The Big Bang(a) Theory

The exceptional rise of celebrated ‘Indians’ abroad signifies a lack of opportunities back home — also reflected by a large-scale outmigration of low-wage workers

The Big Bang(a) Theory

The road to Heaven, or at least to the promised land of milk and honey, and the elevator to the rarefied heights of the top echelons of the global corporate universe, are seemingly littered with surrendered Indian passports. Even as hundreds of thousands of bright and not-so-bright engineers and MBAs in the country end up applying for police constable vacancies and even peons (or multi-tasking staff as the government calls them now) each year in the country, there is this other tribe of graduates who take the long but rewarding route to foreign shores. Their plan is simple but deviously clever. They realise early that India has three main avenues of meaningful employment – a) the civil services which give you anonymity (for most) but enough security to last a lifetime, b) taking birth in a family that already owns a business empire which you can take over in due time after the customary Ivy League degree and c) failing all else jump into the noble career of politics where you may find yourself covered by an umbrella scheme (renewed not reviewed every five years) providing security for a few and more generations.

Failing access to all the three above, fortunately, there is yet another window that can open up opportunities that come with little or no baggage. It involves, firstly, four years in an elite but subsidised engineering institute. The second step is to get into another government-run but elite management institute, and spend two years there instead of using the engineering knowledge, and working in some Indian company in India. All that remains thereafter (for those who have not already left) is to convince the Visa Officer that the lofty aim of gathering all these multiple degrees and the intended one abroad is to finally return to serve the masses better, preferably in some fourth-world corner of your third-world country. By now the Visa officer should be trying hard to hold back his first-world tears as he hands you over your visa. Once you actually do land in the Promised Land, you quickly adapt to and adopt the local self-service spirit, not just in your daily chores but in your life’s mission as well. The decision not to return without a green card was already taken before you even applied for the student visa.

India greeted the announcement of American businessman Ajay Banga as the US nominee for heading the World Bank with glee and pride. His Indianness was splashed all over the Indian media and, soon, lists of “Indian” CEOs of multinational companies were being put out like a roll of honour. Then Nikki Haley’s announcement of attempting a Sunak in the US hurled us further into gleeful orbit, with esp. the Punjabis reaching out for the chicken makhani with a vengeance. After all, Kamala’s entry into the White House had rubbed a bit of sambar into their pride! One is happy that Indians are doing well abroad. But I would have been happier if they had done half as well in India itself. But would they have done so? Or is it even fair to ask them to do so?

I wonder if Nadela and Pitchai would have risen to head Reliance, TCS or Infosys simply because they were the right persons to lead these companies and not because of any other reasons! Would Sunak have climbed up the political ladder here as swiftly as he did there as a son of immigrant parents who relocated from Africa? Merit counts for a lot in this country but it is a nuanced quality which has to be embellished by so many other jewels.

One is therefore not surprised that despite our two-trillion dollar plus economy, anyone who has the means is still trying to get out — be it the humble carpenter looking for a job in the Middle East or the IITian dreaming of the USA. And mind you there is nothing anti-national about it — they are not trying to get out because they fear for their lives here. It’s their livelihoods they are worried about!

As to why Indians still line up for jobs abroad and eventually settle down there, with a few exceptions, several reasons like money, quality of life, better opportunities for children and, of course, the largely visa-free travel that their newly minted passports provide can be thrown up. But asking too many questions may make you sound like a spoilsport for those who want to celebrate each successful person of Indian origin as proof of our Indian genius. And of course, what better way to promote our own nationality than by re-appropriating somebody else’s!

Apart from the CEOs, we have also exported a much larger number of drivers, cleaners, salespersons, carpenters, cooks, waiters, gardeners etc. to Middle East countries. They do not quite enjoy the same privileges as the local citizens and are often treated harshly for meagre salaries. Yet they manage to collectively send back to India more remittances than their compatriots in the US, sustaining thousands of families they are forced to leave behind. They always come back to India because the Middle East will not give them green cards, spouse visas or residency, leave alone citizenship. And yet we rather not speak about them because they somehow embarrass us by going abroad to work for a few hundred dollars a month. The Indian elite and an increasingly ambitious middle class will not shed tears for them because anyway, that’s not where their children are going to, God forbid! But for me these are our real treasures abroad because they suffer indignities, sacrifice freedom, and yet manage to send back more money and sustain more families than perhaps all the celebrated CEOs put together!

We Indians need a Bang(a) every now and then to keep believing that we are taking over the world! And the 683 Indian migrants caught crossing into the UK in small boats last year are perhaps doing their bit too — landing on their shores just like the Brits landed on ours hundreds of years ago without proper papers!

Views expressed are personal

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