Friday, September 29, 2006

Homeward Bound Desis

A lot is being said and written of the reverse brain drain these days. The prodigals are coming back to India to live in cordoned off gated communities with manicured laws and white picket fences. If it were possible, they would have de-toxed the air around them until it were sanitized like that of the first world.

When the dot com bubble burst, those that could not survive the recession and the tight job market went back home - there was nothing glorious about that homecoming. They were merely creatures of circumstance. The homeward bound desi of today is of an entirely different stripe. They have made their bones in the US, earned both money and accolades for their work but do not want to miss out of the feverish gold-rush like excitement that is the IT industry in India. It is like being in Silicon Valley in the late 90s.

More than grunt work is happening in India (or so the expats would like to believe) and they want a piece of the action. The salary equation is roughly years of experience times two hundred thousand INR per year in CTC (cost to company). In absolute terms that can look like a huge sum of money to someone with fifteen years of experience. It does not hurt either that they get a C-level executive position in the company.

When they left India as grad school students, that kind of money and position would have been a far-fetched dream for the majority. Now with increased opportunities, a lot more people have a shot at being a stellar success. Interestingly men are more excited about India and the opportunity it represents. Women tend to be more lukewarm and this observation is in the context of married couples where the wife may or may not be an IT professional.

After toiling through the unforgiving immigration process, paying off the grad school loans, making the down payment on the suburban single family home and paying off the two cars the decision to head back comes exactly when the couple has finally settled and even "arrived" in America.

The popular concerns are the dangers of raising children in this country without the benefit of the desi cultural envelope that India supposedly provides and the quality of public school education - they often serve as the key drivers in the decision to return.

Men have little to loose in returning to India other than a reduced quality of life - the biggest slum in the city maybe minutes from the gate community, the traffic a daily nightmare and the general travails of getting through the day that all desis are familiar with.

For women, there is much more to loose. They will be trading their freedom for the dubious benefits of having extended family to help raise the kids. No longer can she drive to the grocery store past midnight to pick up something she needs just then, no longer can she wear what she wants, where and when she wants to, no longer can she expect not be to molested by men while using public transportation.

She will live in a gilded cage to which her husband holds the keys, the chauffer will spell her deliverance, the hemline of her skirts and the necklines of her blouses will need to adjust themselves lest they titillate road side Romeos or scandalize the in-laws. Family and friends will weigh in on most of her choices.

Sure, she may make as much as her husband and like him have the coveted corner office but none of that will not stop the passing cyclist on a crowded street from grabbing her - to him she is still the lowest common denominator - a human female body meant to be used and abused.


SFGary said...

Wow, you paint a dismal picture of life back home. There is a loss of freedom if you move back to the place you grew up in but in a new city the issue of friends and relatives weighing in on your actions are non existent. I see your point about women being harassed on the street. I don't know where you grew up but in most major cities one rarely walks on a sidewalk - sidewalks are rare and walking on the street can be hazardous.

The problem I see coming for desis in the U.S. is that, after 9/11, we have become 2nd class citizens. Most Americans are either ingnorant or don't care about various ethnicities, world history or other religions. Its like some ignorant Brits referring to every brown skinned person as "Pakis." This might not be apparent within the cocoon of your inner circle but I can see only a veneer of politeness in a lot of interaction with the natives and I hate to think of what life can be in the burbs and the countryside. I thought this was only my perception but this is shared by a lot of desis I meet.

ggop said...

More than harassment, many married women are worried about dealing with in laws and family politics.

Life in the countryside here in the US? :-)
When one drives out of the SF bay area, be it rural towns in Northern California or the Central Valley - its all hicksville.


Heartcrossings said...

SFG - Life has always been dismal for a woman in India who cares about freedom to be. No news there except that the IT boom has done nothing to change that. I have lived and worked very recently in Bangalore and know the score.

You bring up a great point about non-existent sidewalks. Could not agree more. What I had in mind was going shopping - groceries or clothes or anything in between.

There is "real" life outside the gated community and the Koramangala penthouse. And that life is still rife with hazards for women. In India a woman grows dependent on more than one man just to get through the day. Her personal life is the open to questioning and interrogation even in the workplace.

The fancy veneer of the glitzy office space rivaling the best in the US is only skin deep. Beneath that mentalities are fairly medieval and more often than not women come at the receiving end of it.

As for desis being second class citizens - I think I've always heard that said by desis about desis. As a woman I would rather be a second class citizen in a country that does not make dependent on a male crutch just to survive than be a first class citizen in India.

For the last several years after my marriage ended and the desis took upon themselves to avoid me like a contagious disease, I have done very well living in the suburbs (in the South no less) with only non-desi friends.

ggop - I live in a southern hicksville and for all that it is not, its better by far than being a single mother in India.

phantom363 said...

all these guys who come to india, have a u.s. passport handy. :)

we hope that on their return, they will spread and practice the equality of society that they experienced in the u.s. and hope they drop their accent pdq.:(

we hope they will be ideal employers2 servants, a gardener and a driver. we hope their kids grow up to know what the true india lies outside their gated compounds. :)

i feel sorry for the women who have to return. my wife would rather throw me out than return to india. and i don't blame her either.:)

Harshal said...

When I read this I couldnt help laughing at the attitude of the writer of this article towards the conditions in India. Let me take it one by one.
> quality of education is a cncern for returning desis

From last 3 years I am living with students studying in American Colleges and doing their Masters in various scientific fields. Believe me, after 2-3 years of their education and spending more than 30,000 USD per year on their degrees, absolutely all of them agree that life would have been the same if they would have done a degree in India. Except people who are at MIT or Wharton/Harvard Business schools there is no one who would proudly say that my 60-90k dollars didnt go for a waste.

I'm sure the writer of this article would have passed out from Wharton or MIT. If not, you need to wake up. It's 2006. If you are still asleep, call me. I'll whack you and that will wake you up.

>the biggest slum in the city may be minutes from the gated community

Newark Avenue , Jersey City, NJ
Dover Street, Chicago
...and many other places

I earnestly invite you all blog writers to these places. These are the few places where Indians living as American Citizens reside. Have a look at these dwellings and compare them with other places where regular citizens in US live. You'll know what the term 'Dirty Areas' or 'American slums' mean. Again, you all are earnestly invited to have a look.

If NRI's create such slums. Why hate slums in India?

If you are coming to India stop hating the slums. They are a reality and our own Indian people have contributed to their development.

>Women will be trading their freedom for the dubious benefits of having an extended family to help raise the kids.

Ok this one is the funniest. I do agree to some extent towards the pun intended in this statement. But let me tell you one reality. 80%. Read it again, 80% of couples who give birth to kids in America call their Fathers and Mothers for taking care of their kids to US coz' they dont want to put their kids to foster care. Your good old NRI's also did the same at least till their first generation. This reality makes your entire statement laughable.

>no longer can she wear what she wants

Honestly pal, Indians living in India are still a conservative lot. They dont wear low cut jeans or long clevage blouses out on the road. In a party, yes. Definitely. But then so do college girls going to party in Mumbai too. Wake up. Tring, Tring Tring!

>no longer can she expect not be to molested by men while using public transportation

Give me the total number of Public Transportation Molestation cases of women in entire India and I will give you at least twice the number of Public Transportation Molestation cases on ONLY Newyork Subways (forget the rest of U.S.) OPEN CHALLENGE !

>Family and friends will weigh in on most of her choices.

This is by far one of the only comment I agree to.

>a human female body meant to be used and abused

Sorry pal, Law & Order situation in Indian metropolitan areas is much better than what your sorry ass brain is imagining it to be. And of course in Bihar the situation you cited is correct. But do you thing an NRI will celebrate his homecoming in Bihar? ha , ha

To all the NRI's reading this article what I'm trying to convey is simple. Come to India. There are a lot of problems. And remember you are not coming back coz' you 'feel' for your motherland. Don't give me that bull. You see India now as a hen which has the capability of laying golden eggs. And you want to pick up some of those eggs. So, accept India in it's totality and return if you want to. All the reasons cited in the above article are meaningless and pointless.

ggop said...

You speak with great confidence about numbers and stats of molestation incidents in public transport. This is a really ugly fact of life in India. Accept it. I do concede, the New York subway system has its share of gropers but sexual harassment which is coyly referred to as "eve teasing" in India is more pervasive.

Growing up there, from age 12 onwards in a small town, wearing very decent salwar kameezes (to stifle any claims of dressing provocatively) I have been followed on bicycle, later luna. I have never travelled alone at dark. These things happened in broad daylight.

I've heard horror stories from women friends who lived and worked in New Delhi.

On the other hand, I have taken buses in two different states here and have never had an issue. Yet I can't generalize this sort of thing does not happen here.

I guess perceptions of safety are formed by personal experience.

Heartcrossings said...

Harshal - Thanks for your patient reading of my post.

I have lived in India for the most of my life in big cities as well as small ones. Got my undergrad from an engineering school of repute. Worked for both name brand companies and boutique consulting outfits. To summarize, been there done that. Please spare me your "India Shining" rhetoric.

I am amused at how authoritative your stats are on the cases of molestation in the NYC subway system.

Like ggop I dressed conservatively all my life. In fact, wore clothes a couple of sizes too large so I looked more like a walking sack than a woman. Despite such measures to protect myself, I have been groped and stalked.

From the time I turned ten a male escort was considered mandatory after sundown - no exceptions. I find it disgusting when desi men posit that living conditions for women in India are just fine.

Maybe what I have described above is considered to be enough freedom for a desi woman. At least we are not being forced behind purdahs and genitally mutilated like some hapless women in other countries are.

Perhaps we need to feel grateful for the small mercies that we so take for granted.

Talking of slums - are now saying Dharavi equals Jersey City. Rohington Mistry should weigh in on that parallel IMHO. If he had any sense he would have situated A Fine Balance to Bronx perhaps.

The d├ęcolletage or hemline is a matter of personal choice in the western world. A woman is free to wear what she chooses without having the to worry about being raped by the nearest auto-rickshaw driver. What are the standards of conservative fashion for men in India and what are consequences of not following its dictates ? My understanding is there are neither any rules or any punishments and in that India is not equal opportunity.

As phantom663 says any woman of sense would sooner throw her husband out than head home to entrapment in India.

SFGary said...

Hello! It seems like this topic generated a lively discussion.

ggop: I meant to also include any town or coomunity outside a 40 mile circle of the Bay Area.

You have to put up with In laws and family politics if you go back to your hometown - it goes with the territory.

HC: I am sorry that you have had a bad experience post divorce, but that desis would shun you is actually quite shocking. Are you including friends and family in this sorry lot? seems like you socialized in a non progressive circle. Maybe you were better off escaping that little dungeon.

As to your negativity about a single woman in India, being a man, I suppose I have to take your word for it. I have not seen or heard from my female relatives and friends. Though I do agree that you don't have the same freedom of movement as here in the U.S.

Harshal, dude, you have to chill. The standard of living with any sort of a college eduction in the U.S. is far above what you would enjoy in India. That is if you could find a job at all with a history or a liberal arts degree in India to use an example.

I don't agree with your NRI's creating slums in the U.S. either. I have not been to N.J. but I think you are referring the so called Little India district in Chicago? I have been there and I would hardly call it a slum. You maybe have failed to notice the real slums here. Its because it is hidden behind the walls of tenement public housing. In any case to compare that to the stuff we have back home is laughable.

I also don't where you get the stat of 80% of all couples call their parents back home to come and help take care of their children? That just can't be right. Also Indians don't put their kids in foster care, maybe you meant "Day Care?"

I won't address you other comments but just that you seem to defend life back home without seeing the warts or you are accepting them for what they are. Well just to agree with you so did most of us but given the choice we don't necessarily want to end up in it again.

Thanks P363, my India is real enough, so if I do go back I probably will try to insulate myself from all of the little aggravations that are part of the daily life in India

Heartcrossings said...

SFG - Hey thanks for pointing out to Harshal the difference between foster care and day care. God ! to think it was being implied that we sorry assed desis put our kids up for adoption when we don't have family from desh to take care of them.

As for my immediate family they've been very supportive of me. The friends that I have retained post divorce were the only ones having in the first place and sure that includes desis as well. I have come to realize that attitudes are class dependent and have little to do with where you were born and/or raised. I will blog about that some time.