Life in India · Opinionated

Being and feeling Indian at the same time.

I once had the fortunate opportunity to talk to a famous History professor, one of India’s most eminent historians and a pioneer in the field of Ancient Indian history. She explained to me the concept of identity, and how India as a country is still struggling to let go of its colonial identity. Indians still love to identify with a ‘White culture’, a subconscious identity of a ‘white supremacy’- which is actually bringing India to a more subordinate position with respect to the West.

It is difficult for Indians to accept that we still haven’t cut our umbilical cord with the West, especially Britain. Despite having successes of our own, we still consider the achievements of Indians in the West as greater than ours. Some households don’t adhere to such thinking, but the majority do. There is still a big obsession amongst the population of moving to the ‘West’ where life is much simpler, and money is more.

But do the dynamics work that way? Is living in the West that easy?

A. People living abroad benefit because of currency exchange rate, not because they earn millions of dollars more than the local populace.

B. Indians aren’t the ONLY intelligent race in the world, and we aren’t the only ones running the world.

C. Life in the West looks beautiful, but apart from the higher standard of living, the problems of poverty, housing crisis, etc. still remain, and will only go if one is an educated Indian with a degree that has a value in the Western market. Otherwise most Indians are actually local shopkeepers (a stereotype- but it’s a hard truth!)

Indians are instilled with the belief that we are a hard-working bunch, who are bound to succeed in a foreign country, because India doesn’t provide us opportunities. India has a population crisis; India lacks technological innovation; social customs shackle the populace- etcetera, etcetera.

Despite all these concerns, there has to be an understanding that those who “cannot escape” from India aren’t unsuccessful or in any way menial as compared to those driving a Volkswagen in the US. Firstly, buying cars in the US is easy. Almost everyone owns a car, and the cars are higher range models than those of India- because India has to pay for high import taxes, and because of our weak currency, the cost appears higher. The econometrics and situational conversion of economics should be the course of our understanding, not some random observation without any thought or provocation of the mind.

A General Manager working in an enterprise in India may not be earning in dollars, but his work is no less than that of a manager in the US/UK. In fact, he may be working more hours, primarily because the system is yet to develop fully and being a developing country, the effort has to be put in more. It is unfortunate that Independence has created another class of ‘babus’- those who have made their lives in the West, and now come back to India to reap benefits of the conversion rate, and command the same respect that a White man once did.

My message is more for the educated man/woman, rather than the knowledgeable one. The ones with even a simple understanding of economics or even social situations will know why I wrote this today. I know I don’t want to land in India and have people kissing my feet because I landed from “abroad”. Locations shouldn’t determine success or command respect- that’s where we, as Indians first went wrong, and still haven’t learned from History. India is a superpower and a cultural supremo in itself – it’s time we leave our obsession with being ‘white’, because we aren’t – and we should never try to be something or someone we never are.

It is time middle-class Indians start treating their local heroes with respect and stop obsessing about our ‘foreign’ relatives, who apparently have a better sense of style, speak better English, and are more knowledgeable than us, because they hold the passport of another country. Being knowledgeable or fashionable or commanding respect has to be a state of mind- an acceptance of our confidence. We didn’t achieve Independence to run away to another country- we achieved Independence to make our country the place people would want to come to. Collectively we have to build this society. If a student or employee of an MNC wants to come back to India, he/she isn’t committing a “blunder”- he/she is simply not giving into the societal pressure of becoming a “white” person and wants to do something great for India, than someone else. Collective acceptance and collective attempts at development will make India into the country we desire. It has to begin from us. We can’t expect the World Bank to come and do it for us.

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