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23 November 2008

India calling . . .

No, it's not a story about call centres, far from it. This New York Times article is about the astonishing reverse-migration of US-born men and women of Indian extraction migrating "back" to India in search of their fortunes, or just a more comfortable or exciting way to make a living. There are some fascinating insights and great quotes in this short article:

Prior to living in India:
My parents married in India and then embarked to America on a lonely, thrilling adventure. They learned together to drive, shop in malls, paint a house. They decided who and how to be. ... It was extraordinary, and ordinary: This is what America did to people, what it always has done.

My parents brought us to India every few years as children. I relished time with relatives; but India always felt alien, impenetrable, frozen. ... Perhaps it was the bureaucracy, the need to know someone to do anything. Or the culture shock of servitude: a child’s horror at reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in an American middle school, then seeing servants slapped and degraded in India. My firsthand impression of India seemed to confirm the rearview immigrant myth of it: a land of impossibilities. But history bends and swerves, and sometimes swivels fully around.

Living in India today:

At first we felt confused by India’s formalities and hierarchies, by British phraseology even the British had jettisoned, by the ubiquity of acronyms. Working in offices, some of us were perplexed to be invited to “S&M conferences,” only to discover that this denoted sales and marketing. Several found to their chagrin that it is acceptable for another man to touch your inner thigh when you crack a joke in a meeting. We learned new expressions: “He is on tour” (Means: He is traveling. Doesn’t mean: He has joined U2.); “What is your native place?” (Means: Where did your ancestors live? Doesn’t mean: What hospital delivered you?); “Two minutes” (Means: An hour. Doesn’t mean: Two minutes.).

Countries like India once fretted about a “brain drain.” We are learning now that “brain circulation,” as some call it, may be more apt. India did not export brains; it invested them. It sent millions away. In the freedom of new soil, they flowered. They seeded a new generation that, having blossomed, did what humans have always done: chase the frontier of the future.

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