Guest Blog by Raju Narisetti : Coming Home

I don’t really know this 60-year-old very well any more. I wasn’t alive for her first 20 or so years. And I haven’t been around for her last 20 or so years. So, when I am asked—quite frequently—how it feels to be back home, I have to pause and search for words that say what I mean and mean what I want to say. What I often end up saying is that it is ‘work-in-progress’ because, in many ways, it is as much about me as it is perhaps about India, which was definitely home once and ought to be home again.
The trouble is that intellectually, I can grasp that the time I have been away has perhaps been the most dramatic one-third of the maturing of this 60-year-old nation. And I am not just talking about the blossoming of entrepreneurial energy, the wholesale embracing of the pursuit of wealth and material happiness that dominates urban India, or the well-chronicled infrastructure woes and the real estate boom. I am also talking about that magical shift in India’s psyche, where large sections of population have moved, lockstep, into a “we can do it too” mode, much like what was visible in China in the late 1990s. Full-blown envy, of most things West, appears to have been replaced mostly by an active curiosity, and a belief that while we may be slower or different, we will now do it our way. And, guess what, here is the money to back up that thought.
But, it is my heart that makes it harder to accept this new 60-year-old ….


After all, I did spend two decades growing up with her, so shouldn’t I also presume to know her, despite the long voluntary separation? Yet, like the all-too-familiar roads that I take in New Delhi, only to suddenly end up somewhere else, thanks to a new flyover that has sprung up and changed where the old road went, I am constantly surprised by what I see, hear and feel. And that is when this new India becomes quite complicated and baffling. So, instead of pretending to have answers, I just accumulate questions that I largely keep to myself. For instance, as we move from a closed society to an open one, I wonder about the strange juxtaposition of the most honest Prime Minister in India’s history overseeing what many say is the most corrupt cabinet in recent memory. I fret about a culture where being critical about how India goes about doing what it does is increasingly seen as being negative, even unpatriotic.
I also ask myself as to when we went from being able to pinpoint the dishonest among us to now being able to single out the honest. And, like the painted traffic lanes on our streets that nobody even makes a pretence of sticking to, I witness the daily blurring of lines between what is the right thing to do and what is merely accepted, as if this land of many hues has collectively decided that what was once black and white is now merely shades of grey.
In the daily hurry-up and wait rituals in front of rickety elevators that take us to our high-rise offices, I ask how such a vast and wise nation can create and accept self-inflicted bottlenecks of thought and action. After all, India can’t cross this river in two or three steps. I also note that a rising tide won’t lift leaky boats. So, I ask, shouldn’t our government focus on fixing the boats instead of constantly trying to control the tide? Now, as the brain drain group makes its way home, does it feel like a brain gain?
Then I remember what actually happened when I first tried to make her my home again.
After several futile days of looking at apartments, I was shown a very nice flat in Golf Links. The landlady was around and we both had a pleasant chat about my decision to move back to India after about two decades for work reasons. She asked about my family and I told her about my American wife and my daughters Leila, 5, and Zola, 2. In turn, she told me about many of her son’s friends returning from the US as life is more comfortable in India. It was all quite nice and friendly.
When the broker went back to make an offer—and it wasn’t an inexpensive place by any measure, and a company lease at that—she told him they would much rather hold out for a foreigner because I “wasn’t foreign enough” for them.
Typically, housing discrimination in many parts of the world that I have lived in often involved cases of landlords who didn’t want to rent to foreigners, say non-Americans, including Indians. And, here I am, back home, only to be told that I am too Indian for comfort.
(Raju Narisetti, editor of Mint, returned to India after 17 years to launch Mint, the business newspaper from HT Media Ltd)

10 Responses to “Guest Blog by Raju Narisetti : Coming Home”

  1. Himanshu says:

    Dear Raju,
    I am totally understand your feelings about the housing issues you are facing but that is common practice as people feel that they can get a better price from the Caucasian folks from US/UK as well as the fact that they’ll definitely vacate the premises after the lease ends. I am sure you will find something very nice – the key to loving India I feel is loving it no matter what and it loves you back. I moved to Hyderabad from Manhattan for 7-8 months late last year and I felt it will be not as exciting as I wanted to go to Mumbai but it has been great with so much great food and easy going people. I have never thought of coming back to India in a traditional sense coz I travel all the time (lived in 6 countries in last 8 yrs) – right from college I have kept telling friends that I’ll have multiple homes and live wherever I like for whichever season I like and my heart will be in that city for the time I am there – the world is so beautiful so how can I just live in one place, and all of it is ours.
    I agree that we have a very good PM and also that the leaky boats need to be fixed to sustain the boom, but the ‘confident Indian’ is the biggest change we are seeing. As more and more people take control of their destiny and demand the best the whole society will improve and we already see that happening. From all big cities in India to New York where I have been living the last 2 yrears I see the confident Indian who thinks big and wants to be the best in the world. We need leaders to channelize this phenomenon and not allow the momentum to go down. Sustained growth like we have now for the next 10 yrs will change the face for urban as well as rural India – America and China will also continue to grow and a greater collaboration at the international level is in everyone’s benefit. India has been like a teacher to the world, a lover of peace, a preserver of ancient traditions, so the attitude should not be “we are coming, watch out everyone” but rather one of “the big land of spirituality and traditions is growing fast and we are hear to spread happiness and help the whole of humanity”. That is the vision I have for India where we become a role model, a place where people love to visit – find tons of hospitality and love and the country becomes the “sone ki chidiya” again.
    I wish you a wonderful time in India.
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  2. Himanshu says:

    Dear Raju,
    I totally understand your feelings about the housing issues you are facing but that is common practice as people feel that they can get a better price from the Caucasian folks from US/UK as well as the fact that they’ll definitely vacate the premises after the lease ends. I am sure you will find something very nice – the key to loving India I feel is loving it no matter what and it loves you back. I moved to Hyderabad from Manhattan for 7-8 months late last year and I felt it will be not as exciting as I wanted to go to Mumbai but it has been great with so much great food and easy going people. I have never thought of coming back to India in a traditional sense coz I travel all the time (lived in 6 countries in last 8 yrs) – right from college I have kept telling friends that I’ll have multiple homes and live wherever I like for whichever season I like and my heart will be in that city for the time I am there – the world is so beautiful so how can I just live in one place, and all of it is ours.
    I agree that we have a very good PM and also that the leaky boats need to be fixed to sustain the boom, but the ‘confident Indian’ is the biggest change we are seeing. As more and more people take control of their destiny and demand the best the whole society will improve and we already see that happening. From all big cities in India to New York where I have been living the last 2 yrears I see the confident Indian who thinks big and wants to be the best in the world. We need leaders to channelize this phenomenon and not allow the momentum to go down. Sustained growth like we have now for the next 10 yrs will change the face for urban as well as rural India – America and China will also continue to grow and a greater collaboration at the international level is in everyone’s benefit. India has been like a teacher to the world, a lover of peace, a preserver of ancient traditions, so the attitude should not be “we are coming, watch out everyone” but rather one of “the big land of spirituality and traditions is growing fast and we are hear to spread happiness and help the whole of humanity”. That is the vision I have for India where we become a role model, a place where people love to visit – find tons of hospitality and love and the country becomes the “sone ki chidiya” again.
    I wish you a wonderful time in India.
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  3. Sree says:

    “shouldn’t our government focus on fixing the boats instead of constantly trying to control the tide? ”
    Absolutely brilliant thought…very well said. hope somebody is listening.

  4. mathatheist says:

    Nostalgia impairs judgment.
    You say India is changing, but so is the world, so is the Earth we live in. Change is inescapable. And neutral. What it sees, it reflects.
    Sometimes, it’s difficult to let go to expectations. Sometimes, it’s necessary to do so.

  5. kamla bhatt says:

    Raju:
    Your thoughtful post captures a nation in transition and the complex set of emotions and feelings that people (let me use the term NRI) experience when they come home.
    Fareed Zakaria mentions that people from the 1970s were a lost generation and I think he kind of hit the nail on the head wit that one. I would extend that label and include the 1980s generation too. Because it was the people from the 1970s and 1980s who had to leave India in search of new and better opportunities, while India went through its mid-life crisis of sorts and found itself left with a Hobson’s choice — opened up its economy in 1992. That combined with the opening of the air and digital waves/lines has brought about an interesting change and I suspect that is the interplay that we see unfolding in this new India.
    In this new India there is that magical shift in psyche you mentioned means that people are filled with new energy “josh” and intoxication “nasha”, and my sense is that the kind of questions that you raised (which you mostly kept to yourself) will be ignored by the crowd. I think one of the unasked question in your post is this: Is India emotionally ready to make this transition as someone pointed out to me in Silicon Valley recently. The gentleman had a similar set of questions like you did. I am not sure what the answer is…I suspect at a private level we all might have an idea, but might shy from airing it. We need a few people like you to ask those qeustions. What we need is a doctor for the soul in this new India…
    Kamla Bhatt

  6. DQ says:

    Hmm Do I pretend that I got all of it?
    Lol liked the brain gain thingie!!!
    Shhhmileee!!!

  7. Horst Vollmann says:

    Dear Raju:
    Between the lines of your beautifully written and at times rueful musings I can clearly read your love for India. When your country broke free from the British rule, destiny had sent Mahatma Gandhi to accomplish it. Thus an almost intimidating moral imperative was created in whose shadow India was slowly, reluctantly trying to find its stride. Without any doubt you have come back to a vastly different India, one that had stepped out of this shadow to find the new identity of a modern society. Values that had formed over a thousand years still clash with the relentless surge towards modernity.
    Affluence that has its roots in monetary abundance alone without the detour via education and intellectual curiosity produces shallow and flawed people such as the landlady you described. This is part of the price that has to be paid for breaking down the barriers of the past, the barriers of ancient caste prejudices, poverty and religious intolerance. One cannot close the gap between the old and the new in one smooth motion without causing pain and bewilderment. There is a new pride that pushes impetuously forward and it does not care about the sensitivities of those who caution to slow down that headlong rush towards materialism and its attendant dangers. This new pride mixes with the consternation of those who lament over a new morality they do not want to identify with.
    There are many people like you and Shekhar whose hearts only reluctantly accept what appears inevitable but who instinctively feel that the wisdom of India will in the end keep the upper hand. Uniformity of thought and fierce pride to the point of intolerance are only a temporary phenomena and will in due time give way to the recognition that the shades of grey will not only emerge as black and white again but will surely reveal the many hues of beautiful colors of India’s cultural mosaic.
    A familiarity that you may have been afraid was irretrievably lost might gently emerge again to manifest itself as the India you have every reason to be proud of.
    With kind regards.
    Horst

  8. abhi says:

    Hello Raju,
    Just thought I would add to your comment on housing discrimination. It’s so common in our metros–I can talk about Chennai and Bangalore–to turn down potential tenants because of their caste and religion. Oh, that’s so Indian, you might say. But then what puts me off about this is the fact that many of the landlords who ask your caste/religion before renting out are those elite, educated, well-groomed people who speak with the right accent and diction.
    Some pretend to be kind enough and agree, but then list the strings attached to the deal: no non-veg, no girls, no ‘low caste’ servants. And in many cases, the houses in question are in apartment complexes that house people of all faith. I have a friend, who was told not to send his maid servant to fetch water from the landlord’s well because she came from a ‘low caste’.
    So, even as we talk about taking the country to the league of developed countries, there are people who refuse to change, and believe in a divided society. And, I’m afraid we would never be a developed country with such people around 🙁
    And, before I sign off: Thank you Shekhar for hosting this interesting piece from Raju 🙂

  9. Himanshu says:

    Dear Shekhar,
    A very intersting thing happened today. Here in hyderabad I am incharge of a very interesting project – our company just ventured into online branding and we are making a some online promos for the UB group, and today I was watching all these old commercials from the early 90s. In them I found a old recording of the Amul India Show which was covering the mass hysteria “Bandit Queen” was raising in those days and it shows you coming into a mumbai theater dressed in all black and asking the audience if they found anything offensive in the film or if it was difficult to watch and all say that everything is fine. I really enjoyed the recording and thought I’d definitely mention it here. I got the DVD from NY 2 yrs back and have watched it a few time since – still don’t have the one with the commentary.
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

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