Special Feature

February, 2003

Rich NRIs and India's Who's Who had a jamboree recently at the Pravasiya Bharathi Divas. The PM announced 'Dual Citizenship' with eighteen hundred bureaucratic clauses. Aishwarya Rai and Simran swooned to the tune of fifteen hundred NRIs who participated in the conference. Everyone made the familiar noises. Indian Americans complained about the bureaucracy. Politicians complained that the Chinese Diaspora invests more than the Indian Diaspora.

Not a soul complained on why thousands of people are quitting India every year. Or wondered about the welfare of the indentured Gulf workers. Or about the millions of 'body-shopped' Indian IT employees throughout the world.

Everybody had sumptuous lunches for three days and went home.

~*~

Prakash left for Fiji in 1978. He was plain irritated with the bank entrance examinations and the odds of making it. He got a first class in his B.Com at the Delhi University and was an average student. There was extreme paucity of jobs and everyone was queuing up for jobs in the State Bank of Bikaner!

Prakash approached a Delhi-based travel agent who forged a few documents for him. And he went to Fiji when he was 25.

Today Prakash runs a travel agency in Fiji. His travel agency gets customers for a forty-day tour of India and Sri Lanka. This packaged tour takes his customers to twenty major cities and hundreds of people love it. Prakash has built a two-bedroom home & has three children who study in neighboring Australia.

Prakash's story is full of grit and hard work. He worked 16-hour days doing menial jobs for 6 years, before he could open a small tailoring shop. Then he added other small businesses and had a fortune of $200,000 by 1998. Just as things were looking up, the Fijian Government seized everything and made him a near pauper.

Prakash is slowly building his business again and is confident of building a retirement kitty.

~*~

George is 27 and has an elderly mother to look after in Chennai. He has a penchant for writing and has penned a few hundred poems.

His journalistic instinct took him to study and work as a reporter for a leading Tamil newspaper. Tamil's No. 1 selling newspaper pays a glorious sum of Rs 3,000 as starting salary to its employees like George. Even 'Call Taxi' drivers of Chennai make about Rs 5,000 per month.

'Writer and Poverty' are inseparable like 'Thunder and Lightning' says a Tamil proverb. George took it to heart and tried his best to work through the journalistic ladders in Tamilnadu. He traveled to unknown villages to create original news. And he wrote well to merit a pay increase of Rs. 500 after 18 months.

George tried his best to remain in Chennai and improve his finances. He even switched jobs, to a leading Tamil TV News channel for a glimpse of the comfortable life. The TV Channel increased his salary by 200% - but it did not pay him for three consecutive months!!

That was the last straw and George said to hell with Chennai and India. He applied to numerous newspapers in South East Asia where one of them recognized his persistence. Today he shares a small apartment in Singapore and works as a reporter for The Straits Times.

George intends to get his Chennai-based mother to his own apartment during 2003.

~*~

Sumitra had a typical arranged marriage in Cochin. Her husband Ravi worked in typical Kerala style - as a Gulf based worker.

Ravi worked as a foreman in a leading petroleum company. Sumitra taught Hindi in a local school to supplement their incomes. They were in fact doing fairly well and even made plans to buy a compact car in Qatar.

Fate struck a raw deal and Ravi's right leg got caught in a gruesome accident. His petroleum MNC counted the costs of paying up and decided to invoke an abstruse negligence clause. It blamed Ravi for negligence and sued him for damaging the expensive Cretoe Pro tool set!

Ravi lost his right leg and yet he got no help from the local Indian Embassy. It was then that Sumitra took a brave decision of remaining in Qatar and fighting the court case. She invoked the wrath of God and worked inhuman hours to pay for the legal expenses. She taught in two schools simultaneously and corrected the examination papers of 7 neighboring schools.

Sumitra's battle lasted three long years before the MNC decided to pay up. She is now 31 and is pregnant with her first baby.

~*~

Prakash, George and Sumitra happened to be in Delhi for their own reasons. They decided to stop by at the Pravasiya Bharathi Divas, where I met them last week.

You will never hear about these three people in the media. They are amongst the 20 million NRIs who live in 110 countries. These people are part of India's middle-class that is disgusted with Indian businesses, Indian politicians and Indian bureaucracy. They have simple aims like most middle-class families. They want to create a simple and happy family, support their parents and possibly build a bank balance for their retirement.

Indian society directly seems to militate against these simple middle-class aims. The middle-class in turn is calling it quits. Millions of middle-class Indians who have the brains to create a prosperous India is quitting in droves. 240,000 Indians left for US in the three years of 1999-2001. A few thousands have returned after the dotcom bust. Some of them are seen drinking coffee at Saravana Bhavan in Chennai and comparing it to Starbucks! However a vast majority continues to live in USA to fulfill their American dreams.

A million Indians left for foreign opportunities in 2001, and this number is accelerating every year. Though it might seem like a small speck out of the 1000 million strong Indian population, the migration of the Indian middle-class reflects deep unhappiness with India.

All the politicians congratulated themselves at the Pravasiya Bharathi Divas. They also praised Rajat Gupta, Sir Naipaul & Pandit Ravi Shankar, before going for lunch.

However nobody seemed to wonder why people go abroad. It is not as if everybody studies in IIT and dreams of an MS in the US, as soon as he/she is 15 years old.

Countless people leave because India fails them. They succeed as individuals because of their own hard work and resolve in 110 countries.

Indians succeed in 110 countries. But India fails?

- Mohammed A. Thameemudeen & Nikita Singh

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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