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Envy Of A New India

Envy Of A New India

October 05, 2011

Why are NRIs always complaining about India. Is it frustration or just a case of the green eyed monster?

Many months ago my husband came up to me with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step. He seems happy, I thought, till I looked closer and realized that he was more than happy, he was positively gloating. “Guess what’s on Friday?” he said. “What?” said I, my mind racing frantically. “It’s our 10th engagement anniversary,” he said triumphantly. “Oh,” said I, smiling faintly and kicking myself for not remembering before him. “Such an important anniversary must be celebrated,” said my romantic husband. “Meet me for lunch on Thursday and we will celebrate signing our lives away!”

The celebratory lunch took place at an upscale deli in a very posh mall in Mumbai. We had sat down and were discussing the possible calorie content of the Pizza Napoleon (as if that has ever affected what we order) when we heard raised voices from the table directly in front of us. Two Indian men were seated on the table, both in their mid-40s. One of the men was telling the waiter that he had told him that he was in a hurry, and could not wait long, and now it was too late! The waiter needed to bring the bill immediately! The waiter nodded politely and walked away.

We looked away and were soon in a deep conversation when we heard raised voices again. “Why would I want to take away something that I wanted to eat in the restaurant? That’s an incredibly stupid suggestion. You guys just don’t get it do you – you just have no clue about customer service! Just bring me the bill right now!”

The waiter looked at him with the weak plastered smile that is characteristic of all waiters in India when they are being abused by customers. “Right away, Sir,” he said and scurried away. The man let out an exasperated sigh and suddenly looked over at us. This is the conversation that followed.

Man 1: I am sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you guys.

Husband: Oh no - not at all!

Me: No, don’t worry - we were just celebrating our 10th engagement anniversary (the man looked puzzled). I take it things did not go per plan?

Man 1: No! They just don’t get it in India!

Me: Oh – are you not from here? (Detecting an Indian accent I assumed he must have spent some part of his childhood here)

Man 1: Well I grew up in India but now I live in Los Angeles (LA).

Me: Oh, what part of LA? I grew up in LA as well!

Man 1: In Pasadena, it’s a beautiful part of town. You know Pasadena?

Me: Yes, it is beautiful. So what happened here?

Man 1: Oh they just can’t understand customer service here. You know what the problem is here in India? Just too much money and no idea what to do with it. So they open up these types of expensive places because people have to blow their new found money somewhere. But they have no idea of customer service!

Me: Do you come to India often?

Man 1: I used to as a lot of my family is here but now I think I will stop. I just can’t handle the fakeness – and stupid expensive places like this one! He brought me here (pointing to Man 2) or I would have never come here.

Man 2: (Grins sheepishly and looks into his plate).

Me: Oh, we are going to another ‘expensive’ place for dinner – maybe you have heard of it - abababa?

Man 1: Another stupidly expensive place full of young rich kids! You know the best food in India is in the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ places.

Me: Yes they are very good – I always wonder if I might get Typhoid though.

Man 1: Anyway, we better get going as we are going to be late. Hope we didn’t disturb you guys. Goodbye.

I came home and this conversation stayed with me all day. After much pondering, the same question kept arising in my mind. Was the man truly appalled at the service or was his angry reaction the manifestation of a bigger underlying problem?

“Beware, my lord of jealousy! It is the green eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” These eternal words written by Shakespeare sum up precisely what I thought the underlying problem might be – was this man just plain jealous? Jealous of these new rich people in India?

Indians who left decades ago for Western shores left behind a puritan India. They left behind a subcontinent where wealth may have existed but was rarely flaunted. Going out, and especially eating out, was an activity often practiced only by ‘bad’ families whose daughters-in-law wore jeans and went to clubs.

Recent changes in the global economy have reset wealth generation and consumption in a host of countries including India. It seems that the Gods of wealth who had showered their benevolence upon NRIs for decades have abruptly changed their muse.

NRIs are now returning to a hedonistic India where outward appearances may not have changed much but mindsets have altered beyond recognition. They come back to visit relatives who are not only wealthy, but often wealthier than the ‘foreign-returned’ NRI. These wealthy relatives are now happy to spend their money on food and entertainment without guilt, shame or reluctance.

Isn’t it plausible that for some NRIs, it is a real shock to see how the tables have turned? The once ‘poor’ Indian relative is now exercising his financial muscle, and how. Suddenly the NRI is the ‘poor’ relative thinking about the mortgage and car loan as he sips wine in the Indian relative’s ten crore apartment, after being brought there in his E-class Mercedes (which costs almost double in India with the taxes)!

This article is about asking a simple question: is it a bitter pill for some NRIs to swallow when they visit India and find a newer and richer nation? I don’t know the answer to this question. It is very possible that I have overanalyzed the aforementioned conversation and it was nothing more than an irate customer responding to inept service. Or was it more than that – was Man 1 a jealous NRI who was having a hard time dealing with the wealth in modern India? I look forward to hearing your point of view on this one. 


  • Globetrotter
    23.02.15 02:21 PM
    Sorry I dont think this is about jealousy...India is way tooo nouveau riche and tacky....this is about "class". Indians with new money flaunt and show off but they have zero class in my opinion and also very low set of values these days. I think its the other way around rather Indians with a lot of money in India are frustrated living in highly polluted cancerous cities with such a low quality of life and bad infrastructure whereas NRIs in the west are at least leading cleaner, more prodcutive and healthier lives. India is also not good value for money...a 10cr apartment in mumbai or delhi is disgusting compared to what you get for 10cr in many major western cities. As for driving expensive cars...where are the roads to drive them in India? Car insurance in the west is triple of what it is in maybe buying costs are higher in India but running costs are higher in developed countries. India's crime situation is also out of control...even in usa u dont need to be constantly scared of criminals...if u avoid certain areas u can be safe in those countries...but in india life is too restrictive, too frustrating and too boring..too fake...too empty...too much showing off and jealousy....whats so great about it then? Most indians want to earn high incomes just so they can escape india and take foreign trips. P.s....i am not even an NRI...i spend most of my time in continental europe and a little time in India but over the past few years I find india becoming worse and worse...and society / people here getting very nasty, dysfunctional and mental...they lie and show off so much that its beyond sickening,..this is not classy at all..this is in your face and sad...and yes most restaurants in india especially top end ones are awful...they are just about the new money show off culture and not about a fine dining experience....fine dining doesnt exist here nor are restaurants that expensive in india that indians think so high and mighty about themselves...michelin 3 star restaurants in Paris cost 400 euros per head not including wine...such a food culture can never be appreciated in India...nor is there a market for it here. I really dont think NRIs or foreigners envy the new india...for us the new india is a frustrating place to deal with and the new indian culture is all a wannabe culture with no indian values left.
  • Bandana
    13.11.12 01:06 PM
    I totally agree with you. I can say this so affirmatively as I have experienced this with my NRI relatives.Of course I was not so analytical but would say that your analysis is absolutely correct
  • Vinod
    19.11.11 07:53 AM
    Kudos to Ms Sodhi for being a keen observant of changing social 'landscape' in India.Coming to the point- Let me confess to be an NRI more than half my life and still one! I have gone through all emotions of conflict and appreciation and also tried to study my own behavior very objectively. This is what I inferred after all my soul searching!
    1.My impatience in India(never impolite to anyone)at some places had its root from my belief that the system I experienced abroad was better and could have been opted here as well.
    2. I have experienced similar frustration in the US and has been more vocal than in India.One example to cite is the time one would take to see a qualified physician in the US.I tell my friends in the US great pride how the health care system is so affordable compared to the US.I felt that it was my comfort that made me to compare which I did wherever I was.
    2. I have complained of services at least to myself because of my deep rooted belief that my country is not using the wealth in the right way to make the country a developed one!
    3. I have on the other hand has seen resident Indians treating us like we have committed some crime.In fact the jealousy factor plays more in the minds of the residents(not everone!).They feel that we are making easy money and does nothing for the country and any, even creative ideas are laughed at or dismissed!
    The fact is that I have seen NRIs holding the values of their home country more dearly than the residents.They have a longing, deep in their heart to see their motherland prosper and I do not see any room for jealousy because I do not see why one would be jealous to see their family richer.Above all there is no place as beautiful as one's own motherland!!!!!!!
  • Divya
    29.10.11 04:29 AM
    Enjoyed reading this. As an NRI [born/raised in UK], I have been to India many times in my 24 years and by all means the change is phenomenal. Especially where my family is based in Gurgaon. Gone are the days when I'd long for Coke and Pizza Hut on my my long holidays in India.

    I genuinely do not believe that your theory about NRIs being jealous of Indian wealth is true. I think the story you discussed is purely due to a hot-headed character or a NRI trying to flex his I am superior muscles. I must admit many NRIs do it and I get embarrassed watching it. I don;t think NRIs are jealous, by all means I am also surprised to see shops like MAC and Aldo packed out purely because the consumerism seen in metros nowadays is not what I am used to seeing in India.
  • NRI
    27.10.11 08:36 PM
    When I went abroad, I used to convert to Rupees to see if things are too expensive and decide not to buy it here.

    Now I got to India, I convert to Euros to see if things are too expensive and decide not to buy it there.

    But yes, some of the "foreign returned" NRIs act stupid. They do want everyone to acknowledge that they have achieved something by going abroad. Problem is nobody does it now as many Indians would have gone and returned back as well or may have scores of relatives staying abroad. The novelty factor is gone. So, I guess there is frustration :-).

    Well, as for me I feel happy but not the bit about spending money :-(.
  • Deepug
    13.10.11 03:49 AM
    I think the issue is around recaliberated expectations. Life outside of India can be positive or negative, depending on what is important for you. For me, living abroad for last 7 years, the basic fact of "corruption not touching a common man" has been the biggest positive. Be it getting a driving license or buying property - there is only one way to follow. And this has recaliberated my expectations, even though I spent my first 30+ years of life in India.
    I anticipate similar or higher levels of frustration when I go back "home". I still will dread being caught by a policeman at a traffic light and charged for an offense I did not commit. However, unlike my pre NRI days, I would find it difficult to take it in my stride. I expect raging blood and anger, simply because I would have expected a better India after these years. Will I see that better India - all depends on my experiences when I am back.
  • shashi
    12.10.11 12:27 PM
    Whatever you have written is true!!... I think our Indian who are now called NRI's should understand that our INDIA has played and will be playing much bigger role to rule this world in terms of culture, wealth. If India wouldn't have been there this revolutionary changes wouldn't have been possible for Foreign countries.
  • Mr. M Singh
    Mr. M Singh
    09.10.11 04:20 PM
    Your experience reflects the extent of spread of a dreaded disease which originated from the western world and made virtually everybody sick throughout the world. As for India, a large part of the NRI community is responsible to carry the infectious parasite on which this disease rests. The disease is EGO. Anger and jealousy are the manifestations of the disease. The rich Indians showing off their money power just demonstrate to the NRIs that we can carry more parasites than you and spread the disease even faster than you can. May both realize that God has blessed them with the money power not to show off, but to invest in humanity, which is in their own interest.
  • pallavi
    08.10.11 01:23 PM
    I don't understand why we are so anti-NRIs :-0 Seriously. I am an NRI myself, and I visit India ATLEAST twice a year, because we don't want to miss out on all the family fun! Personally, i think the metros have changed so much in the last decade.. there are numerous malls, people are almost always shopping, blah blah, and yes, it is true that we are not the best at customer service. However, I think we are in general angry if an NRI passes this comment, while a local can get away with saying the same thing, simply because he lives there?

    But having said that, I also have to confess I am intimidated every time I come down to my hometown. Because the impression in my mind is of a quiet and calm metro of a decade ago. Today however it is buzzing with activity, and a very naive and silly part of me wants to see the 'old world' and not the new one ;-) Quite unfair, I admit.
  • A Singh
    A Singh
    06.10.11 09:31 PM
    A couple of years back I was in a very upmarket boutique in Delhi looking for a sari for my wife. As I looked at the exorbitant price tags I turned to my wife's cousin and enquired what typical discount we could negotiate - 20/30/40%? She looked me dead in the eyes and explained that the only people who would even dare asking for a discount in this place were cheap NRIs!!
  • Srini
    06.10.11 09:12 PM
    I recently moved back to India and it only took a few days for me to adjust to the different life in India. As I knew for sure that I will be returning back to India, I always reminded myself of the good things India has to offer for the 7 years I lived outside the country. India has never changed, it is the people who leave India who now expect India to be their pseudo-America at same old India prices. It is wonderful to be back here and see the excitement and optimism everywhere.
  • A Singh
    A Singh
    06.10.11 02:24 PM
    @NRI - you have deviated from the main theme but raised a valid point nonetheless. I have personally witnessed how restaurant and retail staff have jumped to attention to provide world class customer service when they see a white face. Just goes to show it can be, and is, done.

    One question though. Why did you not just apply for a PIO card? You are eligible and it's relatively easy and cheap to obtain.
  • NRI
    06.10.11 12:01 PM
    Re your title "frustration V jealousy"....

    I too am an NRI expact living in Mumbai & I tend to sit on the "frustration" bench. Let me explain....

    Restaurant service - I am lucky enough to have frequented some very beautiful restaurants in Mumbai but get extremely frustrated when other Expats (of a paler color) get the 1st class treatment. This is not jealousy but simple frustration. Local indians as well as those who are NRI by nature tend to treat the staff with courtesy & no doubt spend more, yet it appears acceptable to treat the NRI as a second class citizen v's the paler expats. I note this wasnt the topic of debate but is clearly one reason why NRI's may find it frustrating.

    Traffic & quality of roads - IF india has newborn wealth its cleary not being spent in the right places....I dont think I need to add anymore on this one..

    Education - as an NRI I was amazed how my children were ineligible for Domestic schooling on the basis we did not hold an Indian passport or PIO/OCI card. Effectively it meant we had no choice but to send our children to more expensive international schools which debately are of lesser academic quality.

    Overall I love being back in India which is the primary reason I stay, but I do think as an NRI there are fundamental reasons why an NRI may complain. I genuinely dont believe its jealousy. I am in fact extremely proud of the new found wealth in India and find it very inspiring but I do hope that the fundamentals of the country are addressed.......
  • tys
    06.10.11 09:12 AM
    it could be..but I feel from the mans conversation with you, its just a case of the old classic one upness that emerges once in a while among NRIs. The need to compare the home country with the host country. If you remove all emotions from it, dont you think its rather a human thing? We do it with with everything. This comparison. When voiced , it can be interpreted in many ways but the need to do so seem to be inherent in all.

    It cud also be arising from a justification for the self exile. A consolation to self.
  • beinghindu
    06.10.11 01:10 AM
    Well written…. I have to say it loudly that your bold approach to a social matter, without harming sentiments of class A or class B is more appreciable . Its happy to know that there are people here who knows address issues in a right way, rather throwing blind words in a specific pattern to giving mental pleasure and attract people for their motive…
    Looking forward to hearing from u more……..
  • Mary
    05.10.11 09:16 AM
    Thanks for that. It is man's inherent need to compare and complain. When I moved to Canada, I complain about lack of customer service here, I waited at gas station in -40 deg cold thinking someone would fill my tank but no, There are a few conveniences of Mumbai I miss, I truly do but somethings I am happy to be out of... sexism of most men in public transport, the over crowding we used to take for granted, the social and religious issues we keep having, the jobs u get stuck to for life and after middle age how your chances of finding some occupation plummet.... There is a racial gap here and a glass wall somewhere but I haven't had much of a problem with that so far as many others do but I am thankful to be here and many a time still call India my punya bhoomi due to the conservative family values we stick to, the art and music, the colour and shayari.... the cuisine, fruits and aromas, the monthly massages and ofcourse relatives and friends who understood completely!!!
  • satish-oneeyeclosed
    05.10.11 05:51 AM
    Very interesting post. Some one should do a post (may be you!) on the way intra-family relations have been affected by the turmoil. The bright one went abroad, came back on vacations as a VIP with his chocolates and cheese packets to be fawned over by a doting family...story has changed and how!

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