“Canada or Australia?” I ask every friend who tells me they’re leaving the country. I’ve lost count of the number of friends I have bid adieu to in the last two years as they made their way out of India. Growing up, we all had an ‘uncle who lives in the USA’ who supplied us with Hershey’s chocolates once a year. The world’s most powerful country was a natural choice as a destination to live the ‘phoren life’. Nothing signified social status for an Indian more than an American green card. It was like collecting all the infinity stones to snap away the stain of your impoverished country’s lifestyle.Today, my local kirana wala sells me Hershey’s despite his inability to pronounce it in his Rajasthani accent.
The great recession of 2008 obliterated the halo on top of the west as countries that guaranteed success in exchange for hard work. They turned out to be as corrupt as their third world brethren just that their corruption didn’t percolate down to the lowest levels of governance. But then why is the nouveau rich middle class of India and China leaving their country of birth in droves? Why is it that despite all the possible trappings of consumerism firmly setting foot, millenials in both nations desperately manoeuvre to get to the west?
Up until the late 2000s, the USA was every Indian’s promised land. But with the election of Donald Trump, the revered H1B became increasingly difficult to avail. Scores of Indians who went to American universities and treated it as a gateway to their workforce suddenly realised the doors have shut for an easy transition. True to form, Indians didn’t abandon their pursuit of a western life and simply turned their attention towards equally developed but less glamorous countries like Australia and Canada. These nations had the same quality of life (if not better) and ample job opportunities for highly skilled Indians who are renowned for their work ethic and intellect. Today, Australia has increased restrictions for entry considerably, but Canada with its 100 million by 2100 mission is still very much open to people of all nationalities provided they play a vital role in their economic march.
So what is it that forces young Indian men and women to abandon a quarter of a century worth of memories and upbringing to set sail for newer shores after packing a carton of ‘MDH Masale’!?
There are many reasons for their desperation. Primary being our burgeoning population that puts enormous stress on the nation’s Private as well as Government employers to ensure people get a chance to make a livelihood. With open knowledge of having more people of employable age than the number of available jobs, rising number of women who want to enter the workforce and backfiring economic policies, Indian employees are ripe for exploitation. Our work culture is notoriously regressive and work life balance as a concept is laughed at with derision. Despite copious amounts of FDI and VC funded startups sprouting every where, salaries don’t reflect the ground reality of living expenses.
The average Indian urban millenial can’t even dream of buying the same house his/ her father bought ten years ago. The real estate bubble in major Indian urban centres is an open secret but each one of us knows nothing will be resolved any time soon. Who the fuck wants to take a One Crore loan to live in a 1BHK in Mumbai or live in a 2BHK in a satellite city but travel three hours a day to make a living? Have you seen the traffic? It’s never ending and saps at your soul every morning as you try and ignore the constant honking and flouting of rules. We didn’t sign up for this shit! Maybe we are coming off as petulant kids with entitlement issues. Maybe we are just pointing out the fact that we won’t settle for less!
After all, that’s what we were raised on – the relentless drive to do better at every moment and every sphere of life.
The pollution levels are beyond belief, lack of basic civic amenities is frankly infuriating and transport systems are at least two decades behind their time. Why should we risk our mental and physical health when the west offers an infinitely smoother life and decent wages that look even better once you glance at the exchange rates? Safety is another issue that won’t stop being a concern in a country of our size and complexities. To put it simply, the west offers a ‘dignity of life’ that India is just not capable of offering yet. We grew up surrounded by promises of a better future and a life of comfort that was built on the back of our parents’ sacrifice. So when our end of the bargain wasn’t kept, highly educated and skill full Indians decided to jump at the first opportunity to catch a flight to Toronto/ Melbourne. I don’t blame my friends. They are just trying to make the best of what lies in front of them and doing it legally. Shouts of ‘nationalism and patriotism’ get drowned out by the wails of constant social tension and regressive cultural practises in a country that’s fighting to define a new identity.
“India is too difficult” my friend and I concluded on a cold Saturday evening as we headed out of an upscale bar in the satellite city I reside in. My friend will be soon studying in one of India’s premier B-schools but we both know she will leave this country the moment an apt opportunity arises. As I got dropped off outside my colony, I walked towards the only thing that’s keeping me rooted to this incredibly and insanely frustrating environment – Home.
As much as a pointless rebel I am, I just can’t seem to get enough motivation to leave everything behind and head off to a clearly better place on another continent.
I’ve no delusions regarding India’s supposed march towards becoming a superpower when I can see even something as basic as garbage collection not happening as mandated. I will leave my parents abode the day I get married to ensure I give myself a fair chance to create a world of my own. So affinity towards parents isn’t tugging at my heartstrings for sure. So what is it? Frankly speaking, I don’t know. I just don’t feel it from within to go some place else. This reasoning is irrational and dangerously lacking any number based calculation. But I don’t feel it in my bones. I just don’t. Plus I am now focused on learning the tricks of the trade of my chosen professional stream and don’t intend to on board more challenges to contend with.
I regularly touch base with friends who live across the pond and I can assure you they are living fantastic lives but none of them claim to be in utopia. While their Instagram is unbeatable, those places have their own challenges and require sacrifices of a different kind. One acquaintance I met recently at a wedding told me
Living abroad is a trade off. You will get to enjoy all the trappings of a first world country but you will most likely surround yourself with the same people you would hang out with over here. Most importantly, none of your family or cultural practises can be found there.
So ultimately if one does decide to take the immigration plunge, it would be advisable to weigh the pros and cons before doing so. While I pointed out the various petty annoyances of urban Indian living that sap your energy at an alarming rate, it is my estimation that once the Indian economy finally behaves like our leaders pretend it is now, people will stop leaving. Make no mistake, leaving for foreign lands offers much more than a financial boost. The opportunity to indulge in a different culture, practising a fresh outlook and raising your children in an overall better environment that enables them to become true ‘citizens of the world’. For all I know, most of my friends will live outside only to return in a few years to buy a home without a loan! Or maybe they will create a little India wherever they are and visit once in a while to distribute ‘non kirana wala Hershey’s’!