Why I choose to stay in India and always will.

Yes, this post is a response to the post by Sumedh Mungee. No, it is not an angry retaliation or a tirade against Indians who choose to make their home in other countries. Nor is it a rant about the ones who stay but have given up. This is simply my story. It is why I choose to stay and fight.

I’m not much of a patriot, I don’t have strong opinions about our politicians or our rightful place in the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and see how things ought to be – the beautiful, pot-hole free clean streets, drivers that don’t have their palms stuck to the horn, suburban homes that have lawns and gardens, brilliant infrastructure (Tokyo Metro is heaven compared to a Malad-Churchgate local), polite, friendly people. I could go on, but you get the picture. Yes, I know what we’re missing – but I choose to live in India despite all this – because I want to change things.

There are many Indias, as Mr Mungee says, but there are a lot more than the three he talks about. There’s the mother who rents out her womb so her family is fed, there’s the super spoilt middle-class brat who’s never had to lift a finger his whole life, there’s the farmer who kills himself because he can’t stand to see his children starve, there’s the teen whose only mission is to party and spend daddy’s millions, there’s tired, exhausted working class India that only wants to make it from one day to the next with a modicum of dignity and self-respect. But in this multitude of Indias there is one simple underlying truth – if we want these Indias to change, we’re the ones who have to change things.

The disparity in income, the cultural differences, the dehumanised maid – they’re ills we live with every day. I’ve heard all the arguments before: You can’t fight the system, nothing changes, the corruption is never ending. We bribe our way through red tape because it’s easier to do so; we break traffic rules because everybody does it, we throw trash into the street because ‘where are the dustbins?’ I get it. India ‘sucks’ on a number of levels. But one of the cruellest blows is that people like you and me, people with educations, consciences and common sense choose to say: What can one person do? So we give up.

Who do you think is going to make the change if not you and me? It’s already obvious that the vast majority in this country refuses to acknowledge there is a problem. Someone has to make that start. I know it’s tough to be the change. But being the change is definitely braver than running away and infinitely more fulfilling than ranting about it on a social forum.

Cultures evolve when its citizens stand up and hold themselves accountable for their own actions first. A friend who runs an NGO once told me how he never used Social Media to recruit volunteers. It’s easy to press a like button, he said, but tiresome to give up a Saturday of fun. So true.

We’re turning into a race of defeated armchair activists. And the only people losing out are us. It’s time to ask, what have I done for my country today? And you really don’t have to do all that much to contribute. Start small – throw garbage into a bin instead of the road, use less plastic, volunteer to teach someone, help out at a women’s shelter, create entrepreneurs by microlending. The list is endless.

If you need a more concrete example – this one is tried and tested and one I can vouch for: Give your maid a day off every week, pay her an equitable wage for the work she does. Get her health insurance. Give her holidays for festivals. Treat her like a cherished employee. Is it tough? No. Will you always succeed? No. But you will change things – at least for that one person. You’ll make a difference. You’ll get to look yourself in the eye every morning. Best of all you’ll get to look your kid in the eye and say, This is your country – cherish her. Be her change. Be her champion.


40 thoughts on “Why I choose to stay in India and always will.

  1. I live in the U.S. but this applies to many people here as well. When my daughter was little, we hired a nanny who was a Mexican immigrant. We paid her well above minimum wage, with paid vacation and holidays, paid her social security. We offered her health insurance but since she had it through her husband’s work she asked for more money instead. Some of my colleagues couldn’t understand this. Couldn’t I pay less? Well, you get what you pay for. She didn’t speak English but she was a terrifically reliable, self-motivated person. Yes, I could have taken advantage of a person with few options, paid her poverty-level wages with no benefits so I could buy myself a newer, shinier car. I’d like to be a better model for my children than that.

  2. There are many like you. We have 1 full time servant who stays 24 hours in the house and has his own room in the flat building we stay in. he takes off 2-3 days a month. He has a separate bank account that I created for him where I deposit 1500 a month that is his savings. We also have a maid whose mother started working for us 40 years ago. She also has a separate bank account in a Post Office monthly scheme where I put in an equivalent amount for her old age. She also takes 2-3 days a month off. We take care of all medical and other expenses for them as well as for our driver’s family. Our driver gets almost double the “going rate” as he has stuck with us for 8 years and I increased his salary every year that he stayed with us. That way we have a stable “employee base” who are almost part of the family where we rely on them implictly to look after us and our belongings even when we are not here. They have keys to our house and come and go as they need to. Again, I spent a dozen years abroad in UK, USA and came back to Kolkata, where we make a difference to people’s lives in our small way.As far as I know, most of my friends are also like me where they would rather give more money, more dignity to people who work for them than try and haggle their way into the world.

    • Agree with you. Mungee’s article is akin to a monologue (HE is talking, India is a bystander), whereas Bzib’s here is more of a conversation, a conversation between her and India.

      • Mariellen and Ram: Great discussion. Yes, my post was about my own weaknesses and dilemmas, and not, as so many have misunderstood it to be, a general statement about India.

  3. great post.as mr gandhi himself said “be the change you want to see in the world” do your bit and let other people see it.things will change for sure.running away is never an option

  4. After reading Sumedh Mungee’s article, I was thoroughly pissed off. Added to it was the fact that I’ve been having a bad headache today. And having lived on and off in France, I have met some Indians like him. Go back to India, don’t really get used to it, pack your bags one day and go back to some more ‘modern’ country, and then….rant that India wasn’t/isn’t good enough for any number of reasons, in addition say that now India is getting better (though not good enough for the ones who left India). Excuse me? Better than what? Are you saying that India was rotten earlier? That ‘earlier’ when you grew up here, ate, played, slept, etc.?

    After reading your article though, I feel much lighter. The headache too has now diminished. Thank you for the humane thoughts and deeds you have written about. Humanity and sane people still exist. Thank You.

    • Hi Ram,
      I’ve never thought of myself as a headache buster until now. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words. But really, going by all the amazing feedback I’ve received since I posted this, I’m just one among a number of Indians who are the change this country needs. Knowing that there are so many of us gives me hope and a firmer resolve.
      Have a happy Diwali!

  5. Who do you think is going to make the change if not you and me?

    At the 10,000-foot level, the 100-year level, the literate, blog-reading people of India are neither the problem nor the solution, even if they act with complete solidarity. Their faults and their efforts, large though they may be, are mere rounding errors compared to the unrelenting, inexorable forces of the real “public.”

    That, however, is not the reason I choose not to return. I choose not to return because somewhere between 22 and 32, between living on the West Coast and the East Coast, I started caring more about myself than about changing India. At 22 I was as keenly aware of the intractability of the India problem as I am now. What has changed since then is I now don’t care about India. To anyone else trying to articulate their reasons for not returning — why not leave it at this? Why weave webs of intellectual dishonesty to cloak your fall from grace?

    • Now this is what an honest reply is. While there may be some people like Bzib who say they choose to stay in India because they really want to be the change and mean what they say, I’ve seen countless other who say the exact same thing but would jump to US at the slightest hint of an opportunity – Sour Grapes, as I see it. Most of the people care more about themselves and their family than they do about India and they’re here only because they’ve no other option or are unaware of modernism.

      Believe me, I’m done with my bachelors now and I was giving the same reason for not applying for masters – “I want to stay in India because I like it”. On introspection, I realized it was only out of laziness that I said that. Oh well, I’ve made up my mind to go for masters now. I don’t want my kids to struggle for education and jobs in a country that passes one legislation over another on reservation while preaching equality of everyone (now don’t give me fundas about “Affirmative action” – I know it well.). and where no job can be done without dropping a few currency notes into people’s hands.

      Oh well, I expect a tirade of “politicians are who you vote for; they’re who you are” statements. Be realistic, you actually care only for YOURSELF and you know pretty well that, unless you’re a good orator which I’m not, you CANT really do anything to change the state of things.

      To other people who feel happy after reading this article, I’d suggest you read this wiki article and think once what made you happy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

      • For my part, my (yet unborn) kids’ future drives no part of my decision. I’m not from a place like El Salvador where people are so desperate to escape to the US, they risk their lives to do it. My kids would be just fine if they grew up in India; education and jobs would not be a problem, and they could leave after college if they wanted to. Who knows what my kids’ sensibilities and motivations will be? It ain’t about the kids, it’s about me.

      • You speak of your unborn kids? Wow India sure has given you such a foreseeing ability, I doubt if you would be the same if you lived somewhere else. Let me try that train of thought: I have finished my bachelors last year and I sure had and still have the opportunity to go abroad, do MS, get a job, come back to India for 10 days (in which I will get married) and then go to US for ever, meanwhile I will be sending lots of money back to my parents in India who boast to my relatives about “Their son being settled in the US”. Well, I have thought, thought hard and I have stopped to think about it. I needed these thoughts, needed them to ask myself: Is this what I want? Is this how my life will be? What will I do for my country? Is my life going to be only about satisfying myself and if possible a few near ones? NO! I’m going to stay here, I will get lesser salary with my B.Tech degree, but I will stay closer to my parents, closer to my friends, closer to my relatives.I will teach in Govt schools on Saturdays, I will teach in those schools who don’t have teachers even for board exam taking kids, I will teach in Private schools for high school kids, I will teach them things which I wanted to learn when I was their age and teachers wouldn’t teach those stuff because they were “out of syllabus”, I will teach them about the fascinating universe, magic, world of sports which I wanted to know so badly when I was in my high school days (Sadly the person who was supposed to teach me probably went abroad). I will try to do my bit to this country by working in an NGO. I’m definitely not worried about my future kids. I have lived here, I’m not scared about the security of something which doesn’t even exist (No offence dear future kids). Meanwhile I’m preparing for IAS, cleared the prelims, written the mains exam. To clear it, though I will exhaust every ounce of strength I have, even If I don’t, no problem, I have a job, I will do my best, I can always do an MTech or MBA in the future, but NEVER will I lose the will to work for my country in any small way I can. Because I’m not scared, not scared. not scared (Echoes)

      • PraZ,

        As you’re shaping your life, do consider studying abroad for a couple of years if it happens to fit with your career plans. The broadening of perspective is invaluable. (As you can imagine, it’s a much richer experience than a short visit for pleasure.)

        Considering your extraordinary zeal, the second suggestion I had is to consciously think of impact, not just contribution. Think exponentiation, not addition; compound interest, not simple interest; chain reaction, not illumination; audacity, not ambition.

      • @PraZ
        I appreciate your ambitions and I’ve to say that one of my roommates just gave IAS mains as well. However, even as sincere IAS officers who really want to change the state of things, will you be able to take decisions and make a difference, bypassing the head of moronic elected officials?
        Your phase of disillusionment will start the moment you realize that your much sensible decisions are ignored, and the more vote fetching ones are considered instead. I’m pretty sure there are a bunch of IAS officers who’ve tried their best to guide Mayawati or Jayalalitha and have failed miserably.

  6. As I wrote there:

    It’s a very good and honest article. I can totally relate to the author’s internal struggle. He probably feels like a धोबी का कुत्ता, न घर का – न घाट का

  7. Different people have different tolerance levels. What Sumedh did was what he could do best. Maybe your tolerance is higher than his. Maybe you have better motivations to stay on in India. Whatever it may be, everyone has the right to make their choices. He made his, you made yours. No questions should be asked. Period.

    • Hi Samir,
      This is merely my story. It does not in any way question or judge Sumedh’s or anyone else’s right to live where they choose. I have a lot of friends and family who live overseas. They wanted a better life for themselves and their families and they are as happy in their decision as I am for them.

      My decision to write this very personal post was simply to offer up another perspective, mine. I wrote it because I believe the world deserves to know that an opposite perspective can also exist. And since it is a perspective I follow through with every day, I do qualify to talk about it.

      Have a happy Diwali!

      • It does not in any way question or judge Sumedh’s or anyone else’s right to live where they choose.

        Not true; you did express judgment: “But being the change is definitely braver than running away and infinitely more fulfilling than ranting about it on a social forum.”

      • Dear Anaam Maanav,
        If taken out of context, yes, it does sound like I’m passing judgement. But do read the paragraph you picked that from again:

        “Who do you think is going to make the change if not you and me? It’s already obvious that the vast majority in this country refuses to acknowledge there is a problem. Someone has to make that start. I know its tough to be the change. But being the change is definitely braver than running away and infinitely more fulfilling than ranting about it on a social forum.”

        I’m referring to Indians like me, who live in India, who are part of the problem when they can do their bit to be the solution.

        Have a happy Diwali!

    • Samir,
      I don’t think Bzib is questioning Mr. Mungee’s right to choose the country he wishes to live in. What is an outrage however is the manner in which he justifies his behavior and the ‘bad’ that India brought out in him. India has and always will be the same. The fact that an educated software engineer decided to designate a separate set of dinnerware for his maids… is proof of how much he’s evolved after leaving India. I have news for him. You can fall sick in California, you can get swindled for every penny you have and you can get shot while driving. So make a choice pal, by all means. But don’t put down the country that raised you. It has made you what you are.
      BziB has just spoken with passion and expressed an opinion. A right we all possess being Indian.

  8. Both these articles accomplish effectively to show the two sides of a complex story. Mr Mungee’s very subjective opinion emerges from his being conditioned by the 11 years of staying in America. Depending on how deeply the comfort and luxury of the western world had affected his view of life his experiences in Bangalore were bound to bring out a drastic resurfacing of repressed lamentations. It is like the experimental animals in laboratory facilities who have been conditioned to the life of regulated air, water, and food. If you now let these animals back into the wild – then only the most adaptable will be able to survive…barely. Without an option to return back to the animal facility, the ones who cannot adapt to the life in the wild will perish. Although this is a dramatic analogy, this is what happens when conditioning permeates the psychological make up of a person’s perspective. They used to say that you can take an Indian out of India, but never India out of an Indian. It may be supposed that this does not strictly apply anymore. Some have been too conditioned to re-adapt to where they came from. It is too wild. Like Red says in the Shawshank Redepmtion – Institutionalized!
    There is a line from a beautiful song by Pink Floyd, ” Did you exchange, a walk-on part in a war, for a lead-role in a cage?”

    • The Pink Floyd question is a wise and important one, and every ambitious, talented, enlightened person should put the question to themselves. What is my impact, my legacy, my contribution? Where is my meaningful participation in a beautiful and grand effort? Answers are all over the world; India is not every Indian’s mission. Most non-poor people in the world, expatriate Indians or not, are ossified in the ease of scheduled lives. That’s the cage.

      The second thing I wanted to say is there is more to the draw of the developed West than material comfort and luxury. For a small percentage of us, the primary draw is being surrounded by beauty to our particular tastes. Visual, linguistic, natural, conversational beauty.

  9. ” the beautiful, pot-hole free, clean streets, drivers that don’t have their palms stuck to the horn, suburban homes that have lawns and gardens, brilliant infrastructure (Tokyo metro is heaven compared to a Malad-Churchgate local), polite, friendly people. I could go on, but you get the picture. Yes, I know what we’re missing – but I choose to live in India despite all that – because I want to change things ” .
    I have been born in India and have lived my life in India .. proud of my country, would be an understatement !
    The way you choose to see India and the way you are trying to be a ‘ change’ to a country which is already changing, has educated, concerned citizens and the way you have written the lines above is very demeaning !
    Living and being a part of a country which has cultural differences and yet lives as one is what we are proud of ! You cannot under any circumstance generalize all the deplorable points you have written ! Treating our helps as people .. we do .. giving them holidays .. we do .. well i wouldn’t like to give explanations for what you fail to see !
    You need to change your way of thinking and not behave as one who can change and be the one who is the ‘ know all end all ‘ ! I am surprised that being educated yourself you see India in such a narrow minded way !
    ‘ De humanized maid ‘ you say ? You hear two stories and you write that as a part of your blog ? I agree with you that we are a country which has our draw backs .. tell me one which doesn’t ! But do not put us down and show as if you are the one who is educated and we are the God forsaken lot !
    Please delve in deeper in this far richer country of ours before you next time plan to write few lines of your story !

  10. Was a very interesting thread here and wanted to share some thoughts on this.I can totally relate to Mungee’s opinion rant or whatever you call it. I had lived in Japan for a period of 19 years before choosing to move back to Chennai my home town. Boy am I happy and relieved to be back.
    Living in a sterlie environment like Tokyo, has helped me in a lot of ways. The cleanliness , the punctuality , politeness, honest, can keep on going. On the flip side there is lot of negative things as well, the conformity, everything goes by rules and very orderely , which in our Indian blood is very alien.
    Coming back was bliss and euphoria but it slowly died down seeing a lot of things as Mungee wrote. Total lack of civic sense and utter irresponsblity as citizens. The time I left in 1990 and now there has been a total change in India but still we havent progresses being responsible citizens. We have taken the system for granted. Indiscriminate throwing of rubbish, encroaching pavements with all kind of filthy shops and polluting., indiscriminate parking, not obeying traffic lights. Seeing these things really distrubs me and being a silent spectator really pains me a lot.
    On my part I do whatever I can. I obey the traffic rules, teach my children good habbits like throwing garbage in a trash can even if it is a candy wrapper and to keep it until you see the next trash can. We have also started treating our helps in a much better and respectful way.
    I am very proud of being an Indian and I don’t wish to live anywhere else except here. But do wish as citizens we change ourself and make India a much better place to live.
    To all the negative comments, I am sorry if you have a diffrent view but Mungee’s comments were because of pure frustration which I could totally undersatnd. If there is anything I can contribute , I will be most happy.

    zarook shah

  11. Its sucha beautiful aspect which u have penned down so well. However I beg to differ. Ppl mostly do not leave *India*… They leave their home country, their ties, their lives here to start afresh, to get away.. For a new beginning or better start. U get to see in all cultures it is a trend here to stay… The added advantage our Gen has is the internet to stay connected. They do not leave India or even being Indian. They just leave their lives ere behind fer a new innings considering the fact we have one life to live…

  12. Like you, I’ve seen a bit of the world, and I know what I am missing. While I sometimes see things around, and remember that all my tax money, which is to feed poor families and provide them with livelihood , is going into the politicians’ deep pockets, I go through a fit and announce I want to leave the country, and go to a land where I am valued, human life is not taken easily and my money is put to good use.
    BUt like you said, I agree that we have to be the change. I’ll even go ahead and say, not as far as health insurance, but atleast treat them as a cherished employee. LIke you said, there might be problems (I treated my driver like a fellow employee, a software engineer, gave him extra bonuses, more than 3 days off a week etc, and he still behaved like a driver, whining, cribbing etc) but we might even strike gold and help another person.
    NOt bribing in places where we can get our work done – passport office, registration office etc, are also small changes. Following traffic rules is one…

    So instead of cribbing and whining about the country going to dogs (which it is not, if we see the economic growth and other such stats), we might as well ‘Be the change we want to see’ 🙂
    Good post 🙂

  13. ……i’ve not seen much of the world….wait…i’ve seen none of it…not that i didn’t want to, but was not fortunate enough to…maybe i was fortunate enough to not have seen much and to have been nurtured and cared for in such a hardy place….few years back,if someone asked me whether i would be staying in India for my higher education…i probably would have said no and if someone asked me why, i wouldn’t have any good reason…….but people like you have helped me make my decision……my decision to stay here in India,improve my country in every way possible and cherish my life here………….

    Thanking you,
    A boy whose life is just as hard as anyone’s……….:D

  14. Oh yeah..stay in place where women are NOT respected…even if they wear traditional dresses and not look at men in the eye. Where everyday girls off to schools and colleges fear predators. Where even a three year old is molested (me).. grow up my daughter in this filthy place just because I want to change this system? Not a chance. Looks at the stats.. 53% of Indian population have had CSA. I would like to improve my country, of course, but not risk my child’s innocence. I have seen fear in my mother’s and brother’s eyes when I used to go to college, lest a jilted lover throw acid on me, lest I get molested. Oh yes, in the developed nations, you get shocks of other magnitudes, but still the stats are pretty lower and the respect for women is considerable higher.

  15. Hello ! ..

    Your words reflect the need of time. I share exactly the same mindset. I have been to many richer European countries (Not leisure trips but for work). I felt the same way as you have mentioned.

    Thank you for putting it in right words !

  16. Amazing article…a insight into the fact that it is time something has to be done by each of us individually, the change in gov is a good step forward …INDIA is changing..THE WORLD stands and take notice

  17. I was glad to see discussions happening in this direction. But I am really tired and fed up of living here. I am an IT professional works 50 hrs a week and still struggle to buy a house or a car here. I got above average marks in my B.Tech got placed to a MNC company in my third year in collage. But to me there is nothing here that is worth waking upto next morning.

    • That’s completely different. If you want to move for better job prospects that’s different than saying you want to leave India forever because of some intrinsic flaw here.

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