A national financial crisis. Opening of the economy. New ideas. New enterprise. Overheard conversations. And a return migration. Our protagonist, Mr Migrant (M), returns.
The Great Liberalization
For decades, India’s economic and political system followed socialism … a system in which the State (i.e., government) controlled vast sections of the economy. Private enterprise was difficult, though not impossible. Foreign investment in India was very difficult.
In 1991, facing severe economic crisis, India had no choice but to relax or remove rules that hindered economic growth. Private enterprise was encouraged and foreign investment began to be allowed.
The events of this process made headlines everywhere. And M began to follow the information in small bits and pieces on the nascent (i.e. just-emerging) internet.
In 1998, M received a scholarship, to conduct some research in Bengaluru on a cultural geography relating to certain populations in the city. This was an eight-month stay in the city.
By this time, the internet was growing in leaps and bounds. Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia had co-founded “hotmail.com” … a free web-based mail service. It was very popular. M, too, had set up an account there and was corresponding with peers in different places.
During this stay in his native Bengaluru, whenever he was in cafes and restaurants, his ears were keenly tuned to the conversations going on around him.
He noticed a new, vibrant India taking shape. Young people were talking about starting up companies. Even more music to his ears, they were exploring their own ideas in new ways – volunteering to create a better world in their own sphere, taking courses that were once considered ‘useless’, and finding uses for their learning, young journalists were interviewing interesting people about their work, and so on.
Many interviewees were re-migrating people of Indian origin. They were investors, innovators, ‘techies’, and still others who were very socially-minded and wanted to make a difference. The passion in their comments was remarkable. M also met many such people either already back in India or intending to return soon.
All this was part of a phenomenon known as return migration, where migrants return to their places of origin. In proportion to the number of emigrants from India, the number of re-migrants appeared to be small though.
Nevertheless, change was in the air. A thrilling new India was emerging where opportunities were opening up and many people were engaged in innovative activities.
These immensely fascinated our protagonist.
His observations provoked a lot of questions in his mind about living far away in a very cold and rather lonely place in the USA. He felt increasingly drawn to the idea of joining the re-migrant stream and putting his education to work here in this re-nascent (re-born) India.
Also, the connections (including communications) between India and the rest of the world, especially his second home – the USA – became stronger and stronger.
Instant communications via chat became very popular. In the early days, MSN chat, Yahoo! chat, ICQ, etc. were very popular. Cell phones had begun appearing, but were still not as widespread. Calling on them was expensive – you had to pay for both outgoing and incoming calls. [This probably gave rise to the way many people still answer the phone, “YeahTellMe!” (one word – saving time, get off the line quickly!) This in spite of the fact that free calls are widely available now.
As these technological changes appeared and made it increasingly easier for M to keep in touch with developments in India, by the time he finished his project work in Bengaluru in August 1998, he had decided to re-migrate to India.
He did this in 2000.
Location of Bengaluru
Often, people talk of ‘culture shock’ when migrating to a different place. This is understandable as different places have their own rhythms, their own cultures, and so on.However, M had been visiting India for one reason or another practically every year for several years. The 1998 visit was just the longest stay.
After nearly twenty years in the USA, would there not be a nasty culture shock in returning to India? This was one of the major concerns that friends raised when they learned of his decision to re-migrate. However, the many repeated visits had made it easier to re-migrate without any culture shock.
The only one, perhaps, was the urge to get to work by 8:30 am! Nothing was open before 9:30 or later. And there was no fixed place of work to go to!
Meet M: MyGoodSelf!
Upon returning, I soon found out that geography education in India is really not all that it ought to be. Over the past 20 years, I have been working in this field. The thrill of sharing with children what I had learned from my many gurus (many of them were the very children with whom I was sharing), particularly Sri B Narasanna (my high school geography teacher), and Dr Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj, my PhD guru. This essay, among the over 400 that I have written in this space, is one outcome of my re-migration.
Happiness is sharing the thrill of geographic discovery with others!
- In an earlier episode of this series, I have said that migration involves two sets of factors: push factors and pull factors. In this episode, which factors have I referred to in my decision to return to India?
- If you have migrated to other places, reflect and think of what ‘culture shock’ you experienced. If you know others who have migrated, ask them about their experiences.
- I said that I did not experience ‘culture shock’ when I re-migrated to India. I have given you one reason, but apply the concept of mental maps to further expand on that.
- Speculate on how the telecommunications revolution in India has changed the ways in which we communicate across geographic and social distances and boundaries.
An earlier version of this essay appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition.
Featured image: The old HAL airport, Bengaluru. [Image courtesy: https://wp.me/p1fEcI-cHC%5D