Heart in their homeland
On India’s 71st Independence Day, Non Resident Indians (NRIs) reminisce their journey overseas, how they still feel close to their homeland and the transitions that have taken India ahead
Ananda Lal Roy,
Programme Leader and Investigator at NIH, Maryland, USA
On August 5, 1984, I left India for the USA carrying the dream of pursuing research in Molecular Biology, which was still a nascent field, virtually non-existent in India. I must admit — I was in two minds — one part of me still reasoning that having indigenous education in India was the best possible course, while the other part tugging away for ‘better opportunity’ in a foreign land. Ultimately, the ‘better opportunity’ part won. I undertook a voyage that I was both excited and scared about.
Looking back, I admit readily — I have no regrets. My journey, my story, my evolution is as Indian as it is American. Who I am today is shaped largely by my proud cultural and ethnic history. What I learnt in research is shaped by American education. I am an Indian born, American biologist. Here I reflect upon India I left and India I go back to — 70 years of freedom struggles and strife. Dreams and desires of what could be. Endless possibilities constantly crashing into realities of a bureaucratic stonewall.
Research is about gaining specialised knowledge, seeking truth, separating facts from conjectures based on proven evidence. Hence, the language of science is universal. I don’t believe there is ‘Indian Science’ versus ‘American Science’. Thirty-five years ago, cutting-edge molecular biology was hardly practised in India. Today, it is. There are a number of outstanding research institutes and centres that are at par with the western world. Difficulties exist but in general I find the students to be curious and dedicated. They have a genuine desire to learn science.
With this backdrop, I fully expect India to succeed. But one must be careful that education and research are not politicised. In fact, I would argue that the independence of our academic institutions must be guarded with uninhibited jealousy. The language of freedom is the language of truth — based on facts and evidence — no alternatives please.
Engineer at IBM, Dallas, Texas, USA
For me, it’s always a wonderful experience to visit India. It’s my motherland and it’s hard to describe the patriotic thrill that you get when the plane touches down and we disembark and finally we are back ‘home’.
India has changed a lot since the time I went abroad in 1992 first to study and then as I continued to work overseas. A few things have changed for the worse. Pollution has definitely increased in India. I feel it the most in my eyes. The other thing that I immediately notice is traffic. It has increased greatly. Not just in the four metros but also in other places. Flyovers are everywhere and that has contributed to a lot of change in how things used to look and how they look now.
Things have also improved though. One major thing I notice is how connected everybody is. Everyone has a mobile, Internet and people are very aware of what’s happening around them. The regional offices have also moved away from the kal aana (pushing work) philosophy. I am also very hopeful of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. Let’s hope that it really changes things instead of getting used as an excuse for cess.
While everybody knows that India exports talent (engineers, doctors, IT professionals) and films (there’s nothing like watching a Rajnikanth movie overseas with lots of Rajini fans dancing in the aisles), Indian cuisine too has been hugely successful all over the world. Indian restaurants are now all over the USA. Indian grocery stores are everywhere too. The Indian community organises India bazaars or Bharat melas around Independence Day or Republic Day and have events on the weekends of Indian festivals. I plan to attend the local event on August 19 to celebrate I-Day. To sum up my feelings, I would recall the song: Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani.
Asif Rais Siddiqui,
Operations Director at 2XL furniture & home decor, Dubai, UAE
Sky is the limit for India in this 21st century. Circumstances are favourable for sustained, rapid, and suitable growth of the Indian economy. India can look back with satisfaction on the more than 20 years of economic reforms. Robust economic growth, booming capital markets, rising foreign exchange reserves, a surge in exports and inflow of overseas investment speak well for the resounding success of reforms. This is how India has moved forward and appears to be at the beginning of a long-run takeoff that began in the mid-1990s.Over the years, the political ties with UAE — where I have been living for the past 26 years — have grown stronger and I’ve been witness to that. Many Indians have found employment here. The world’s interest in our country is rising with India’s vast knowledge, industry and prized human resources. Indian culture, its unity in diversity, our history, the Indian Armed Forces, and the importance of family in Indian culture is what makes me a proud Indian. India is emerging as a super power and I am glad that I’ve seen India through the development phase into the future.
Executive Director, JP Morgan Chase, New Jersey, USA
Roughly 22 years ago when I left for the USA, I was the first one from my family to step out of India.
Back then, India was an evolving nation and though it is still evolving, I see a sea change, but am really not sure whether better days were then or now.
Digitisation in most sectors, specially the financial sphere, is very evident which I believe has eased people’s life, but it also brings a host of other negatives, which need to be plugged well in time.
Before I stepped out of India, the city of Pune had an old world charm. Now, when I visit the city most of it has changed but still there are areas that have retained their own identity and that is what I love about Pune.
I remember the first time when I returned from the US, I had to settle some of my accounts here in Pune. I had no Indian currency but only dollars. Friends advised me to exchange currency from ‘sources’ to get more returns than what a bank would give. Those were the days of uncertainty. Sending money to parents was cumbersome, but now it has all smoothened out. This has all become possible because India has increasingly got wired and Net connectivity reaching even the deep corners of the countryside.
The growth and expansion that had happened over the last 20 years or so is staggering — traditional one-screen theatres converting into multiplexes, small fashion stores now overrun by bigger malls where even grocery and vegetables are available. But roadside sellers are still there and they need to be around to maintain the old fabric that India was known for. Eating out has become easy, which was not so 20 years ago.
Commuting in the city is something that needs a major overhaul. I am used to excellent public transport in New Jersey-New York, but back home though roads have improved, city travel is still very time consuming. There are Olas and Ubers, however, auto-rickshaws and public transport buses seriously need to upgrade. It is high time Pune got its own metro rail system. I know it is sanctioned and should come up in a few years but over-ground tube is no answer. The city needs to create underground network to avoid delays, especially of land acquisition, and on the construction front as over-ground work leaves normal life haywire.
Food Inspector at Warrell Corporation,
At the age of 22, I immigrated to the USA with my husband. It was 1982. Prior to moving, I was quite apprehensive in leaving the country I was born and raised in. I knew very little English and had very little knowledge regarding the culture of America. My husband thought it would be best to raise our children in a country that provides quality education to anyone and everyone. Now, it has been approximately 25 years since we relocated and honestly, I have still not felt an emotional connection with America. I travel to India once a year. Our country is rich in culture which is why I am so drawn to it. Everyone thinks of America as the ‘melting pot’ but in all honesty, India is filled with so much variety including food, culture, personalities, etc.
Something that I have noticed with my every trip to India is how much it is advancing, especially in Mumbai. We now have an airport that is now as magnificent as John F Kennedy Airport. India also has highways and well-constructed bridges that allow for easy transportation. But even after all these Western advances, India has managed to maintain its culture. There is so much love within the country. The feeling of calling a rickshaw driver bhaiya brings me so much joy. No matter where I am in India I will never feel that I am alone.
While I was growing up, one of the many concerns that parents have in India was the lack of gender equality and over the years, India has definitely made advancement in this area. It brings me so much joy to see girls working and not being confined to their homes. Many girls now have the option of voicing their opinions. Another problem that India struggled with was not bringing major issues into the limelight. Instead of being all hush-hush about certain situations or events people are actually reporting them now. Citizens are being informed about what is happening in their city which allows resolutions regarding those issues. India is heading in the right direction, and I am proud to say that I am an Indian no matter how far away I am from the country!
-As told to Khushi Qazi, Kirti Patil and Tania Roy