One of the regular queries by my well-meaning relatives during my sojourn to India is, Dil lag gaya hai kya America mein? (Is your heart set in America now)?
I am sure my questioners are unaware of the loaded value of their simple question. The umpteenth literary works by south Asian writers in US, UK and elsewhere have made the immigration experience as their writing forte.
With Kiran Desai's entry into the famed Booker circle, the genre has another strong propeller. I am sure in the years to come with growth and maturation of the second and third generation Indian diaspora, many literary works of varied subjects and substance would be produced and someone of Indian ancestry may follow Tagore and Naipaul to the noble podium. Pun intended.
It has been almost twelve years since I have made America, or more specifically, the picturesque Bay area in California my home. Though the conveniences of communication have helped reduce the pangs of separation from family and with time one adjusts to the distances and settles down in the humdrum of life, yet, I hear myself answer in a martyr like tone: Dil lagana padta hai (I have had to set my heart.")
My comment triggered a conversation with the younger genre. One of my cousins commented: "Why are you living in US if you are not happy. India is the destination of the day. All western conveniences are available here. You do not even have to be bereft of the love and support of your family and your child will learn the Indian culture and values."
I am enthralled and impressed at her outspokenness. This cousin giving me life lessons seemed like a lanky teenager deciding on zit creams at my last trip. Time truly flies.
Others soon join her and conversation drifts towards life and values in US versus India. I am also prodded about my impressions between the two places and the trend of non-resident Indians becoming newly returning Indians.
Here are my two cents on the immigration trend and the geography and value equation.
In the last three to four years, a large number of our first generation immigrant friends and acquaintances in the IT sector with strong family ties in India and young children to raise have returned to India.
Family factor, easy availability and affordability of western conveniences of life in India and the smoldering IT job market are the top reasons. Though eastward ho has become a trend of sorts amongst the techies, the process has not caught steam with other professionals or those with grown up children.
On a micro plane, involving home and hearth of those that can afford, it is true that everyday comforts are aplenty and the progress is apparent in the lifestyles of the middle class. On the macro scale, involving the populace as a whole, the nation has a long way to go to compete with other developed economies.
While it is true that in a capitalist economy, progress cannot be even, yet, true progress of a nation is only apparent when the masses are impacted at the grassroots.
A country can only be considered developed if most of its people are living a decent lifestyle and sustainable progress involving universal health, education and environment is achieved.
It is very easy and convenient to live in a ghetto of friends and family and in our small ways get immune to poverty and distress of others. While India can learn and follow many progressive western models, yet it also has to consciously, keep away from some of the trends and chart it's own path for sustainable development.
In America, community service is a growing component of high school curriculums with academicians and parents increasingly realising that socially useful and productive ways to harbor youth energy and enterprise are essential to prevent the decadent lifestyles choices that come with easy money and to give the children and youth a perspective of the lesser lot.
Pangs of progress in India metros are visible in the lifestyle choices of the youth. I see the culture of plenty and pace envelop the Indian youth in its glitz and glamour. It is difficult when the opposite appears attractive, but we need to halt and think: Is the unthinking rat race that puts I above we and me above us, the right path to progress.
In my humble opinion, it is not. West has come full circle and realized it. Let us not waste decades to tread the same road. India needs to take a different path to economic progress while sustaining its social and spiritual fabric.
It is no longer east or west, India or America that are significant as geographic destinations of residence to inculcate values in the next generation but a realisation and inculcation of eternal principles at family and societal levels that are above national issues.
The touch of my mom's soft palm on my forehead is not that any technology can replace and that is when geographic distances hurt most…but that is another matter and more on that later.