“Some Indians Find it Tough to Go Home Again”

keeping it real in the desh
keeping it real in the desh

Blogging and general online activity has been slow since I am in Brussles nowadays looking for work, but I naturally paused and clicked when this headline from the NYT popped up on my RSS-feed.

This article talked mostly about how Indian expat-professionals found themselves disillusioned and disappointed by working culture back home . It provides interesting and entertaining caricatures of Indian bureaucracy and cultural values:

There are no shortcuts to spending lots of time working in the country, returnees say. “There are so many things that are tricky about doing business in India that it takes years to figure it out,” said Sanjay Kamlani, the co-chief executive of Pangea3, a legal outsourcing firm with offices in New York and Mumbai. Mr. Kamlani was born in Miami, where his parents emigrated from Mumbai, but he has started two businesses with Indian operations.

When Mr. Kamlani started hiring in India, he met with a completely unexpected phenomena: some new recruits would not show up for work on their first day. Then, their mothers would call and say they were sick for days in a row. They never intended to come at all, he realized, but “there’s a cultural desire to avoid confrontation,” he said.

Or this- when the reporter met a senior bureaucrat working with a government funded science research agency:

To prove his point, Mr. Brahmachari, who was two hours late for an interview scheduled by his office, read from a government guide about decision-making in the organization. Mr. Ayyadurai didn’t follow protocol, he said. “As long as your language is positive for the organization I have no problem,” he added.

As the interview was closing, Mr. Brahmachari questioned why anyone would be interested in the situation, and then said he would complain to a reporter’s bosses in New York if she continued to pursue the story.

Back to the point, besides the entertaining encounters, it seems that even for Indians who were born in the country, but who started their careers abroad, dealing with Indian bureaucracy and certain cultural mindsets can be extremely overwhelming. A friend of mine who returned to  India after university to pursue an internship in a development NGO told me that it is almost impossible to elicit basic information from government employees, without  a payoff being involved. Salaries are low compared to living costs, and bosses consistently demanded longer hours to be put in for the same pay. Further, aside from the corruption, lack of infrastructure and chaotic work environment, she says, the lack of social options outside work really hits hard (nightlife in India, largely, stops around 11). Add to that parents and relatives constantly harassing her to ‘settle down’, it was all a bit too much to deal.

Or take, for example, the story of one young returnee  in this excerpt from Rana Dasguptas excellent essay on Delhi society that appeared in Granta:

Saif Rizvi, a sociable young plastic surgeon who grew up mostly in Saudi Arabia and the United States, is one of many who are affronted by the new arrivals. Prominent Muslims from Lucknow, his family traces its lineage back 500 years, and Saif has a healthy contempt for Delhi’s upstarts: ‘Oh my God, the nouveaux riches. Yeah, I see them everywhere I go, man, you see the way they walk into the clubs, the way they order their drinks. They’re horrible. The only thing those guys have that’s nice is their cars. The nicest cars pull up and the most horrible people get out. Horrible bodies, horrible teeth, horrible voice modulation.’

The problem is bit more serious than horrible voice modulation. As India tries to lure back thousands of highly skilled expats to feed its economic boom, the bureaucracy, lack of infrastructure, corruption and different cultural values remain very real challenges. Admittedly, India offers better employment and career growth possibilities to ‘returnees’ today than it did a generation ago. However, the complaints about managing day-to-day life in India don’t seem to have changed much, and I remember members of the family having quit jobs and emigrated due to high levels of corruption and nepotism.

But this could not all be true. Surely, there are some happy returnees out there. And I’m also sure that immigrants and expats from other countries face similar problems. So speak up; comment away.

One thought on ““Some Indians Find it Tough to Go Home Again”

  1. I hear and read same things in my own social context. I wonder how was the situation in the past. I mean the weight of the job in a person’s life in ancient times. I really don’t like the condition that a job occupies a central place ones lifetime. More than the job, it is the level of income that makes the things complicated. (plus the desire for higher social status through the job and income.) Recently, there is an interesting discussion going on in Turkish press. It is about the consequences of finding a satisfactory job and income that pushed the marriage age higher in our time. (the issue of late marriage due to lack of enough “financial freedom.” The core of the discussion, however, is about how the late marriage has led to the emergence of the idea self-sufficiency. The idea that ‘I am sufficient for my self both socially and physically’ is a culmination of the capitalist system of pressure and social expectations. “I need a good job that brings high income and social status to marry, If I don’t have these, then I have to work more till I become successful in my career.’ The ‘success’, for most of the people, comes in late 30s. And for the pious young people, this means the suppression of sexual urges at least 15 to 20 years more at the cost of earning economic welfare. (that is to keep chastity) This was the discussion briefly.

    I think the points are valid. I am agree with observation that the late marriage trend due to high social expectations (or read as capitalist mode of production!) gives birth to solipsist personhood who views the world meaningful only if it leads to good career and high income. On the other hand, I am disagree to extent that the fight for the life needs (the whole education, work, family process etc.) is not something modern. Probably, this condition was a problem for the ancient people too.

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