Non-Resident Indians have accepted the country they immigrated to as their home and are comfortable visiting India occasionally, writes Minoo Shah
Why do Indians who left India not wish to return, is a complex question with no easy answers.
Let’s parse the Indians who left decades ago to the lands of milk and honey. In the span of the latter half of the twentieth century, most of them went for higher education, and better job opportunities until the advent of the twenty-first century when it was the ‘come hither’ call of the Silicon Valley. The timeline is important because even though they faced discrimination early on, the laws went through necessary changes to help eradicate racism and make it punishable by law.
The migrants who are now in their 60s and 70s succeeded in spite of it and found a common ground to co-exist with the locals. They got involved in politics, community service and learned to give back in cash and kind. The acceptance of the Indian diaspora increased for all the above reasons. Additionally, they had now borne a second generation who spoke the right English and soon collectively, they all became a part of the melting pot. This second generation has come of age and have become the 20 per cent of the minority mass that hold high-level positions in various professional spheres. They identify themselves as North Americans or English, as it is the only home they know.
Come the twenty-first century and the augmentation of an immigrant generation of techies that arrived from an India which was fast earning global recognition. The world’s eyes were on the young India that Thomas Friedman described in his book ‘The World is Flat’. Here we were now with two age groups of immigrants and one common lure. What was the lure? The buying power of the European pound, the Canadian and the US dollar. To the first set of immigrants more so than the second, this helped fulfil dreams of a better life and luxuries that would have been unattainable had they not ventured forth. Most chose to make their stay permanent and opted for a citizenship to their host country thus earning the title ‘Non-Resident Indian (NRI)’. They put their roots down, raised families and helped their parents and siblings migrate. The roaring question then is: why, having fulfilled their dreams, did they not wish to return to India?Have you ever had that empty feeling, a sense of being lost,heaving a sigh that conjures thousands of memories of bygone days? Well, that is the poignant state of an NRI visiting his motherland. Thefriends and extended families left behind years ago have moved on, India has changed and the westernisation it has adopted has obliterated the ideology of “atithi bhava devo bhava”. Again, this is a generalisation and mostly applies to metropolitan masses. Some of the homesick ones that did return to settle back encountered disappointments because of bureaucracy and somewho weretargets of a con wereforced to move back with no hopes of finding remuneration.
Statistically, five percent of those that did return have managed to find a niche inspite of the odds. So, then let’s discuss the exodus of this second wave of migrants lovingly called techies, millennials or Genzers!They have multiple options and if ever there was a time to use the phrase –having the world at one’s feet – they do. They are young, smart, techno savvy and the most coveted of any migrant race. They are part of the Space Age and it’s not so much that they do not wish to return to India. Their lifestyles are accustomed to a shrunken world where communication and travel bring possibilitiesof having the best of both worlds. Will they return? Possibly. Will they want to return? Depends on the government policies. Should they return? A million-dollar question!
While we debate this conundrum, it is best to understand that the Non-Resident Indians have accepted the country they immigrated to as their home and are comfortable visiting India occasionally. Those that have returned for altruistic reasons and because of the Indian government’s offer of a dual citizenship (Overseas Citizen of India) feel privileged and don’t see any reason to choose permanence in India. The following unique stories of NRIs talk to the grit, valour, enterprising spirits and, yes, even a tale of the prodigal son that returned. They have all achieved milestones for themselves and raised a generation that are the flag-bearers of fulfilled dreams. Their comfort zone now is their adopted country and even though their loyalties are to the hand that feeds them, each and every one of them left a part of their heart behind and remember their motherland with an aching heart.
Anshuman Desai – The Prodigal Son
Anshuman’s journey to the US and back is a twice-told tale of perseverance and success. Born in Ahmedabad, he migrated to Kansas in 1977 for further studies in Industrial Engineering. Earlier on, his struggles were plentiful because of his ‘Gujlish’ (English parsed with Gujarati words). There were many firsts like failing an exam because he was unable to understand the professor’s accent or he, a Hindu Brahmin working as a campus janitor because he did not want to put financial constraints on his parents. In extraordinarily little time, he was living the American dream of a suburban life with weekends spent watching football amidst family, friends, margaritas, and beer.
However, he yearned for a life of simple living and high thinking. After fulfilling his commitments towards his family, he set forth to incorporate in rural Gujarat, the core models of business excellence he had learned in the US. ‘Anshudada’s’ vision was to empower women and create self-sufficiency within the agrarian economy by using locally grown products. Today, his NGO saralvikas. org, (a foundation named after his mother Sarlaben) is considered a model of success in graminudyog. His guiding beacons are his father Krishnakant Desai, PhD, an educator (fondly eulogised with ‘An era of education in Gujarat has ended’ upon his death), mother Sarlaben and Mahatma Gandhi that help him balance his life in both worlds.
Anjali Kusurkar – Study in Perseverance
Anjali, daughter of Brigadier Bhonsale (Infantry Regiment, Marathas),replicates the pioneering spirit of women that succeed in the face of all odds. She had to make some difficult choices having been widowed at a young age when her husband Dileep Kusurkar, a consultant anaesthetist, succumbed to a heart attack. She, a graduate of BJ Medical College, Pune, and a career medical professional found it hard to juggle a career as a single parent on a meagre salary of Rs 7,000 per month. She had no choice but to make a heart-wrenching decision. Leaving her daughter under the care of doting grandparents,she accepted a position in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her considerable experience in teaching and research helped her sail through the ‘mandatory training’ period of two years after which Karishma was able to join her. Both mother and daughter proceeded to make Belfast their home.
Like most NRIs, she is nostalgic about the life she left behind but she feels it was most opportune that she immigrated. Had she stayed back in India she would have leaned more on her family but the move to a foreign country propelled her to take ownership of her life on her own terms.
After 24 years at the NHS Hospital, she recently retired as the department head of Anaesthesiology (a post she held for 12 years). She recalls facing her share of biases because of the locals’ unawareness of the existence of any other religion besides Christianity. In due course, both Anjali and her daughter found acceptance and were heartily welcomed by the locals. Anjali visits India frequently and her nostalgia is vividly visible in the memories she evokes through her ceramics, but the permanence she seeks is in Belfast.
Amol & Swati Sardesai – The Adventurers
The story of Amol and Swati Sardesai began in the 90s as two passionate young collegians living in Dadar, Mumbai. In 1998, throwing caution to the winds, these two lovebirds with one child in arms dared to dream, and set sail on an adventure that would lead them to the far shores of United States and their first port of call, St. Louis. Weathering the usual hardships that fall upon people fresh off the boat, they forged on finally hitching their ‘horse and wagon’ in Houston, Texas. They are a well-established couple with two children set towards successful careers. Swati Sardesai (nee Korde) is a Professor at Houston Community College teaching creative arts and Amol is a Creative Director at Pennebaker, Inc. Both have Black Belts in Karate and Amol has participated in the half iron marathon. While Amol has won international awards for graphic design work, Swati has had her watercolours showcased in different parts of the United States including Houston’s renowned museum district. They are both US citizens with a penchant to dream even bigger and when asked if the clock could be turned back would they do things differently they say, “We were born and raised in Mumbai and had friends from all over the world and as thankful as we are for those experiences, we have created a peaceful abode here now and relish our new memories.”
Ranjana Martinez – The Muse
Ranjana Martinez’ multi-faceted background, rich in genealogy, boasts of father Col Priya Ranjan Adhikari of the 3/5th Gurkhas, later Assam Rifles, and Meena Adhikari (nurse and captain in the British Army). After finishing Grad School and while working for Air India, she met her future husband Carlos Ruben Jorge Martinez, an anaesthesiologist from Argentina. She married him and moved to the US, where she was happy making a home for their family.
Most immigrants have success stories of career achievements but Ranjana has created her own legacy because of her compassionate nature. A chance meeting with a young fellow named Barry, her encouraging words asking him to reach beyond the stars coined the now famous phrase, “Yes we can!” This, the 44th President of the United States Barack (Barry) Obama achieved and in one of his speeches alluded to Ranjana’s pep talk that motivated him into community service, law, and politics. Ranjana is the proud recipient of a letter from the White House which Obama wrote to her during his Presidency.
Having lost her husband a few years ago, she is thankful for her son Carlos Ranjan (Charlie) who is doing his third year of residency in Plastic Surgery. Although she is an engineer with a degree from NIT, she has immersed herself in community service and has made San Antonio, Texas her home. An NRI with an ancestry who believed in ‘desh ki sewa’, with roots firmly entrenched in the US, she believes in service to the needy.
Samarth and Neha Mod – New Age Techies
Samarth, born in Chhindwara, MP, India, was raised in Bhopal and earned his Bachelor of IT at SGSITS, Indore, MP, India. He migrated to Canada in 2013 after receiving an entrance scholarship to the University of Victoria’s MBA programme. Armed with a do-or-die attitude, a friend/business partner Rohit Boolchandani and a mentoring professor, Samarth who goes by the abbreviated name ‘Sam’ started dabbling in a startup. He remembers facing many challenges that included cultural barriers but with the help of an investor he successfully launched FreshWorks, an application Development company. What started with just two people grew into a company that employs seventy in the span of less than five years. Freshworks is now recognised as the Top Agile Application Development studio in Canada. In 2019, Sam won the coveted RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant and Top Entrepreneur and was named in the prestigious BC ranks of 30 under 30.
Sam is married to Neha Dubey, whom he met in Indore. Neha chose to take a jump into the abyss of his dreams, unsure of the future ahead but with a strong conviction that faith can move mountains. While continuing to support Sam’s dreams, she carved a niche for herself as a Business Analyst with the Government of British Columbia, and they have both made Canada their home for now. They make up for the life they left behind by surrounding themselves with food, frolic, laughter, and fellow Indians.
These are the new age NRIs whose geographical choices of home and hearth are boundless.