Perspective : I am Not a Non-Reliable Indian

Vivek Gumaste
Even faraway from our land our efforts and fortunes were inextricably linked to our country and our identity as Indians.Our minds thought for our country and our heart beats for our motherland. We eagerly waited for any way in which we could help, not with arrogance or a condescending patronization but with genuine desire to be an equal shareholder in the progress of our nation. I will not belittle our efforts or my nation by enumerating those instances here. We did it because it was our duty and we loved our country. We did not see it as a favor, says the author.

While paying tribute to Tom Alter, the American who made India his home (Tom Alter, a Man Who Batted Straight. HT. Oct 7, 2017) Ramachandra Guha in an aside makes some uncalled for and uncharitable comments about Non-Resident Indians.

These acerbic comments are in poor taste, insensitive and reflect an ignorant superficiality that lacks depth; a microcosm of the subliminal prejudice that some Indians wrongly harbor about their expatriate fellow Indians. As an NRI I am compelled to set the record right with a straight bat!

Ramachandra Guha condescendingly avers: “The term NRI stands for Non- Resident Indian. Since these NRIs turned their back on the land that nurtured them, and since so many of them grumble so much about the condition of the country they left behind, they have sometimes been referred to as Non- Reliable Indians. The wealthiest as well as the most unreliable of these NRIs are, of course, those who live in the United States of America. To those kind of expatriates, I would like to juxtapose their exact opposite; Americans who made the reverse journey and settled in this country. These are the ARIs, or Americans Resident in India.”

Let me counter point by point the medley of charges that Guha levels against NRIs to lay bare the vacuity of this libel.

The charge that ‘NRIs turned their back on the land that nurtured them’ is the unkindest cut of all; a stab in the back that is excruciatingly painful and a sweeping generalization that is too simplistic to be taken seriously. The early 60s to the 80s was a difficult time for India and Indians; the country was experiencing the growing pains of a nascent nation that was still mired in extremes of poverty and perpetual need; money was hard to come by and professional careers limited.

Somewhere in our hearts we constantly feel a pinch of guilt for having left our country but you make it appear that we did it willingly, deliberately and gleefully.

I can assure you that we did not leave our land with a sense of euphoria. We left our nation prompted by a variety of reasons, circumstances that were professionally, economically or personally unfeasible. Yes, I will not deny that we sought greener pastures for ourselves abroad.

 And the path was not easy. We stood huddled in the cold outside JFK with barely 5 dollars in our pockets (that was all the foreign exchange that was allowed in those days) waiting expectantly, not knowing whether the acquaintance who had promised to pick us up would come or not. Doctors from back home worked as waiters on hourly wages, engineers pumped gasoline late into the night and we did not hesitate to do the most menial of jobs.

We bowed our heads yesterday so that young Indians could walk with their heads held high today.

But in the end, we succeeded. Our doctors are considered one of the best in world, our engineers rule the roost in America’s Silicon Valley and the best American Universities are flush with Indian-Americans. We even count Nobel Laureates amongst our midst.

It is too simplistic and telescopic to deem this as a purely personal venture in isolation. It cannot be dismissed as personal travails and triumphs irrelevant to the broader narrative of India.

When we made a name for ourselves we also made a name for our country as well. And whatever money we earned we shared it unstintingly with our family and friends back home

Even faraway from our land our efforts and fortunes were inextricably linked to our country and our identity as Indians.  Our minds thought for our country and our heart beats for our motherland. We eagerly waited for any way in which we could help, not with arrogance or a condescending patronization but with genuine desire to be an equal shareholder in the progress of our nation. I will not belittle our efforts or my nation by enumerating those instances here. We did it because it was our duty and we loved our country. We did not see it as a favor.

True, physically we left our country but we did not turn our backs on our country.  No Mr. Guha, we did not abandon our motherland.

Yes, we do grumble at times about the country we left behind. But it is not to denigrate India; neither is it a reflection of a new- found superiority complex. It is because of a genuine desire to see our country do as well as other countries, to be able to see it as a progressive, modern and respectable nation of the world.

To single out NRIs from America is crass, petty and unfair.

Yes, there is no denying that there are a few amongst us whose demeanor is less than complimentary but to paint all of us black with one broad brush is just unacceptable

We have distinguished ourselves as Indian-Americans but that word Indian of that hyphenated phrase holds a lot of significance for us; it is a part without which we are not a whole. Even the worst amongst us (I am not denying that there are few) who constantly bad mouth India hold steadfastly on to a dream of returning home till their last breath knowing fully well the futility of such a hope -an enduring testimony to our love for our country. So please do not trivialize our feelings.

Maybe a piece of paper does give you some additional privileges but morally and emotionally the country that gave birth to us is as much ours as yours. Nothing that you do or say is going to take away from that.

NRI Indians and resident Indians are like two sons/daughters of one mother. Just because I chose to move away it does not diminish my love for my mother or my right to her affections.

Finally, with a sense of pique, I must say this: My bond with my country is direct, unconditional and uncompromised by distance and requires no intermediary. Neither does it crave the approval of resident Indians like you and or warrants any official sanction. Nothing that you do or say can ever or even diminish by an iota the love and respect I have for my country. I will always be there for Mother India. And I know that with her expansive heart she will always be there for every one of her children in whichever part of the world they are.

(The author is an Academic and Political Commentator. He can be reached at [email protected])

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