This is the first time in my life that I am not in India on our Independence Day. This is the first time that I am not driving around my favourite city, Bangalore, seeing the festivities of the national celebration reaching the last mile. This is the first time in my life that I am not buying the Indian national flag and keeping it proudly on the dashboard of my car, and then placing it on my desk at home, upon arrival. I miss home. Genuinely do.
Come to think of it, I have been out of the country for a mere 7 months. It does seem like a lifetime though. Perhaps, I was far too entrenched back home than I had realised, and the impact of uprooting the apple cart and moving abroad hit me much later. No regrets in doing that, whatsoever, professionally (only) speaking.
But, these 7 months have been a revelation of a kind that I did not anticipate I would undergo to such a degree. I have come to recognise and understand myself far better than I ever did. I have come to respect my Indian identity so much more and understand how deeply-rooted I am with things back home.
Being a representative of my country in a foreign land is the one thing that I keep reminding myself about. Whatever I say or do, or don't say or don't do, can very well be a judgment by locals about what my country stands for. It may sound like a stretch, but I'd rather be cognizant of that possibility and hence be responsible about it. The pride of representing my nation in an alien land is an opportunity to show the world the right things that we stand for. I remember this, more than anything else, on this Independence Day.
In these 7 months, I suppose there have been multiple instances of being amazed by a whole new world, and equally so, times of wonderment of what I left back home. And at other times, about the possibilities ahead. To that extent, it clearly has been a mixed bag - speaking only one single language (English) everywhere I go, driving on the road with strict lane discipline, standing in a queue and waiting for my turn, getting used to the credit card culture, adapting to the immense levels of mechanisation and technology in everyday life (apps etc), not finding people on the street while driving, or the unique driving culture of not honking, finding only cars and trucks on the road with the occasional biker around, going about setting up a new life in an alien land etc, have all ended up in contributing to my personality in ways that I may only fathom much later in life. Or, other things like being precise with things, punctual for every meeting (social or official), planning for and having a dress code for an occasion, using Google maps or GPS systems to find your way to a destination (irrespective of whether it is 10 minutes or 10 hours away from your origin), finding a way to be tremendously organized (lest face the wrath of the law of this land), are clear improvements from yesteryear.
All these are experiences that would definitely stand me in good stead, as there is no social system of support in this new place. It is a case of finding out how to do something from scratch, and going about doing it in the most optimum way. Or, at least, the best way that I can figure out!
Not meaning to compare this experience with that of what I had in India. But, the world I come from, clearly had different things. Even if one didn't follow the rules, there was always a way out. Not having lane discipline and getting stuck in traffic for 3-4 hours at a stretch was so normal. Finding oodles of people on the road was a given. Saying, 'just 5 minutes' for anything and everything related to time was such a universal phenomenon. Honking to make your point on the road was actually, in hindsight, so much fun! Just asking people on the street the way to a particular place in the local language is something that is nothing short of divine! Finding multiple modes of transport (apart from just cars), especially that cursed vehicle the autorickshaw is a luxury that I did not expect to miss. And whatever else I may not find different, there is absolutely no cricket fever in the US - given the fanatical following of the game and my personal fanaticism for the game!
Much of these 7 months I guess are on the practical side of life. But, as is the human psyche, every place does have a deeper influence, and I am no exception. The thinking and approach to life of a capitalist economy and the people who have grown up in that world is single biggest factor that has influenced everything else here. The concept of living life, 'here and now', is just about the opposite of what we are taught back home i.e. plan and look for the future. College dropouts, start-ups, teenager-CEOs, speakers on leadership who are just about in their mid-20s, NFL, NBA and baseball (to the exclusion of every other sport, except tennis maybe) etc. For the studious folks, life is about Ivy League and million-dollar jobs with a sign-on bonus and international internship prior to their working life. I remember attending a guest lecture at the world-famous Wharton Business School and was stunned to see the universal congregation of competition and friendship in one place. Friends for life on one hand, and rivals on the other. It was a revelation, for sure.
I suppose, many things from the US have already started creeping into the Indian psyche i.e. technology and start-ups, dreaming of securing education at top institutes only etc. But, that still is perhaps the preserve of a select few back home. For the vast majority of us in India, there isn't even money to get into a decent college, let alone thinking about dropping out of college. Acute poverty and illiteracy are the banes of our development. Those are the social and structural things that are fundamentally keeping us from realising our potential. It no longer is about the lack of money. India, in the modern age, can command money quite efficiently and effectively. It is about will and execution on the ground. It is about having forward-looking thinkers who need to run the show, rather than people who perhaps should consider calling time on their careers in policy making.
Clearly, the great Indian dream coming good has been best personified in the last few days with the announcement of Sundar Pichai as the CEO of Google. Undoubtedly, a showcase moment for any Indian in any part of the world. The man has demonstrated the art of the possible to every Indian on the planet. Let's face it, Google is synonymous with the Internet. And to have an Indian at the helm of how the world runs online, is truly a proud thing for all of us. It is those kinds of dreams that we should all aspire to achieve, in whichever walk of life we may be. Those are the professional successes that our country should try to replicate.
And, it is all rooted in its very root - education. We fix our education, we fix our future generations. I have only heard Presidents and Prime Ministers say this in various speeches, but, based on my own experience of living in this foreign country, I am now convinced about it. On this Independence Day, that should really be the core of what we do i.e. fix our education system.
On a different not, the best description of these 7 months in this foreign country is in what somebody very close to me said last month, 'the mention of Bangalore/India, makes your face light up with 40,000 watts, almost!"
Happy Independence Day, India! Wherever I may be, home is where the heart is and you are the only place I will ever belong!!!