India’s economy has emancipated the Indian abroad in other, smaller ways, too. Who has not travelled back to India recently—from New York, London, Vancouver or Dubai—and scratched his head over the question of what to take back to relatives in Delhi, or Chandigarh, or Thiruvananthapuram, or Nagpur. Once upon a time—and I speak from personal experience—one needed to do no more than go to the nearest supermarket and fill up a shopping cart with chocolate, cheese, ham and biscuits, all bought in bulk packs, to be lugged back home to people starved of exotic foreign food. The same was true of jeans and T-shirts, bras and sweaters. Not anymore. The clothes are now all made in India (or Mauritius, or Sri Lanka or Bangladesh—imagine taking home to your brother a shirt made in Bangladesh!). The foods are all available too—at a price, but available. No longer exotic, they’ve ceased to be gifts that enhance the status of the NRI giver.
In these ways—micro and macro—the Indian immigrant abroad no longer feels protective of, or patronising towards, the Hick at Home. This liberation has had intriguing consequences: it has allowed the unburdened immigrant to integrate himself more fully into the political life of his adoptive country (something Indian immigrants have been notoriously poor at doing). And in doing so, they have become—paradoxically—more effective in the service of their country of origin. Witness the role played by Indian-Americans in the lobbying for the recent US nuclear deal with India. American lawmakers (and an American president) paid them careful heed not because they were Indian, but because they were Americans who were pulling for India because the deal was good for America.
Comment, on this and the previous entry?