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October 26, 2006

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» Weekend Update from Accidental Blogger
I am a bit blogged out. So here is a quick summary of some interesting items in the news. Benchmarks: George Bush's garage must be overflowing with useless campaign signs which were discarded after the abysmal failure of each presidential [Read More]

Comments

You have probably covered most of the cons for any NRI returning to India! I particularly agree with your point about the lack of opportunities and freedom for women NRIs.

Your pros are eye openers. Made me love my country so much more! Thanks!!

Hi Namit,

I was reading with curiosity your "cons" of India. I've never been to India (or Asia for that matter) and thus had no opinions to compare or contrast. It read to me like you were honest, open, and insightful and your unique experiences have enabled you to describe what I might "observe" or "opinionate upon" if I were to travel there. It was very interesting and a fantastic cultural (biased, of course) look at India for me - a revolutionary learning tool - like "Cliff's Notes" for travelers. (You may need to have someone explain Cliff's Notes. Suffice it to say they're printed and very-concise reports, usually of literary works so students can avoid the mind-numbing and time-consuming digestion of the actual literature.)

When I began reading the "pros" you discovered, I was immediately offended by the first item. I just want you to know that I live in Orange County, California, USA and if you ever are in the area you are free to look me up and I'll gladly meet with you over a cup of coffee or beer and have a casual, informative, and pleasant discussion with you about anything and everything. Afterwards, most assuredly we would become friends and see each other at least occassionally to talk and enjoy whatever commonalities we had discovered among us. So avoiding cultural isolationism takes effort from both the new immigrant and the old resident (a two-way street), my friend.

Now, I am not an outgoing person when it comes to making first contact with a stranger, but if I do happen to have an opportunity to converse with a stranger, I am always open and interested in open banter about anything and everything. I like people (generally) and, while I like a lot of activities that are easiest undertaken alone (I travel to the desert, go fishing, or anything else that lets me get closer to nature) I can be a friend that is one of those two or three people you meet in a lifetime whose company you always enjoy and feel you could entrust anything to and expect they'll be available anytime to provide whatever help or companionship, entertainment, etc. are required/expected of a true friend. You see, I don't know how hard you tried to find people that would try to learn and enjoy your cultural affects and explain some of their own (probably quite a funny, enlightening, and entertaining process), but I know that the reason I have few friends (the few I have are very close friends) is because I'm typically not one to strike up conversation with strangers unless the opportunity is obvious and natural. That's my fault.

In conclusion to your first "pro" observance, maybe a little more effort on your part would be beneficial. If you're sometimes apprehensive of trying to get to know someone new because you think people won't value your presence: don't. Don't feel like you're placing a burden on someone or annoying them by just being friendly. If they don't want to be your friend they'll make it obvious soon enought. On the other hand, if you just had a distaste for American culture in general and that's the point you were expressing, then f*ck you too! ;-) (By the way, if you do make it to Orange County, I'd really like to know how that cricket game works. You guys have that, right?)

Now I'd like to voice my opinions of several other "pros" you voiced in your report from home (none of the others offended me).

b. Sound's really interesting in India. I'd like that.
c. In the U.S. you have two political parties and they're both the same.
d. Every passing year in the USA I feel our society is being more repressed by government and, lately, corporations.
f. I never feel ashamed for being cheated, lied to, or taken advantage of by unscrupulous, nefarious souls. As for contributing tax dollars to further their goals, see item 'd'.
g. Pros and cons for both societies here.
h. Naturally, like I would probably be more at ease with strangers (for a while anyways) in the USA.
j. I feel repressed at having been brainwashed by our countries capitalistic marketing and all-consuming media. I confess even I can't escape it. I was born at the time when almost all American households had just gotten televisions and it became one of the largest influences in my development during my early years. I can sing the advertising songs of many different brands of cigarettes and those commercials were banned decades ago. (I gave up television - it's a real trip to people when I tell them I haven't heard of the person from American Idol they are talking about). I will say that I do see beauty in almost any woman I see (sometimes it's small, but it's there).
k. How true. But that's sometimes just a regional problem in the USA. In some places, people are kind, helpful, and polite. These places are just becoming more scarce and sometimes people give up looking for these traits in the people they encounter.
l. That's so cool. One of the reason I like being in the desert! Also, see 'd' above once more.
n. Makes much more sense to me. Alcohol is legal here, but it's a real hard-core drug for many.
o. I can understand less-wasteful. However, contrast the eco-footprint with 'a' and 'c' from your Environmental observances.
p. If you're from our Latino 'minority' in the USA you probably enjoy that aspect as well. Not so with my Caucasian brethren. Advantage: Indian Society.
q. Familiarity breeds comfort.
r. Ah, cuisine. Indian cuisine I eat occassionally shows me that, generally speaking, American food is not very exciting and/or often shows little imagination. For instance, meat and potatoes are good, but lets create something with them! And please, heated vegetables in their native form could be a dish designed by chimpanzee (once they learned to use fire). Give me some Mexican, Indian, Italian, Southeast Asian, or Greek/Middle Eastern cuisine and I'll be a happy camper. Leave me with a Big Mac and I will have not truly enjoyed the finer things in life.

I hope my viewpoints were half as interesting to you as yours were for me. If you've read this far, I suppose the possibility exists.

Happy traveling and I hope you find what you're looking for and if not, check out our neighborhood sometime. (On second thought: don't. It's not very a friendly place for strangers! But you're always welcome at my home at least once.)

-MojaveMike

P.S. That Indian 'pickle' is one of the most amazing foods/condiments I've ever had in my life. It makes me feel like there's a circus in my mouth when I eat it! Love it!

MojaveMike,
Thank you so much for your kind remarks. I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful comment.

I'm aware that many pros and cons in my list do not have sufficient color and specificity (which is often the downside of brevity, not unlike Cliff Notes!). On the one pro that offended you, I intended something different than "making friends". Let me explain.

I have myself been fortunate enough to know, befriend, or work with a great many welcoming and open-minded Americans like you, and I have been enriched by my time in the West. But that pro refers to something that I believe runs deeper (the "insecurity, anxiety, and the inevitable cultural isolation"). What I mean is perhaps best evident in the difference we see between first generation Indian immigrants and their US-born offspring (as in the movie Namesake). Despite his conscious effort at assimilation, the immigrant remains an outsider in an important sense, having grown up with different social and familial codes, rites of passages, experience of school, sports, dating, childhood heroes and movie stars, pop music and books, shared stories and cultural memories, language and idioms, etc. So a vital part of what lubricates social life and belonging is either weak or missing. This lack of "a native's comfort" in his new country creates a kind of insecurity, anxiety, and (partial) isolation, even as it offers compensating joys, personal growth, and other benefits. This varies too by the migrant's old and new countries (for e.g., third-world immigrants in the West face many different challenges than, say, intra-West immigrants). All this comes with the territory—no wonder so many novels have tackled the bittersweet experience of migration.

Does this clarification allay your sense of offense? And yes, those Indian pickles are quite fantastic. I bet there is an Indian grocery store near you that carries a wide variety of these "oral circuses". :-)

Namit,

I read your pros and cons about India and the USA with interest. I was born and lived my first 22 years in New Zealand, and then moved to the USA to work in IT at the start of the .com boom for 11 years. I therefore have both parallel and complementary experiences to your own.

First, I should state that any generalisations about any country might be to a first approximation correct, but found to have more exceptions than one realises. With that caveat, let me continue to generalise about the USA:

It seems that your comparisons can be broadly categorised into financial and cultural, with cultural comparisons split into politics, religion and traditions. Financially, the USA is of course much richer than most, but not all countries. However, there is an interesting result in socio-economics that once a person has sufficient income for the basics of life (food, clothing, shelter), and a reasonable expectation of security, additional income provides only small incremental increases in life satisfaction.

As a white Anglo-Saxon male with a good IT salary I had most of the ingredients of what is supposedly the "American Dream". I have to admit that after being a poor student, the first few years of living in the USA I was mildly addicted to consumerism. It took me some amount of time to understand what I was doing, and change my behaviour and attitudes. The result was a appreciable decrease in stress and increase in general happiness.

My experience is likely somewhat different from your experiences of the USA, as there is significant discrimination in the USA (not implying that there isn't in other countries). In the USA there are distinct disparities in salary between women and men, and the number of women in senior business and political positions. Likewise, in both the northern and southern states there is systemic discrimination against minorities. The USA's religiosity is comparable to many Islamic states, with presidential statements such as Bush senior's: "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under [a Christian] God."

Note that the founders of the USA intended specifically to create a secular republic, and explicitly did not intend the USA to be a democracy (http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/AmericanIdeal/aspects/demrep.html). Americans also have a deep suspicion of all forms of government, so much so that I wonder if it is self-fulfilling. While political corruption and hypocrisy occurs in all countries, the USA seems to have perfected it to a magnitude not found elsewhere. The irony is that Americans are coerced into going to war under the rallying cry of patriotism, while Katrina and Iraq war profiteers like Haliburton enjoy unprecedented direct subsidy from the American taxpayer. I'm reminded of the George Bernard Shaw quote: "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries, because you were born in it."

I am now living in England, and would never consider returning to live in the USA. Almost all aspects of my quality of life here in England are significantly better than when I lived in the USA. I enjoy the benefits and security of socialised medicine, with my general medical care of a higher standard than what I received in the USA, notwithstanding the deficiencies of the British health system. Food quality is far superior, as is public transportation and public services. For all of this I pay comparable amounts of tax as I did in the USA, and can expect the same level of services whether or not I am employed.

I suspect that as India's per capita income increases and Indian society becomes more secular, there will be significantly fewer immigrants to the USA in the next 10 years. The cultural costs of living in the USA are rapidly outweighing the shrinking financial benefits. America is a land of ideas, where almost anyone with an idea can choose to follow it to an extreme. However, some of those ideas are clearly dangerous if not moderated, such as Laissez-faire economic policies, which contributed in part to the current financial crisis.

Gary, thanks for that insightful note. I have lived in the UK too and tend to agree. What you suspect in the last para about fewer immigrants coming to the US due to the rising cultural costs is already true. Hope things improve a little under the new administration. Happy New Year!

Hi Namit

Here's a contribution from another NRI living in Australia (Gee... did you expect so many non-NRI's will take that much interest in a topic which didn't directly seem to affect them ?) It took me a while to come to this part but...it's all good and I enjoyed every single one of them.

I migrated to Australia in 1993, when not many people had heard much about the country apart from cricket and Bob Hawke (including me). Curiosity to live in a foreign country took hold of me to an extent that I had to plead with my husband to leave our well paid jobs (him as a Mud Engineer in a prominent Indian Oil company and me a Lecturer in Botany in a college -as prestigious a job as it gets for Indian educated women). He was an unwilling party but was the first one to take Citizenship when the time came.

First few years we were obviously in a different world. In spite of a lot of struggle to survive, made easy by Government's financial help, I liked everything. Everything was superior than the country of our birth. I personally didn't observe or didn't want to observe any racism whatsoever (not withstanding the fact that I never got my job or equivalent or any job that will suit my qualifications even to date).

Somewhere along the line you start comparing things it's obvious and I did the same. That's when you go in and out of this feeling of love for your country, or love for your life style supported by the adopted country. You can't have both but the situation is, at this stage of our lives, we desire both.

We have been thinking for a while why can't we retire in India when the time comes? Like you I have my own list to go by of pros and cons and how to change the cons into pros or learn to live with them. In spite of all that desire and deep thought the self-proposal of settling back in India is like moon, which gives us so much inner light and good feeling, we can see it but not touch it. It's hanging in there for us to be enticed, admire, desire but we lack that bravery to actually take plunge and experience it.

Like you, we have also started to travel and travel around one state every year and discover our own country.I must admit traveling is so much easier now than if we would not have migrated to Australia. We are looking at our country with a different eye and now it's tipped the balance on the other side. I don't see many problems with India it's all rosy and it's like the same as it was in the beginning in Australia, everything was from another celestial world with no fault. But would we take that plunge...? I don't think so. Not unless people like you and me get together and try to change those cons of our list...

It's been too long since someone posted a blog on this site and I suspect if you'll see it but none-the-less I won't stop now.

Namit,

I just discovered your website today while looking for some pictures (sent you an email re: permission to use the pictures). And then I found this NRI pros and cons list :). I lived in the US too, for 21 years, and just returned to Bangalore this past spring to be closer to parents (one of the pros you listed!). I went to the US in the same year you did (1989), loved being a graduate student and then working there. However, being back in the familiar surroundings here, despite all the cons, is comforting at a deeper level. Was interesting to see your list and relate to most of what you wrote as a fellow ex-NRI.

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Shunya Website

Namit wins 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2011

Namit Arora's India Photo Archive