Monday, November 13, 2006

Returning Natives

The present day desi in the US returning to India is completely unlike the NRIs of the 80s vintage and earlier on their biennial pilgrimages. The whole purpose of their visits was to impress upon the less fortunate natives the true state of their material and physical well being. Gifts would be given liberally, drawing rooms would be chock full of relatives listening enraptured to the stories their fantastic lifestyles abroad.

Their teen-aged children could at best understand their mother tongue and lisp charmingly when pushed to speak it. Grandmothers and aunts cooed and fawned at how precious they sounded and made sure that they were stocked up on toilet paper even if the nearest store that carried it was at the other end of town. These were cyclically returning natives who reinforced to themselves and those that they deigned to visit with that they were glad to be out of the rat hole known as desh. A mini army came together from in and around town to see these oh-so-fortunate prodigals off at the airport.

Times have changed. More importantly perhaps India has and along with that the attitudes of desis home and abroad. Now it would be the ultimate social faux pas for an US desi to come home and throw a fit about the dust, grime, government office red tape and open man holes. They know better than to do that. Instead they will tell their relatives in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune that India as good as if not better than the US in most ways. They love indeed lust for street food, don't need to tote Evian around and their kids speak their language almost flawlesslessy.

Thanks to rampant piracy in software and electronic goods, desis in India own cooler, hipper gizmos for a whole lot cheaper. Their cellphones are to die for and the posh schools that their kids attend are better than the best private schools in the US. In summary, the country mouse is getting a better bang for the buck than the town mouse and the town mouse would come to nest in the country in a heartbeat.

Unlike the desis of yore who landed in JFK feeling schadenfreude and got together with other desi friends over the weekend to recount vignettes from the trip to India to disperese that feeling more widely, the present day desi wonders if he is better served by not getting into the plane to America.

There is little left to be given to the well heeled friends and relatives in India whose business trips take them around the world all the time. There are no tall tales to tell of the dishy blondes that are so easy to pick up at bars, of the money to be made in day trading or the cross country road trips. The all desi weekend "parties" in burbs are a joke to those who have far more eclectic social lives. Everyone's been there and done that. The captive audiences cheer led by the dowager grand-aunt are a relic of the past - that aunt is now likely vacationing in Madrid with her youngest daughter.

The draw of America to the mainstream desi used to be the lifestyle they could neither afford nor replicate in India. They basked in the envy of the hoards that came to see them off at Santa Cruz, snickering at the thought of their socialite aunt primping for her kitty parties with Yardley cologne from Wal-Mart they just gave her. It was a good place to be in. Today gift shopping is painful and expensive business - a Navajo Indian sun-catcher from that Alaskan cruise may be slightly interesting but Ralph Lauren shirt picked up from Marshall's will be met with much disdain and derision.

It is not surprising therefore that the desis in US want to come home to roost the minute they get their US passport. No one who is anyone back home cares about their miserable suburban town home, $130k a year job and the fully paid off Acura 2.5TL. For all that they are not riding the wave of irrational exuberance that is India today- the technology is edgier, more patents are being filed than ever, they get to feel good about themselves by volunteering for the causes of the disenfranchised. India's unique selling proposition today is the ability to combine a high-rolling lifestyle with abundant opportunities to stack up on good karma. It strikes a deeply resonant chord with the expat desi.

There is a heart and soul about India that expats are finding easier to sense in the context of an easy to replicate NRI lifestyle complete with obscene compensation packages and a white hot club scene. Its never been easier to claim their longing for family and homeland is more than they can bear - if only the date for the all important citizenship interview came around sooner to plug their bleeding hearts.

1 comment:

cheti said...

Cool observations. Particularly the last one : “if only the date for the all important citizenship interview came around sooner to plug their bleeding hearts.”

Even though you do give a pretty vague example of “social life scene” and claim obscene compensation packages in Des, having been on both the sides of the globe for some time now, hearing out accusations and defenses from both the side, you pretty much capture the irony and dichotomy of mindset on both the sides !!!

Give them a chance to go to the other side of the globe (where ever they are), they both want it and ridicule it ! Confusing times !