I would have thought that a hyperbole. No longer. Every middle-aged professional I have talked to in India recently would rather have a job or consulting assignment in the US. Every young person I encounter seems to aspire to a US life style, preferably in New York. No matter that our planet cannot sustain a billion Indians, living the American way, let alone another billion Chinese. That is still the persistent, impossible dream.
Along with this comes a curious view of expatriate Indians who live in Valhalla.
Mukherjee worked in an ill-paid but prestigious government job in Kolkata, where I met him. His brother persuaded him to move to New York. He looked months for a job, but the only ones that he found made him feel powerless and insignificant, compared to his job in India. He had more money, a better place to live, but he felt unhappy. After sixteen months, he went back to India.
Kejriwal was an electric engineer, who had taken to computers and developed an interest in cybersecurity. He came to Boston to do a course, then persuaded a local software company to hire him. He sweated in entry-level jobs for some years before he got an opening, proved himself steadily and rose to head his department. He misses his relatives and an easy life in India, but he is affluent and successful in his new land.
Rajan, who shortened his long Tamil name, came to study in San Diego, later joined a large consulting group, became a manager and, eight years later, left the job to start his own company. It was a quick success. In hardly five years the firm was a major force, a principal government contractor, and Rajan was an acknowledged titan on the west coast.
These emigrés visit their motherland from time to time, to visit friends and relatives, to perform family chores or simply to assuage their nostalgia. In talking to others, doubtless they gloss over their pains and problems and speak more of their accomplishments. Their listeners get to hear of their large houses, fancier cars, newer gadgets and holiday trips. Unintended, the emigré visits take on the semblance of victory laps.
First is the skepticism that anybody in the diaspora knows enough to talk about the mother country. This is strange, given how easy it is for anybody abroad to access facts and news about the country. Then there is the resentment that anybody, who is living comfortably overseas, not enduring the ills of living in the country, should have the gumption to speak about the country’s problems. I have seen carping reference to people abroad who have dared to speak out, even though they are scrupulous scholars and visit India repeatedly. The assumption seems to be that one must always be in India to have the right to comment on Indian affairs. These critics would have been outraged by a comment I heard recently from Mario Vargas Llosa that in writing a great novel about his homeland, Peru, he prefers to sit and write it in Paris or Madrid. His point is that quality improves when spiritual proximity combines with physical distance to filter passion with objectivity.