something else? I was going for an interview to a Multinational company in a city in US, and my cab driver was an Indian. he said to me : ‘Hope that you are interviewed by a white guy. if you get an Indian, he might ask you for money to let you in…’. Oh my God! I thought. I knew thats so not true, but that exposed me to another perception of India, that I have mostly been unaware of. That of a very common man, who still undergoes a very torturous life of subsistence living, where bribery is still the order of the day, and you have to fight for basic amenities. Indians here are either the most prosperous immigrants who live in Silicon valley or they are these poor Indians who couldn’t find a place for themselves in India. Probably most of you who would read this blog from India , would invariably have come from backgrounds where we have either shut out the ugly side of India, or have created a comfort zone around it.
So why do people leave their own home country to come to such a culturally diverse land where you are mostly cut off from the main stream? I could come up with a few reasons, but this is NOT an exhaustive list by any means….
One of the people I know here lost his home to a tenant, went to the courts, got nothing done for years, and then had to accept an out of court settlement, finally paid money to the tenant to vacate his house. In his words, there is no ‘enforcement agency in India’. Every time I talk to him about India, I can see his hurt face. The face of a man who expected his environment to provide him with a decent living standard. Most of his words seethe with a latent anger towards the system. He got a chance to get rid of it, and he did. He lives a modest and comfortable life here.
Never had faith:
Some people here came coz they always believed that India wasn’t a place for them. They prolly pick up the foreign accent most easily, curse India in everything they see, and eventually become the worst ambassadors for us. I have met these people in parties here, who would narrate their stories in India, when surprisingly all things that happen to them are bad things, and seemingly they find nothing bad in their current country of residence. (I can point out a few right here).
A special third category:
Is of the people who were born here, but were forced to remain Indian at home, and then left out in the open foreign air to convert into what we call ABCDs. These are a very special variety. Some of them would wear salwars and shirts which were in fashion maybe 20 years back, and when you see them, you would think they have just come in from a remote small town in India. But as they open their mouths, they spew out American english, with ‘Oh my GAAWDs’, ‘This is soo kewwool’ etc etc.
To a person I met recently, I had to say that India she knows and India that I come from are two entirely different countries! These people evaluate their India trip from the American perspective. So Mumbai trains are ‘Sow ppphackked’. And that you have to get into a local train while it is running! (Can’t you wait till it stops or till you get accustomed to it??). They are scared of lizards, and almost all lizards fall on them when they are in India (maybe coz they are NRIs and lizards want to punish the rich NRIs), and so on…
Some of the things that happened to them are real, and maybe, as Indians, we are just used to them. I was just reading the article in the Economist : “What’s holding India Back”, and the reasons mentioned there were pretty much on the above lines. I agree there still are differences in the standard of living here for an common man vs his counterpart in India. Maybe studying these NRIs gives us another perspective of what we need to change in our system to restore the faith Raju had in Ganga…