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Open Features: The New India And The NRIs

Chaarvi Modi, an intern with journalist and author Kul Bhushan, recalls a US trip during which she challenged the misconceptions of non-resident Indians about India and discovered that settling abroad is not for everyone.

GANDHINAGAR, Guj, 14 July:

I was sixteen on a US trip by myself. My uncle living there had decided to make my trip memorable and chalked out an itinerary that he thought was going to be all new experiences for me. Well he was right about the skiing and the orchestra; I had never before tried either. But to his unsettling surprise, he was wrong about the water park visit.

“Exciting huh?” my US bred uncle asked me chirpily.

“...Yeah.” I smiled at him.

“This is so cool you can simply lie back and relax.” He went on, reclining his head against the tiled wall of the pool.

“I know. It’s great!” I said trying to match up to his excitement.

But sitting there in the Jacuzzi I was now unsure of what he was so excited about. It was just a pool right?

When I couldn’t resist knowing, I finally told my uncle that I had been to many similar parks in India. His face fell when I told him that, for mainly two reasons I assume. One, that he was disappointed it wasn’t a new experience to me. And two, it was more than just about water parks. A lot of realizations were dawning to him. He mostly found it incredibly hard to believe that while he was enjoying a great life in the US, his home country had progressed too.

“India has water parks like these?” he kept re-checking to make sure we were on the same page.

I have a huge family and they are settled in cities all around the world. Turns out that since the time they left India, five decades ago in the case of my uncle, modernization swooped over and multitudes of amenities sprung around the India that they left behind. But the image their minds take of India are still those that date back to the time they left. That is why when you tell them something as simple as us having water parks, it genuinely astonishes them.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” he thought aloud. I bit my lip to hide my amused smile.

India has a whopping 25-million population settled abroad. Mostly in the US, UAE, UK, Myanmar, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, and Mauritius etc. The Government of India takes a number of steps to make its overseas citizens stay connected to their home country. Special banking and educational schemes are set up for them. The Pravasiya Bhartiya Divas is celebrated annually to give the Presidential honour to those doing well in their respective fields.

It is true that such large brain drain affects the growth of our country, but a lot NRI’s are humble enough to help out in some way or another, either through sending back remittances, investing in India, or actively donating to charity.
My roommate at college was a petite girl from a small town in the heart of Gujarat called Navsari. On and off, she had spent a couple of her formative years in the US. To her rude shock, at nineteen, she had to shift back unwillingly to the family home at Navsari due to green card issues. Leaving behind her friends, boyfriend and an environment she was used to, was giving her a year-long jet lag. Her parents promised they would go back as soon as the migration issues were solved, and every single day, I woke up to her routine rants and tears.

“Texas”, my classmates christened her in college since she refused to talk about anything else (that too in an accent when she was conscious); and she loved her nickname. Her friends back ‘home’ didn’t care so much anymore and reverse time zones made her relationship go for a toss. She often woke up in the middle of the night screaming and crying, eventually slipped into depression, visited psychiatrists, cut her wrist up, and was on the verge of a drug overdose until we hid her box of colourful tablets. It was maddening.

Finally the sky cleared and the sun shone. A year later, she met a senior at college and the morning blues disappeared like magic. She would smile more, Skype less. Said she loved India and wouldn’t go back ever. But as fate would have it, only four months later, the US embassy couriered her green card home and it was a mess all over again. Like a robot, she packed up and left for a place she did not know was home anymore. What was worse? She didn’t cry this time.

I tried to understand what it feels like to be so disoriented for such a long time and I didn’t like the feeling. Other people I know are so excited to be going abroad for higher studies and eventually work that they cannot wait to leave. It makes me think why as Indian we are so fascinated with the idea of settling abroad. But then I guess we are simply exploiting the gifts of globalisation.


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