In the past two+ decades, I have lived and worked in a dozen countries across three continents. And during the time, I have frequently visited India.
After making annual trips back to my hometown from my adopted homeland in America, I recently took a conscious decision to spend an extended period of time in Bangalore. My family story is not atypical of that of scores of other NRIs – aging parents unable to manage on their own due to flailing health, yearning for their offspring’s to be around. Rather than contributing to the emerging market of “old age” homes in India by coaxing my parents to spend their sunset years in one such institution, I thought spending quality time with them was more valuable. Thus my wife, son and I find ourselves back in the bedroom in a home where I spent college years.
The fact is that not all NRIs are judgmental about India. So why do NRIs come across as being judgmental, even without meaning to do so?
The key reason is that NRIs have a point of reference. Having experienced better quality of life in the West - enforcement of law and order, zoning in cities, orderly traffic - NRIs may find the chaos of urban India jarring.
Population - Over 1.2 billion people, over three times the population of the US lives in in a land “About twice the size of Alaska” More people chasing fewer resources can impose a burden on the society - lesser land to build, more people with more cars driving or roads that can’t expand etc etc.
NRIs may subconsciously be comparing the life “back home” with the urban sprawl they encounter during visits to India.
Traffic and pollution - This is perhaps a genuine criticism. I learnt to drive a stick-shift car in India years ago and have owned Automatic cars in the west. During my trips back to India, I am comfortable driving on the left-side and just following the traffic at low-speeds. However, the effort involved in trying really hard not to bump into bikes ziz-zagging between cars, navigating between taxis, cabs and autos trying to cut across lanes can be stressful, to say the least.
I am learning to navigate through traffic as safely as I can but I wonder if complaining about chaotic roads makes me judgmental?
Utter lack of zoning or enforcement of zoning. Take the example of Bangalore where “residential” and “commercial” areas are clearly mapped in the city plan documented by different government agencies. However, the reality is different in most “residential neighborhoods,” Multi-story flats, office complexes, hostels and shops co-exist, adding to the strain on civic resources - water, sewage, electric and roads.
NRIs, who have learnt to respect zoning regulations, and enforcement of civic responsibilities may find it jarring to see neighborhoods they grew up in turn out to be concrete jungles.
Bottomline: India continues to change; some of it is for the good and some not-so good. Check out my blog post (link posted at the bottom)
Read the rest of my musings: Return to India Musings: when a home becomes a golden egg - on Mohan's blog and musings