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Living There, Living Here

June 2010
Living There, Living Here

If nations were represented as stocks on Wall Street, the United States surely was a blue-chip offering in the 1970s, ’80s, and even the ’90s. From the perspective of Indians, immigrating to America was like entering the fabled Utopia. It was a ticket to “made it!” land that only the lucky ones managed to win. Notwithstanding the soft corner that people have for their motherland, there was very little doubt about which place most Indians would rather live in, given the choice between India and the United States.

What a difference a decade makes! The decision to move to the United States is no longer a surefire bet. Granted, the lure still remains, but the choice is so much more measured, now that the stock of America has taken a distinct dive while India has simultaneously gone up on the charts.

From hard analytical factors such as an economic standard of living and career opportunities to soft socio-cultural values, America is no longer what it once was, even a few short years back. The good, old-fashioned American emphasis on solid customer service is becoming a thing of the past, cynicism is on the rise, and mean shouting has replaced the dignified journalism of the Walter Cronkite era. Healthy political debate has given way to dangerous partisan propaganda.

In the ’80s, as a young, new immigrant in my twenties, I was wide-eyed in awe about American technological prowess. Now, I can hardly believe that the country that gave the world automobiles and airplanes and landed man on the moon is squandering its scientific edge because of backward religious interference, as in the areas of stem cell research and the teaching of biological theories such as evolution.

On the other hand, the stock of India is, oh, so bullish! As one of the few major countries that avoided the fiscal, and particularly, the banking meltdown, India seems like a dynamic, happening place. Growth is mushrooming all over.

Now that the tables have turned, I sometimes wonder, given a choice, where would I rather live today? Is America no longer desirable?

Hardly! It was a visit to India in 2007, amidst its boom, that reaffirmed my preference for my American life. The factors, large and small, are not all that I can easily verbalize.

Despite how America has turned, it is the place that has been and continues to be where I find the most opportunities to live a dignified life. For all its progress, contemporary India assaults my sense of dignity. Maybe it has something to do with this piece of factoid that is doing the rounds—it is a nation where more people have cell phones than toilets. The massive disregard for the common, communal, and social good, as is evidenced in the breakdown of most of its cities, as well as in the lack of public amenities, is surprising considering the Indian ethos that values selflessness and sanctity.

The materialism of contemporary India, I find, seems to be in service of one-upmanship and vanities; the materialism of America, I have found to be in service of an improvement of a standard of living.

I would be amiss if I don’t follow up the above assertions with some caveats: I realize these are very broad generalizations, and deviations and exceptions are bound to exist. I am also fiercely proud of my cultural heritage, which I believe is second to none.

But this can’t take away from my affirmation for America and my American life, which has afforded me freedom (not just legal freedom, but also social and cultural), dignity, and yes, the pursuit of happiness. So, this 4 th of July, I will, once again, raise one for the red, white and blue.

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