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Mango Pie: An Acquired Taste

June 2005
Mango Pie: An Acquired Taste

In post-Independence India up until recent years, the fascination of migrating abroad, especially to America, was one of the defining characteristics of middle class Indians. Judging from the exodus of the upwardly mobile to the West, it could be said that even Indians did not want to live in India.

How times change! One short decade?the liberalization of Indian markets?a phenomenon called outsourcing? and viola, India is suddenly a desirable destination. Indeed, in one of our recent cover stories, "Homeward Bound," we marveled at the momentum of reverse-migration of Indian expatriates back to the native country.

Indians wanting to move back to India is fanciful enough. But what would have been positively unfathomable to the America-crazed urban Indian of the eighties, is the emerging trend of true-blue Americans wanting to leave behind their vaunted "American Dream" for the crowds and chaos of living in India. Symbolically speaking, this is akin to trading their tried-and-true apple pie for an exotic mango pie.

What to make of this? Sure, there is new energy, dynamism, and opportunities in today's India. But for all the hype, India is yet Third World. Its infrastructures and material standard of living still lags most of the Western countries. Moreover, how could Westerners, used to their personal space and individualism, manage in a place where they might be dependent on the mercy of local language, norms, and culture?

Perhaps this new phenomenon, brought on by globalization, says something about the human condition. A remark by Robert Arnett, acclaimed author of India Unveiled, comes to mind. According to Arnett, the material and spiritual are part of one whole; and India had gone the deep end of spirituality at the cost of the material (hence the abject poverty, etc.). The West, on the other hand, according to Arnett, had gone the deep end of materialism at the cost of the spiritual.

Now that India is starting to afford at least a livable standard of material comforts, a balance may perhaps be found here that was conceivably missing in the comfortable cocoons of the West. Many Indian expats living in the U.S. can attest that the soulless solitude of individualism is not as nourishing to the psyche as is the comfort of a communal and social perspective, which is robust in India.

It is debatable whether such philosophical undercurrents, or simply a sense of adventure, are what draws some Westerners to India. It also remains to be seen how enduring this trend will be. In any case, I leave you with the pithy observation of Dr. Prabhakar Vaidya, a naturalized American now living in India with his American wife: "When you arrive in America, it takes only five minutes to know that it is a good country to live in, but it takes five years to know what might be wrong with it. When you arrive in India, it takes only five minutes to know what is wrong with it, and five years to recognize what is good about it."

- Parthiv N. Parekh

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