A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Choices in a Topsy Turvy World

There was once an ezine which I wrote for - desijournal.com - and the article below was in response to Dr. M. Vidyasagar's article about India vs. America. Obviously, Bangalore-based Vidyasagar (who is now - I think - a VP at Tata Consultancy Services, aka TCS) came down in favor of India. In light of several families of Indian origin in the region - and possibly around the US - returning to India, I thought I would reexamine the issue. After all, we are living in a topsy-turvy world.

Who knows what choices lie before us in 2009 and beyond? I am quite surprised at my insight of 5 years ago, when I said: "My current situation directs me to choose the US - who knows what the future holds?" And my ignorance in saying that "We in America have everything in plenty." :(

Choice. It is the critical issue in the article by Dr. M Vidyasagar. He considers careers and the job market, the rupee and the standard of living, the economy and the entrepreneurial opportunities - and finds the choice of living in India a more viable option than immigrating to the US. He concedes that the US has the best universities in the world, but doesn't point out how that translates into a choice.

For many of us, there is no choice on the India vs. America issue. Once you have kids here, is it really feasible to ask them to pick up and move to a country to which their connections - through typical biannual visits - are, at best, tenuous? The difference in treatment they will face as residents, not visitors, is radical. I experienced this first-hand, when my parents moved our family to India in 1981 – and find it a no-choice issue given my American pragmatism.

Let us, for a moment, assume that there is a choice about whether to live in India or America. Let us also accept all of Dr. Vidyasagar's contentions. Now, look at the decision from other viewpoints - not from solely economic perspectives. As a parent, I want to provide my children the best opportunities in life. By my typically desi standards, this means the best education money can buy.

People in India tell me that secondary education is much better there. Having been schooled in the United States, I feel that education is fostering the love of learning in our children. For them, I am willing to forego the negatives of living in the US - that they don't have their grandparents nearby, that they may encounter racial prejudice, that we are not mainstream Americans, and that education is going to cost a lot of money. I see people like Governor (of Washington state) Gary Locke, and I believe in the American dream – and strive to help my children make the right choices.

As a person, I am concerned with tangible living conditions. I read Elisabeth Bumiller's book May You be the Mother of A Hundred Sons and felt validated. She points out that physical resources in India - mainly water - are in shortage, and there is no solution in sight. We in America have everything in plenty.

Last week, my father told my daughter in our weekly phone call to Hyderabad, "Don't let America spoil you." How can I disagree? But I get simple satisfaction from a long, hot shower, and choose the comforts of the USA.

As a woman, I am also concerned with intangible living conditions. In the US, I worry about teenage pregnancy, the rising popularity of reality shows and the related voyeurism. But is the sexual suppression that occurs in India acceptable? What about the lack of governance and the corruption inherent in the Indian system? Again, here is a choice - we in the US have freedom, and the responsibility to choose wisely.

As an immigrant of color, I am worried about the current racial climate in the US. There are prejudices one faces in every human situation – Bollywood is still so full of nepotism, the caste system is still cause for concern, there are still inter-religious tensions all over India. So this time it is a tradeoff - one kind of racism for another.

Although my choices seem so black and white on paper, the boundaries are blurred. My current situation directs me to choose the US - who knows what the future holds? Given the political climate here, I may have no choice. As long as my favorite premise on which the US stands - liberty and justice for all - holds true, I will stay an Indian American.

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