It’s almost New Year now and a time when friends have their regular get together discussing the hits and misses of their lives over a dinner or a couple of drinks. This year also marks 10 years when I left my school to enter a new world .While contemplating a meeting to celebrate this, I realized that I am among the rare species of my batch who’s decided to not to pack my bags and flee India. There are just so many guys out there in the US that a get together there makes so much more sense than here.
What is that makes the average Andhraite so obsessed with the idea of going abroad or more precisely the US of A? He may not have any great visions on what to do when he goes there but he sure wants to land there, irrespective of the kind of work he does there. I have had friends working in petrol pumps and in bars in US which they would have never thought of doing in India. I attribute this to the mindset and the upbringing that has led them to believe that a Green Card ensures that the grass on the other side is always green.
I remember when I had given my job interview in ICICI Bank, I was asked how come I had done engineering and then moved over to MBA. I had answered that as a proper South Indian, I had become an engineer. May not be the best answer to give in an interview but that was the truth. South India generally suffers from a certain genetic disorder which forces them to become either engineers or doctors and I guess the problem is more accentuated in Andhra Pradesh.
The peer pressure of becoming an engineer and going to US is pretty high for the Andhraite. Right from childhood, he is constantly fed the mantra of “IIT” into his ears and by the time he is through with his primary school, he is ready to enter the haloed corridors of the IITs. In Andhra, students join coaching classes who tutor them to join Ramaiah or Krishnamurthy IIT coaching factories. These institutes then coach this select group of students for the IIT entrance exam. So, the crème-le-crème of the state is selected to train them into becoming IITians. For all those who do not enter IIT, we have a host of other engineering colleges which cater to this huge demand for engineers.
Post-engineering, most of the students take their GRE exam to do their M.S. abroad. Now this is of course a laudable attempt at higher education but you realize that the idea in many cases is not inspired by the concept of higher education but by the mere idea of going abroad and fulfilling the dreams that have been sown in their minds, for all these years, by their friends and family. They could be forgiven for assuming that it was for quality higher education. This argument must have made sense sometime back but now?
When one of my classmates had come down recently from Canada, he gave me gyan saying that the problem here is that people do not recognize you for your efforts unlike in the West and that there’s no strong incentive to work in such an environment. Nonsense, I say, what the hell am I doing here then? With a thought process like that and an outlook which fails to understand the progress we have made, I am really not surprised at such a remark.
The dowry amount is a strong incentive that drives parents to dream of their kids ensconced safely in California and elsewhere, while they spend days waiting for them to come back one day. So a B.Tech guy who commands a dowry price of say, Rs 10 lakh, would probably move into the 25 lakh+ category once he carries the “American abbayi” tag. I have seen palatial houses here constructed on the basis of the dollars sent back home but just a lonely couple waiting for their loved ones to come back one day and share their moments with them.
Friends tell me that this kind of exodus of people from one’s state is not a solitary case and they cite the classic example of Kerala where at least one member of every family works in the Gulf (more than 2 million of them in the Gulf). Numerically and statistically, the argument works but honestly, there’s no comparison between the 2 states when you look at the reasons for this. Majority of the Keralites employed in the Gulf work at lower strata in the Gulf society and do not represent the well-to do crowd there. This emigration is more to do with Kerala’s vehement anti-employment policy, which encourages people to look for other avenues for jobs.
But it is not my point that this flight of intellectual capital is wrong and that people should not leave our shores. After all, merely working in India does not make us any more patriotic. I am not even deriding the claims of subsidised technical education at the IITs though that can also be avalid point.Working outside India is a natural consequence of globalization where we export our most abundant natural resource-labour. This has also lead to a great deal of knowledge transfer that has been of immense utility to the country. The NRI remittances from there also contribute to a great deal in sustaining their families, though I also believe that this inflow (along with the IT pay packages) has fuelled to quite an extent Hyderabad’s inflationary real estate prices.
There’s something less tangible that we probably lose as we stay away from our roots; something I feel at a micro level when I am staying about 1500 odd km from my hometown. My point rests at a more emotional level about a sense of loss and erosion of identity that happens over a period of time.This becomes more pronounced as each generation goes by; somewhere akin to the loss of a certain genetic material found in us. Maybe it’s a purely emotional thought but as we go further away from our roots, there exists a certain loss of identity which is hard to regain as time passes.