Yes, that is what
India is to Indians,
says Chetan Bhagat
I have never really reacted to a piece written by someone
else before. However, the (piece titled) ‘Why I left India
(again)’ made me want to share my own thoughts ( Why I
left India again, by Sumedh Mungee appeared on the New
York Times India blog India Ink October 22).
The well-written article talks about an NRI (non resident
Indian), who returned to his country and then found
enough reason to leave again. The reasons he cites, probably
genuine, seem to revolve around the inability to fit in with
certain aspects of the Indian way of life – be it the treatment
of servants, the poverty or the traffic rules. In a commendable, bold manner the writer claims he did not like the person he had become in India. Thus implying that in India, we
become part of a terrible system and become terrible ourselves. Finally, he and his wife returned back to the USA,
where they now live in California.
So why am I reacting to it? Well, I am doing so because I
am also a returned NRI. I lived in Hong Kong for 11 years,
worked for American investment banks until I finally
returned to India in 2008. Given this, many NRIs often ask
me what is it like to return to India. I am usually too busy
writing books or columns and never get a chance to share
my relocation experience much. The article above talks
about one guy’s relocation (that didn’t work out). I felt I
could provide a different perspective, especially to those
thinking of moving back to the country.
Please note, I am not offended by the article. I am glad he
wrote it. This is something many NRIs feel. Certain foreign
media houses love to carry stories about the ‘poor little
pathetic India’ stereotype or the ‘real muck beneath the
shining India’ stories anyway. After all, everyone has the
right to write, express and feel whatever they want.
We moved to Mumbai in 2008. Both my wife and I
worked in banking jobs then, and domestic help was imperative given our three-year-old twin boys. We had an older
helper who had been with us for a while. She joined us and
brought along her young 18-year-old daughter.
I was particular that the young girl does not become a full
time maid. She was to help her mother, but essentially help
play with the kids and not do hard domestic chores. I saw
potential in her, and enrolled her for a basic computer
course. This meant she needed to go out of the house everyday. Almost everyone in the house protested. My mother
and in-laws, both from a somewhat older school of
thought, didn’t seem too enthused. They felt I was the classic NRI idiot, returned from abroad and now trying to push
his modern reform agenda. Even the girl’s mother (our elder
maid) didn’t seem that excited but approved it. The girl
however was excited and over the moon. They only taught
her data entry, but there was a Maharashtra government
certificate at the end of it. She started to perform well at the
course and soon her mother warmed up to me as well.
RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI /REUTERS
Then, the proverbial disaster struck. The girl had a
boyfriend from her native place near Bangalore. He came to
Mumbai and eloped with her. This was done while she went
to her computer classes. Apparently the girl’s mother had
opposed the guy for an year. Hence, the girl only saw this as
a way out.
Of course, hell broke loose. Everyone in the building
mocked me, for sending my servant to computer classes. We
didn’t find out about the elopement for two days, and everyone in the house had sleepless nights as we went to various
Finally, we found out the girl had married the boy. She
never spoke to me, but sent me a message that she felt
ashamed to have let me down. I was told by my family not
to interfere in how servants are managed.
Around the same time, we also had a driver. He was
extremely good at his job, and soon the family began to trust
him. He used to come to South Mumbai (where we lived)
from far suburbs and dreamt about moving closer (to a
slum, of course). After a year of work, he asked me for
around fifteen thousand bucks, to pay the deposit for his
new place. I asked several questions to establish veracity,
and he gave me reasonable answers.
I gave him the money. He disappeared. I found out later
he had moved to Dubai, as he found a job there. Again, my
family lashed out on me, given my stupidity.
Hence, you can see that I wasn’t exactly off to a great start
in India. Much like the gentleman who wrote that article, I
also was told “all of them are thieves” and to “keep them in