Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Relocating to India from US – More about “Mindset”

After I wrote “Read This if You Have Plans to Relocate to India from US Ever” I came across two articles – one written by Sumedh Mungee in New York Times and a reply to that by famous Indian writer Chetan Bhagat - that underlines what I wrote in my blog about "mindset" that is essential for those who are relocating to India. In the first article, Sumedh narrates why he could not adjust his life in India after his return from US and his reasons to return back to US in less than 3 years. Chetan Bhagat in this article recounts his experiences once he relocated to India and how he made India a better place to live for him and his family. 
Here are few excerpts from the article of Sumedh Mungee 
…after being away for eleven years (I grew up in Mumbai), I was prepared for India to feel less like home and more like the  flight’s “Indian vegetarian meal”: visually familiar but viscerally alien.
Our daughter attended a preschool in Bangalore whose quality matched any in the Bay Area. Our three-bedroom flat in Defence Colony, Indiranagar, was so comfortable and so American-friendly that my friends called it the Green Zone.
Three months after our return, after a friend told me that his two children were sick with amoebiasis — he thought they got it from their maid — my wife and I designated a separate set of dinnerware for our maids. It’s more hygienic.
Within six months, I’d brusquely refused my driver an emergency loan of 500 rupees ($10) to attend his grandmother’s funeral. I’d learned my lesson after our previous driver scammed me into paying for his son’s broken leg (as it turned out, he had no son). It only encourages them to ask for more; besides, they’re all liars.
What does this tells you after reading all these? The author had the “mindset” of an American and is not ready to give up that “mindset” even after relocating to India. His mindset wanted everything American in India and failed miserably and has to go back to US.
Now some excerpts from Chetan Bhagat’s article
We had another set of two maids. One of them is another young girl, around 20 years old from a village in Ratnagiri. I told her she has to learn something. She chose English and found a set of classes near the house. Everyone opposed me again. I told her to go ahead anyway. She has joined classes. She has not run away. This morning she said to me in slow but perfect English “Bhaiya, would you like your breakfast”, smiled and I felt it was worth it.
In my house, nobody is allowed to call the maids servants. We call them helpers, the kids call them ‘didis’. There is no question of separate cutlery. They eat what we eat, and are paid enough that they can afford good clothes, soap and shampoo that the hygiene standards are at par with us.
My elder maid has kids in Bangalore. Every summer, we call them to our house to live with us. They play with my kids, with their toys. When we go to Bangalore, my kids spend a day in her house. They haven’t fallen sick because of it.  Whenever she wants leave, if it is reasonable, we send her home. Every week, both maids have a day off. Every Diwali, we give them a bonus and a raise, given the high inflation rates. This year, I had a new book which did well, hence the bonus will be bigger.
Now Chetan Bhagat came back to India from Hong Kong with the “mindset” to live like an Indian in India and also to put into practice some good things he learned abroad. One needs to have a “mindset” like Chetan Bhagat if you have to successfully relocate to India. Otherwise you will be like Sumedh Mungee and in no time will be in an Indian airport to catch a flight back to US.
So what are your thoughts after reading both the articles?
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12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This "Relocating to India" series was very interesting, Brijesh..

Keep walking.. Keep writing!!!

-- GS

October 25, 2011 7:30 PM  
Blogger kool said...

Hey Brijesh -

Sorry, completely unrelated to this blog entry but why did you take out the facebook 'like' or 'recommend'? It's easy to share from here after reading the whole blog entry rather than going back to facebook and then share it. Can you please enable it back?

Thanks!

October 25, 2011 11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's becoming increasingly clear that issues like these seem to be analyzed with little objectivity and vary vastly with individual opinion. Those who have positive feelings about living in India will focus only on the good and block out the bad. Case in point, in the excerpts you chose to leave out the meat of Mungee's blog. Points like - "Near the first anniversary of our return, I had my first road-rage incident: I verbally abused a hawker who was blocking the road. The hawker glared but scampered away, the road cleared, and, as I walked back to my car, I saw something new and disturbing in my driver’s eyes: respect. I don’t know how my daughter felt because I couldn’t look her in the eye."

Or, "India’s wealth and lifestyle disparity is still impossibly great; I probably spent more on pizza than on my maid. She knew this too, because she was often the one who handed the pizza delivery guy his money. Everyone in India has to deal with this, but I coped in the worst possible way: by dehumanizing her and other people like her, ever so slightly, ever so subtly — chronic amoebiasis of the soul."

And, "Though my return to India failed, I came back feeling more optimistic than ever about India’s long-term success. India is regaining her leadership position. It’s just that I’ve realized — I’ve resigned myself to the fact — that I won’t be a part of that future."

What you did quote was not only irrelevant to the point he was trying to make but also misleading. The original piece had the 'hygeine' and liars' parts italicized, thereby implying that those were the common metaphors associated with India - not Mungee's personal opinion. This detail too wasn't reproduced.

By far one of your most biased posts I've read..

-Anand

October 26, 2011 3:22 AM  
Blogger Brijesh Nair said...

GS
Thanks

Kool
I tried few times (even today) but is not working in my blog. FB has phased out "Share" button with "Like" button and after that I am having some problem. May be because I am still using the old blogger platform. Any techies out there who can help me?

Anand
My bad... I had those words in italics when I copied. While editing it I forgot to make it in italics again. Corrected. Thanks for letting me know.

October 26, 2011 11:24 AM  
Blogger Karthikeyan said...

Brijesh,
I have to disagree with your interpretation of both the articles.

1) Sumedh's article is about how he had to drop basic decency and compassion over time since he was duped by one/two times during his stay. He found that he cannot continue to be callous about the extreme poverty and inequality around here. Maybe, he didn't want to do his bit to make a difference and maybe he ran away. But that has nothing to do with American way of thinking. It's sad that we Indians think being absolutely indifferent to things around us is what makes us Indian.

2) If you are arguing that Chetan Bhagat's way of helping his maids and giving them their due respect and a good salary (with hikes) is the average Indian mindset, i am sorry, i don't know where this India exists. It surely doesn't exist in South Asia.

While i agree one has to get their expectations out of govt machinery and all the associated services way down before moving to India, your argument from those two excerpts are contradicting with your claim about having an Indian mindset. If anything Chetan Bhagat should be an example of a non-indian mindset which found a way to exist in India.

My 2 cents.

October 27, 2011 7:36 AM  
Blogger Brijesh Nair said...

Karthik
Read the following sentence once again and I think that will answer your question ".Now Chetan Bhagat came back to India from Hong Kong with the “mindset” to live like an Indian in India and also to put into practice some good things he learned abroad."

In India when a servant or a driver left him CB did not panic. Now giving decent salary and respect - something we dont see in Indian society - he should have learned abroad.

I am sure you know what I meant - we see everyday in US how all jobs are respected. Once you see that you should be able to respect servants working in your houses also in India... That was the point I was making.

October 27, 2011 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lol..you sound like someone standing trial for murder admitting to a petty theft and walking away. I see potential for you to be a politician! ;)

You're a good blogger otherwise, and one of the hallmarks of being a good blogger is to admit when you goof up and move on to the next blog. I would suggest you re-read everything and just admit you messed up and move on. Even the best make errors in judgement - being human by definition means these error are inevitable..

-Anand

October 27, 2011 4:48 PM  
Blogger Brijesh Nair said...

Anand,
OK.. Let me explain now… after eighteen months of stay in India I could relate a lot to what Chatan Bhagat has written. I also have similar experiences to tell. I thought initially I will put that also in the same blog post then I thought I will do that another time. But now I feel I should tell my experience.

We live in school quarters consisting of little over 100 apartments. Two thirds of the houses have servant maids. I have seen them being ill treated, paid less and stuff like that. I can proudly say that (those staying in the same apartment complex as mine is also reading this) we treat both our servant maids very well and most probably the pay they get is the best in the whole apartment complex. Some of the neighbors are upset with us that we are paying them high compared to others. I have told my neighbors couple of times that as long as our servant maids do the job well we will pay them handsomely. Again initially we had some issues with our servant maid similar to what was narrated in NY Times article but that time also I had the mindset to understand that such things do happen and no point in making a big deal out of it. Partly from my own experience that was very similar to what Chetan Bhagat wrote in his article that I wrote you need to have the mindset like Chetan Bhagat if you plan to relocate to India.

Thanks for those nice words about my blogging.

October 28, 2011 3:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had numerous personal experiences in Bombay like Mungee's and heard countless first hand accounts from close friends. One pretty much had to choose between getting duped every other day, or turning into someone stone-hearted and callous. I don't want to stereotype an entire nation, for that would be unfair and incorrect, and the reasons behind systemic problems of low levels of personal integrity could be anything from overpopulation to lack of basic necessities - but that's probably a separate topic by itself.

While your personal interactions with the domestic help are commendable (btw, your situation and your reaction sound atypical of an average Indian community), I don't feel you've been able to grasp Mungee's "chronic amoebiasis of the soul" - which is, in some ways, the gist of his experiences in India. And I don't want to write a precis on his work here. Or maybe you did, and feel that being 'thick-skinned' means having a good 'mindset'? Either way, I don't think a few more words or lines will help much here. India is so vast and varied that it is possible (although not probable) that the two of us may have had completely different experiences. We'll probably just have to agree to disagree on this one and move on..

-Anand

October 28, 2011 6:23 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach said...

"Mindset" rather than the specifics that come from the mindset is the point I think Brijesh is trying to make.

It's not possible to live as one nationality in another culture/country. If we go with that mentality we will surely have not only culture shock but could even fall into a deep depression!

I am an American living in India. I know intellectually it's erroneous to believe I can live exactly like an American in India. (I've already felt this in so many ways. One example here in India I have to follow up on a lot of things with my clients where in US clients will generally automatically return calls within 24-48 hours- so I have to adapt my mindset and behavior to this change to retain my clients in India.)

Emotionally, yes I want some things to be the same- like interactions so I can understand people better. But the reality is not like that. If I can not come to terms with this - I would never be able to adjust in India and enjoy myself.

For someone to say they can live exactly like an Indian abroad is also not true. When you live in another country you have to adjust in some ways to be successful there. You will have to do things different- write resumes differently to get hired. Interact with bosses or subordinates different. Find different ways to use English or talk to others in a foreign language and find ways to impress in that work culture and environment. The same things that can get you a promotion in US will not be the same (always) in India. So if someone thinks they are living abroad just like they would in India is just as erroneous as me saying I can live just like an American in India!

The article from the guy coming back to Bangalore- my heart goes to him- because he is surely having a reverse culture shock and probably identity crisis.

October 28, 2011 7:40 AM  
Blogger Thinkerbelle said...

To Anand/Anonymous
- You said "The original piece had the 'hygeine' and liars' parts italicized, thereby implying that those were the common metaphors associated with India - not Mungee's personal opinion. "
In his post Mr. Munghee states that he had separate dinnerware for his domestic help and for his family. All this because his friend 'suspected' that his kids got amoebiasis from their maid. If, as you state, Mungee did not believe in the 'hygiene' issues why choose to do this?
Not that Im expecting you to do a psycho-analysis of Munghees behavior, but it would seem like you are being rather biased in your own take of his post.
Also, back-handed compliments like "I see potential for you to be a politician" are funny when they are said my politicians. Its best if we leave such petty comments to them.

October 29, 2011 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brijesh,
nice article, even though I dont have to go thr' this . But I have been thinking about relocating to kerala , I think that will require a major change in "Mindset" :-)

I wish you you had separated your post into two sections
1) Relocating to kerala 2) reloacting to other states than kerala :-)

-Binu

October 31, 2011 5:08 PM  

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