I got quite a lot of feedback on the Dear NRI article that I had written. Among those who wrote back with a detailed and eloquent commentary was a friend, Ram (himself an NRI, and current based in Atlanta). Since Ram does not yet have a blog, I have reproduced his views in their entirety here. Be warned: they are strong views, and are likely to touch a chord.
Your article [Dear NRI] was very interesting. Let’s the look at an average US-based NRI.
There are certain problems for every first-generation immigrant here, particularly, an Indian, due to the vast cultural difference. These differences affect their life more, beyond their 40s, than at a younger age. So, when it really starts affecting them, they usually have kids who are nearing their adolescence, and may be another reaching 10. By then, it becomes too late for many. You may wonder why? Well, let me explain…
Usually, many Indians don’t visit their relatives and friends on an annual basis, after they have a couple of kids. So, the kids don’t really know what their origins are. The things that an ABCD (you probably know what it is) knows at his/her teenage is, rigid cultural enforcements from their parents, and American stereotypes about the country (which is not very pleasant, to put it mildly). The parents (first-generation NRIs) are also out-of-touch with India, and slowly believe (including me) that they have become unfit for India. And of course, some think that India is unfit for them. Some even grossly exaggerate that how horrible a country India has become, in terms of corruption, goondaism, lack of sanitation, and other known things, like pollution, water problem, and poor ethics. And many (if not most) NRIs believe that they need to be minimum a millionaire when they return, if they need to feel that they are a success in their own eyes, and the eyes of their friends and family.
There are many of these NRIs, who are passionate about India, and are willing to contribute their time, money and efforts, but, are still unwilling to move back. Well, they cite that their kids cannot adjust back to Indian life (and of course, there are several cases, where the NRI-return has just failed, because the kids did become psychologically affected, and they eventually moved back to US).
I have personally discussed/debated with so many people, and have understood this subject to be very sensitive. I understood that most NRIs are caught between the two countries, and are unable to make a firm decision. And I also understood, unless the problem strikes them right on their face (which usually happens when they cross 40) they are unwilling to make any decision (commonly known as the x+1 syndrome or n+1 syndrome). And if you wonder what I mean by “strikes on their face”…Let me elaborate.
The first problem usually comes in the form of an ailing parent or an under-disciplined kid, most likely, the latter. The kid doesn’t follow the “Indian” norms, even to a mild extent (say 30%). In US, the parents play a bigger role (time wise) with their kids, because, they don’t have anyone to share their burden of raising the kids (though in the earlier years, the grandparents help…). Also, once material wealth is sufficiently reached, their focus is shifted so strongly on the kids. So, after all the effort, when the kid doesn’t behave closely to their expectation, it is a total shock, beyond, what they can handle.
They start wondering how much better their life may have been if they were in India, raising their kids and leading a normal life (even if they weren’t as financially rewarded). Well, when the kids seek “independence”, and then “total liberation”, it becomes very lonely for the parents (they reach upper 50s). In the in-between fifteen years (right from the kid becoming 10, to reaching an age of 25) the parents go through ENORMOUS anguish, anxieties, that most of them, see a cycle of turbulence and normalcy, alternating. Even if the kid turns fine, the lost years of pain can never return.
So, the question is why don’t they see it coming? …Well, good question…From my experience, I have realized only a few in life have a plan, goal and a direction. The rest just follow the crowd. The NRI is always in denial, saying that their kid has been brought up “very well”, and will not indulge in culturally unaccepted things. The problem is, such rigid enforcement, if successful, will steal the entire social behavior of the kid, and their youth itself. It’s like saying an Indian kid, not to watch TV, movies or play outside.
For those who do plan, think long-term, they do give a serious thought of returning back to India, before it is too late. And now, things are moving in a very good direction in India, they don’t need to fear about either their comforts, or living conditions. If you can put in an honest day’s work, you are more likely to get an honest day’s pay now. This belief will seep in slowly in an NRI’s mind, and when that happens, he/she will definitely return.
And is it really that important or beneficial that an NRI return to India…Well, the answer is yes and no. An NRI who has lived and worked/done business for several years, can bring in certain things that are valuable for the country. And coming from a capitalistic country like US, they are more likely to be entrepreneurs, and can improve India. If they are good leaders, they can contribute quite well.
But, those who are more “a face in the crowd” may not be very useful for the country. They may bring in the contributions in the form of foreign exchange, which is also welcome.