On the dangers of a reluctant immigrant


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15 Mar 2013

 
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On the dangers of a reluctant immigrant

Let me start on an autobiographical note. I am what in common parlance is called a ‘non-resident Indian’, an NRI. I have studied, worked and lived in the US for over 30 years. Like hundreds of thousands of others from India (and from scores of other countries in the world), I had come to the US for higher studies – and stayed back.

It is hard not to like living in the US, a rich, developed country. Life is easy, the salaries are among the best in the world and one enjoys freedoms – economic, political, individual freedoms – that are generally hard to get in most parts of the world. I became an immigrant like millions of others who have made the US their home.

I loved living in the San Francisco Bay area. But the old country was never far from my mind. The question that bothered me was why is India so poor. It was a sufficiently important question for me that I even went to the absurd extent of studying economics to get a handle on the matter.

The ties that bind us are many but one of the most enduring must be the one that ties us to our motherland. Over the years I have met hundreds of Indians who have chosen to call the US their home. They all love being in the US but without exception they all have an inalienable connection with the country of their birth.

This is a universal feeling. Being the melting pot and a land of immigrants that the US is – particularly California – I know hundreds of people from around the world. They settled here for various reasons but no one can deny that their identity and their sense of who they are is inextricably tied to where they are from.

My Finnish friend could not be more clear when she says that she is Finnish even though she loves the US. This is not limited to the US, of course. A German friend, for example, who has lived in Paris for most of her adult life, was insistent that her loyalties lie with Germany.

Catch a flight from San Jose, California, and you will see thousands of Americans of Mexican origin going home to Mexico. At San Francisco airport, the flights to India are jam-packed with Americans of Indian origin going to India. The story is the same: People go back to their roots because that’s where they were born but however far they roam, the umbilical cord seems to stretch.

This is normal and understandable. I see it in myself even though I am not a sentimental person. Often when I arrive in India, I recoil from the dirt and filth that is pervasive in India. But never have I not felt the emotion that the Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) expressed so beautifully in his poem ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’:

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!

The sense of who we are is of tribal origin. We are nothing if not members of the tribe that nourished us in our childhood. We love the language we learned from our mother, the food that we grew up eating, the religion we were brought up in. Much like the DNA in every cell of our bodies which carry the legacy of all of our ancestors, our souls carry the imprint of our origins. Ineradicable and strong, they define us and our identities.

But circumstances sometimes lead some of us to foreign lands voluntarily or otherwise. Immigrants do love their adopted country but they have a longing for their old country that often surpasses that of those who never left their home country. It is as if they compensate for their having left their family and friends by becoming more attached to their old country.

For immigrants, if they have a soul at all, loyalty and love for the home country will always be a weakness. The matter of divided loyalties is a universal human failing. The US Constitution recognises that and bars people who were not born in the US from becoming the President of the US – the most powerful executive office is reserved for people who do not have divided loyalties. It is not humanly possible to not have divided loyalties when you are born in one part of the world and live in another.

Fortunately, the ordinary immigrant will never be forced with a choice that will demonstrate that divided loyalty. We just don’t matter. I will never be dictating US policy that may adversely affect India or be faced with a policy choice that may favour the US over India. I will never be in a position where I will have to rule against one or the other country.

Which brings me to the final point of this piece. I think that Indians generally don’t understand that putting a reluctant immigrant, a person who is born and brought up in a different country and naturalised almost against her will, in a position of power is a dangerous thing to do. The person does not have to be evil; just being human is enough. “We are more often treacherous through weakness than through calculation,” wrote Francois De La Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1618).

It is both unfair and unwise.


Atanu Dey is an economist. He blogs on India's Development at deeshaa.org.

(c) NiTi Digital. Reproduction and/or reposting of this content is strictly prohibited under copyright laws.


 
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  • Rajalakshmi

    Agree with your sentiments no doubt.

    The reasons for my frustration & bitterness with Indian Establishment are very specific.

    Why is it despite being the majority & legitimately belonging to HINDUS , India is so amorphous & sort of characterless today?

    ISLAMIC countries proudly wear their religion on their sleeve & their countries are governed well. They are also very strict in ENFORCING rules & regulations.

    Why does not India BAN evangelical conversions with CONVICTION & COURAGE?
    WHEN does India BAN COW SLAUGHTER all over India? Those devout HINDUS who leave India for whatever reasons passionately pursue their study of Upanishads , Ramayanam & SEERS Sayings. What HINDUISM has to offer no other creed can ever imagine to measure up to. The GLORY & GREATNESS of Bharath lies in its Spiritual Capital.

    How can the same people of India sit & endure when the very EXISTENCE of Sri.RAM is debated in Parliament & local tv studios. The same people get violent , losing their sleep over useless cricket matches.

    Who would not want to return to India for good provided this secoolar patina is done away with for good.

    Our only hope is Sri.Narendra Modi & Smt.J.Jayalalithaa.

    • Murthy

      My speculation on the questions you have raised: Since the late 19th century, both ‘Macaulay Hindus’ and nationalist Hindus started reforms in Hindu society.
      Sadly, these reform efforts were hijacked by ‘political Hindus’ whose hearts were NOT in reform but in retaining POWER & MONEY for their families. They turned ‘reform’ into ‘destruction’ – hence the uninhibited abuse of Hinduism’s Sacred Works, such as The Ramayana.
      These are the ‘pseudos’ [pseudo-secularists, socialists and so on] ordinary Hindus like us have been seeing since the 1960s.
      They include Marxists and fellow-travelers spread throughout the ‘corridors of power’ in India, especially, in the media. Like good Marxists they have concentrated in writing books on Indian history and politics, in ‘shaping’ and ‘educating’ Indians through the MEDIA.

      Just look at the highly CO-ORDINATED EFFORTS of the anti-NaMo industry in India and the USA. Again, typical of Indian Marxists – a good example will be Ms. Loomba, a communist student leader at Delhi University – they all end up in Western countries – not Russia or China – taking with them all their left-lib baggage.

      INDIA is under the political and ideological CONTROL of a mischievous left-lib clique that has spread very widely through India’s government, civil service, Bollywood and the media.

      Only in the last two years, do we see the beginning of a counter and a challenge to this domination of the left-lib, anti-national and pro-poverty conspiracy of control and brain-washing of more than half-a-century.

  • Rajalakshmi

    I am sure Hindus like me must be able to empathize with the all encompassing demoralization a Hindu is subjected to WITHIN India owing to secoolarism & vote bank politics.

    For the first time Narendra Modi & Jayalalithaa have shown there IS INDEED HOPE for HINDUS. That HINDUS are capable , knowledgeable & CAN GOVERN well.

    Hope Swami Vivekananda’s VISION comes true. That with renewed force & vigour HINDUISM trounces inimical creeds like churchianity & debauchery.

    • mayank

      To begin with, I may have been a little acrimonious to you thinking (assuming falsely) that you were a converted protestant evangelical or something.

      I am unequivocally sorry .

      One of the things I would suggest is higher studies (state sponsored or else) on Dharma, Yoga, Ancient India and its continuing traditions through a common ‘sanskriti”.

      Then we should run such PHD < Masters and undergraduate studies in all universities.

      • Murthy

        ‘Mayank’

        I have seen some good efforts in Western countries, often by white people of European / American descent, to organise manageable syllabuses of HINDU DHARMA and SANKRITI.
        In 1999 I listened to a good talk on Vishnu Purana by a Frenchman, a Hindu adherent of ISKCON (International Soc., of Krishna Consciousness) in a Western country.
        A note-worthy feature of NRI life in the 21st century is likely to be a shortened but memorable version of HINDUISM and HINDU PRACTICES. I predict that the second and third generation NRIs, young children now, will evolve their version of Hinduism, which would be a briefer but authentic version good for the long-term.

  • MSH

    Brilliant. “We are more often treacherous through weakness than through calculation” is a nice statement. However in the context of Indians it will be “We are mostly treacherous to ourselves because of weakness and calculation of some”

  • Panduranghari

    We as NRI’s with Indian passport can do one more important thing- vote. We are allowed to vote postally.

  • Murthy

    Well expressed – I know the feeling.

    I would add that Hindu immigrants, with a fair knowledge of Indian Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, familiar with the teachings of the Great Upanishads and their exposition by some of the greatest swamijis of India, such as Chinmayananda, Dayanand Saraswati (both the one who founded The Arya Samaj and the one who is from Coimbatore and thankfully with us now) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and many, many more, too numerous to name here, will ALWAYS feel the pull of INDIA, as a shining star that guides ships to shore.

    As the Jewish milkman in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ sings …. ‘Tradition…’ is a priceless phenomenon, especially, when it combines a thinking person’s INTELLECT, INTUITION AND CONTENTMENT ( the Sanskrit SAN-THUSHTI).

    Every other feature of a thinking Hindu’s life is no higher than sleeping, eating and discharging bodily waste.

    Almost every NRI is a REFUGEE from 60 + years of CON-GROSS Party’s MISRULE OF INDIA.

  • Doesitmatter

    I did not know where Atanu was going until the last paragraph, and I had to read the last para twice.

  • Bharati

    What “reluctance”? They belonged to relatively well-off backgrounds; they went West; they chose to stay on for “the good life”. So? They made their choice; why do they keep trying to justify it to those still here? They whine about “the dirt and filth that is pervasive in India” but assure us they rise nobly above it. They whine about Indian poverty and study economics to understand it. They should study history instead, starting with why the Native Americans are so poor and the immigrant Americans so much better off. Then – it’s easy – they can read Nehru’s “Discovery of India” which identifies the missionary-colonial destruction of the Indian manufacturing economy as “the real, the fundamental, cause of the appalling poverty of the Indian people”. They can then ponder over the extent to which the prosperity and the freedoms the White West – and its brown immigrants – enjoy is because it deprived Blacks/Browns and others of them.

  • Ashish

    This is brilliant writing echoing the emotions people have when they are away from their homeland. Fortunately for me, I have got the right kind of opportunities in India itself. But whenever, I have traveled to the US, there is a tug-of-war of sorts in my mind whether staying in the US is a better option compared to India. Until now, it has only remained a thought but who knows…and I would despise myself for doing that.

  • RSKumar

    It is very easy to criticize Sonia Gandhi. The real problem is with the members of Indira Congress party, which changed its name back to “Indian National Congress”.

    1. It takes 40 crores to become a member of parliament; and 10 crore rupees to become an MLA.
    2. Becoming a politician is a business investment to make more money (loot).
    3. 99 percent of MP’s and MLA’s have no clue about policies for the long term well being of the society.
    4. Since it is a good investment to be a politician, they find ways to get reelected.
    5. What kind of policies they implement to get reelected.

    A. 1 kilo rice for 2 rupees
    B. subsidies for agriculture electricity
    C. sudsidies for agricultire loans
    D. Build homes for the poor
    E. building reservoirs for paddy fields.

    In and of itself, these policies A to E sound good. But they can’t be sustained. One way to sustain a flow is to stop leakages: for instance, Indian can build its own nuclear reactors, then upgrade distribution systems with its own technology, then employ people in these industries, sectors that provide and distribute nuclear energy. If one follows this way, the Indian rupee just stays in India and can be used to buy what is produced in India, and so on.

    Instead of long term thinking, people want a quick fix to get reelected next time, so that they can get benami real estate companies, and so on

  • Sandeep Barve

    I started reading this article feeling that this is some sentimental piece, but then -BANG- the author brought the point home! Awesome!

  • Vinod Kumar

    Atanu,

    You have made a very powerful point in your parting sentence “Which brings me to the final point of this piece. I think that Indians generally don’t understand that putting a reluctant immigrant, a person who is born and brought up in a different country and naturalised almost against her will, in a position of power is a dangerous thing to do. The person does not have to be evil; just being human is enough. “We are more often treacherous through weakness than through calculation,” wrote Francois De La Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1618).”

    It seems most comments missed that point. You made a very logical build up to this point.

    A great piece.

    Vinod Kumar




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