My stay in the US has been enlightening. The US is no longer a country whose sights and smells I felt in Hollywood movies. It is real, it is here - the sights, the tourist destinations, the roads, the rules, the cops, the accent, the greetings, the sense of being a misfit. While I'm getting to know this country a lot better, I'm also getting to know my own country a lot better and how a big mess it is in. I am getting a chance to have a look at my country from an external viewpoint and the view is disappointing.
Politics, goons who become politicians, fast food being labeled as a catalyst for rape, maximum city being reduced to a minimum after the death of a leader, women arrested for voicing their opinion on this bandh, their relatives' livelihood being broken to pieces by vandals. Our country is such a mess. It is not that I am realizing this only now - I did get to see such things when I was back in my own country, where media runs free (amok). But, now, I am able to objectively compare this country with my own. Every new thing I see here, I wonder when it will be seen in our own country. Traffic rules being obeyed, respect for personal space and opinion, smooth and hassle-free public processes, innovative use of technology in common aspects of life. Life is a lot easier here, life is valued more, life has a lot of breathing space and money. Life very much revolves around the self.
And, this is exactly where my country is ahead - culture. Our culture tries to prevent us from being self-centered - decisions are influenced by family, marriage is a social occasion and a one-time commitment (though that is changing, and that gives credence to our 'cultural guardians' when they say we are getting 'westernized'), friends have a different meaning in our lives, parents are priority before marriage and wife and kids after marriage. I have hardly scratched the surface, or maybe missed the whole point, in describing our culture - most of the features I have listed about our culture apply to most other cultures, even the US culture. We all know what the Indian culture is about, I just can't put it in enough words.
And it is exactly this culture that puts my country behind. Our culture wreaks havoc in the public service system and leaves a lot of room for corruption, lack of accountability and general callousness. Khap panchayats, regional political parties, the caste system (it still determines who marries who), illogical reservations in the education system. These are just some of the outcomes of our culture. I listen to general discussions about the Indian and US cultures here, and the Indian supporters fall flat on their faces, when the point of public accountability comes to the fore.
So, when we hear an NRI say that he would never like to come back to India, our neo-patriots scoff and mock him saying that 'money is money after all'. I'd say, it's not just the money, it's a lot more. Yes, our country is more human (People manage to survive in Mumbai inspite of the sheer size of the population, imagining New York with this population would engender a book in its own. Hurricane Sandy showed just how shallow the human heart is here - people attacked each other when there were long queues for gas). But, I'd say the NRI is justified.
We visited New York the other day and when we reached Times Square (this is where I witnessed the most number of people in one same place inside the US, although Andheri station in peak hours easily beats this crowd), my friend said, "This feels like Mumbai".