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Turning Full Circle

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May 2003
Turning Full Circle

By SANJAY SINHA

There was a time, not too long ago, when India was not in fashion for the upwardly mobile and ambitious middle classes of the country! Their gaze was invariably fixed westwards, whether it was the nearby Middle East, the farther shores of Great Britain, or, of course, the much vaunted land of opportunity, the United States.

Things may, however, be changing, as an increasing number of graduates and young professionals are slowly but surely shifting their gaze homewards. Partly, because they have begun to feel the impact of the subtle transformation in the global image of the US, combined with the ebb in its economy. But, equally significantly, because India now appears to them as a nation developing a vitality of its own, with its increasingly consumption-oriented middle class and relatively vibrant tech sector. Consequently, America is slowly getting transformed into just one stage in the journey rather than the final destination ? an akhara (gym) where one can tone up one?s muscles and learn the ABCs of professionalism. This class of ?neo-Indians? (or ?States-returned?, as they are commonly called) are gradually making a mark and gaining recognition in different corners of this vast country. And their numbers keep on swelling.

?India is the best place for me. The US was a laboratory -- a land to polish skills, gain experience and exposure,? says Sudesh Bajaj of Micron, one of a fast growing breed who have studied and worked in the US, but have subsequently taken the flight back home in search of opportunities to make their fortunes. Based at Nagpur, he is one of the largest computer dealers in central India.

A New Culture

Today, the Indian economy has opened up and things are more equal and accessible in pure capitalist fashion. Several multinationals have recognized this change and set up shop here. Bajaj adds, ?Competition and professionalism are slowly sinking into the Indian psyche. More importantly, the nation has realised there is no other alternative.?

The country has taken giant strides in recent years. The cities in particular have shown a definite tilt towards the West, not only culturally, but also in terms of the amenities on offer. The old philosophy of ?Save for the future? now has few takers. Spending and living for today is the norm and life revolves around finance companies and credit cards. While this may not exactly be a formula for long-term viability, it has certainly set the wheels of capitalism turning.

The professionals of yesteryears migrated overseas citing lack of facilities and opportunities, but the new generation joining the workforce no longer faces similar disincentives. ?The gap between the US and India has narrowed [in terms of opportunities]. People with motivation and natural talent can do wonders here, as in many other parts of the world,? says Sunil Jain, who quit a lucrative executive job in California to set up a software consultancy firm in Mumbai.

Hangovers of the Past?

Dinesh Sheth, however, strikes a different note. Sheth closed his successful restaurant in Florida to return back to India out of what he describes as ?family compulsions?. Now, he operates a hotel in Gujarat, but is not too happy with the working atmosphere. ?Apart from greasing palms, you have to run after officers for days on end to get any official business done,? he laments. The liberalization process notwithstanding, bureaucratic bottlenecks are still a major hurdle. ?India has a long way to go before she can catch up with the professional and business-like attitude of the Americans,? adds Sheth.

There is some truth in what Sheth says. Real peace and stability ? so vital for development ? is often found lacking in India. The high crime rate coupled with rampant corruption discourages businessmen and affects trade dealings. The law and order machinery is in drastic need of overhauling. Electronic dealings and e-governance are yet to really develop.

India, in fact, is a land of extremes. One can find business tycoons and sporting demi-gods, Bollywood extravaganzas as well as parties and functions where glitz, glamour and riches reign supreme. On the flip side there are starvation deaths, heart-wrenching poverty, disease and dirt. In a nutshell, the country is a rich mixture of the best and the worst.

But, the difference is that India now at least offers some viable options to those who are upwardly mobile and ambitious. Today, many people are having second thoughts about leaving the country in search of better prospects elsewhere. The difference is palpable and often underscored by actual experience. Just hang out at any Bangalore bar and you will surely run into those who have been to the promised lands and are now back at home. The wheel has literally turned a full circle.


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