While I’m Still Alive

After my recent essay, “Why I Left India (Again)“, a nice gentleman on Twitter said he’d hunt me down in the U.S. While I wait for him, I thought I’d jot down a few final words.

First off, as the author—or should I say, survivor—of a personal essay about my experiences in India, I have some advice for other writers: don’t. But if you must, avoid using italics. Not that it would have mattered.

I see my essay as just one among the 250+ comments that follow it. Many of the comments are thought-provoking; others make my post look awesome in comparison. There is also a quora page, a reddit page,  a parody and a psychoanalysis. The diversity of viewpoints is stunning. The comments section of my post has also become a fertile hunting ground for the “patriots”; the government should declare it a protected habitat.

The patriots can put down their Trishools; I don’t blame India, I blame my inability to handle the internalized stress that comes not only from being immersed in a society with so much poverty, but also in a culture that largely accepts the status quo.

One commenter on Quora said (about my post): “… by writing a blog on the NYT, I think it is implied that everyone will feel this way.” I can only hope that the NYT never publishes a personal essay titled, “Why I Dropped Out Of College.”

I am happy that so many feel India makes them more empathetic and connected with the real world. I had a different, less noble reaction—I was learning, like so many who walk past the invisible beggar every day,  to plug in my earphones and tune out of reality.

Sometimes you fight, sometimes you watch, and sometimes you are the status quo you wish to destroy.

The other responses to my post are profound; it will take me a long time to digest them. But, and this was a common criticism, I’m taking an “easy route”; I’ve recruited my wife to help me understand them.

The harshest attacks came from those who took my personal story as a negative commentary on India—something that needed to be rebutted, ridiculed or ideally, silenced. My reaction to being told to shut up is to speak out, and so to commenter #2, who said, “Thanks for leaving! Your presence in India was of an UNWANTED guest,” I wish to say: Happy Diwali.

Someone’s at the door.

63 thoughts on “While I’m Still Alive

  1. Hey Sumedh ! I live in London but grew up in India and have often struggled with the ‘should we-shouldn’t we’ regarding moving back there. Read your article today and I can empathise with some of the things you mentioned – I too feel a certain duality in me when I go back to India (for holidays though so not exactly the same). A part of me wants to return to India badly but another is afraid of the ‘reverse culture shock’, some of which I feel creeping up when I spend more than a week in India !! Anyway, the struggle continues for now but thanks for your thoughtful piece. I am reading all the (extreme) reactions with interest :)

  2. Some of those comments are so extreme, they’re amusing. Your article was honest, well written and I (almost completely) agree with it.
    “But if you must, avoid using italics.” Hah! :)

  3. Going by how you’re adding to that “Quora page, Reddit page…” list, it shouldn’t be long before a Wiki page shows up. Or maybe you should just work on one before you answer that door.

    Well played. To quote a very reputed (and very Indian) poet – “Rock on!” ;)

  4. Sumeedh-

    I really enjoyed reading your article and its good to see that this has stirred up a debate amongst Indians globally. However, as I read and re-read your article multiple times, I was not clear why you actually left India. Was it the fact that you partook in road rage and sardar jokes? Was it because you started treating your domestic workers with contempt? Or more broadly, was it the “chronic amobeiasis of the soul” you talk about?

    As someone who has lived in the US for the 6 years, I can certainly draw American parallels to the three main points you raised:

    1. Sardar jokes: Mexican gardener jokes and other forms of racist humor. There is no dearth of jokes based on ethnic backgrounds anywhere in the world

    2. Road rage: Not sure if you currently live in rural America, but I see road rage all the time in urban centers. For ex, people flicking their fingers. If you do live in rural America, you are not making an apples-for-apples comparison.

    3. Treating domestic workers with contempt: Would your current employer give you a loan if you were to tell them you needed money to attend a funeral? I would think not. Would you or other people you know give a loan to your gardener who tells you that he needs money to see his wife in Mexcio? I would think not. I would suggest watching Office Space and Up in the Air. Two great movies from different generations, that will give you a peek into how American organizations make decisions.

    I know that you go on to mention in your essay that “these issues exist in all countries.” But what is it about that makes you deaf to these issues in the US but makes your “hear the stereotypes in surround sound” in India?

    I think answering this question will add a lot more clarity to your essay and help the readers understand where you coming from. Thanks

  5. Hi Vignesh,

    Thanks for your comment! I think the NYT can safely replace at least fifty of the comments on my essay with just this one from you. :)

    It was not this incident or that, but a broader sense of personal malaise. The malaise was born out of my inability to deal with the unique stresses that India places on your psyche.

    I think most people would agree that a certain day-to-day insensitivity to poverty (“the invisible beggar”) and lifestyle disparity is required to be able to function in India. I found out unfortunately (for me, not for India), not only that my tolerance levels (for poverty) are low, but also, more importantly, that I was not emotionally prepared to slide into the required insensitivity.

    There are people who can’t stand the sight of a needle; others can eat a sandwich in a hospital emergency room. Any issues raised by the former will seem trivial and whiny to the latter, but both will agree that the former has no place in the medical profession.

    Every country has the same issues, and your parallels between India and the U.S. are mostly valid, but there are differences in degrees and frequency. In my personal experience, I encounter most of the issues you listed (racist jokes, road rage, religious slurs, …) far less frequently in the U.S. than I did in India.

    As regards “hear the stereotypes in surround sound”, it’s only because I am Indian. A white American who moves to India will take decades (if ever) to learn the incredibly nuanced language (some of it is visual) that Indians use to exchange caste and class information.

    I hope I answered your questions. If I did, please let me know and I will request the NYT to append this to my original post. :)


    • Sumedh,

      Thanks for your honesty — you know that you’ve struck a chord (nerve) when you elicit a strong (knee-jerk) reaction! I am a person of Indian origin who has lived in the US for nearly 20 years, and I certainly relate with your NYT blog — though my opinions are informed primarily by experiences of growing up in India in the ’70s and ’80s, and on brief and rather infrequent visits, since.

      Perhaps it’s moot at this point, but I think that your NYT blog would’ve generated less of a firestorm had you included some of these comments; they provide additional context, whilst shifting the focus (blame? responsibility?) away from India, and onto you. Particularly:
      “It was not this incident or that, but a broader sense of personal malaise. The malaise was born out of my inability to deal with the unique stresses that India places on your psyche.

      I think most people would agree that a certain day-to-day insensitivity to poverty (“the invisible beggar”) and lifestyle disparity is required to be able to function in India. I found out unfortunately (for me, not for India), not only that my tolerance levels (for poverty) are low, but also, more importantly, that I was not emotionally prepared to slide into the required insensitivity.”


      “Sometimes you fight, sometimes you watch, and sometimes you are the status quo you wish to destroy.” (This is so true, and particularly brilliant.)

      All the best!

      • Hi Vinod,

        Tedious explanations tire (and insult) me as a reader; I offered my readers the same courtesy. The idea of “blaming” India for anything (what does that even mean?) is so ludicrous that I never thought to “defend” myself against it.


        • Sumedh,

          Ludicrous indeed — unfortunately, jingoistic attitudes aren’t confined to the US (West)!

          I’d posted a link to the original NYT blog on my Facebook, and it generated a lot of traffic :) I absolutely agree with my brother’s comment, copied below.

          “I find it fascinating how every person gets the opportunity to walk a personal journey during their lifetime, within the larger commonality and our human limitations. I am amazed at the criticism. How can one assign judgment (and therefore blame, shame, guilt and condemnation) to what people feel and experienced?!
          The author shared his perspective and a short-story from his journey. I am grateful, for I briefly get the gift of honest experience – a rare one at that. Whether it matches my experiences or not is immaterial, given my own limited experience, and expecting it to match up to my expectations would be absurd. The differences in perception and the courage to offer it (as opposed to force feed opinions or be trite and politically correct) have enriched my life so far… and will continue to influence the quality of experience of my life. To Sumedh I offer my thanks.”

  6. Thanks for getting back to me. Yes, I believe you answered my question. So If I am interpreting your answer correctly, there are two parts to it:
    1. You encounter the aforementioned “issues” (racist jokes, road rage, religious slurs, …) far less in the US than in India. These are issues that you are not emotionally prepared to face for whatever reason.
    2. These issues are more pronounced because you were born in India. Could it be that you are facing the same issues in the US that you think a white American moving to India would face? i.e. not completely mastering nuanced Americanisms and hence partially living in ignorance. Just like a white American would never understand languages and visuals “Indians use to exchange caste and class information”, do you think you don’t understand racial undertones to comments being passed in this country? I feel like you are taking the “ignorance is bliss” path here or am I mistaken to think that?

  7. Hi Vignesh,

    Those two issues pale in comparison to what I feel was my biggest emotional issue:

    “I think most people would agree that a certain day-to-day insensitivity to poverty (“the invisible beggar”) and lifestyle disparity is required to be able to function in India. I found out unfortunately (for me, not for India), not only that my tolerance levels (for poverty) are low, but also, more importantly, that I was not emotionally prepared to slide into the required insensitivity.”

    Hope that helps,


  8. Understood. For your own emotional well-being, I would suggest you avoid the below areas at all cost. I have linked a map here for your reference: http://occupywallst.org/attendees/ . While the Occupy movement does not necessarily highlight poverty in the US, it does highlight the income disparity in this country.

    If poverty ever becomes rampant in the US, I would suggest looking at Norway, and Lichtenstein as countries you could potentially migrate to.

    • AFAIK, he did not ask you for migration tips nor for a quack-ish psychoanalysis. Yes, OWS shows the income disparities in the US, but at times it is not the relative disparity that counts – it is the absolute poverty that you see in India that is so depressing. Try making a living (or for that matter, ask any OWS-er to make a living) at less than two quarters a day.

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  10. Hi sumedh,
    I think your comments are reasonable and also factually accurate.I do not know about your financial profile but assuming u r not a millionaire the problems you faced will definitely grow on you. I can vouch for that after living in Australia for quite some time.you can enjoy in India if u ve power and got loads of money…I didn’t have any ..so moving out of India was a logical choice..
    Appreciate your guts…

  11. Hello Sumedh,
    The most important thing I noticed after your article, is that we Indians take everything to personally. I am currently in India, and have never been outside India. Everyone here likes to force their opinion on others.
    I am not sure you ever said that in your article that India is bad, but yet why people are reacting in such a way is pathetic.

  12. “I think most people would agree that a certain day-to-day insensitivity to poverty (“the invisible beggar”) and lifestyle disparity is required to be able to function in India. I found out unfortunately (for me, not for India), not only that my tolerance levels (for poverty) are low, but also, more importantly, that I was not emotionally prepared to slide into the required insensitivity.”

    Did you feel the same way BEFORE you went to the USA for the first time?

  13. Mr. Vignesh, no, you don’t get the point. Sumeedh is not tending to avoid poverty. In fact, his own attempts to do something about it was easily thwarted by people in the immediate circles. In the US, nobody’s is going to stop you if you want to help anyone. He just cannot remain insensitive to poverty. Sumeedh had the right intentions, but in India you have to be tougher to do things. And to do non-reciprocative good deeds, you start with the people you know, and not necessarily with an NGO.

    Also, the ‘Patriots’, (be it in India or the US), have never been to other places and are hence ignorant of the other dimensions of society.

    I myself have been living from India for more than 5 years and I expect to be exhausted when I go back. Even when I was in India, I hated the intense “social pressure”, the need to be accepted by your relatives, friends and neighbours for anything you do. The liberation and the voidness I felt at the same time when I landed here was overwhelming. I love that and I’m just going to feel the opposite when I go back.

    Also, racism is more vicious in India and is kind of the norm and I hate to go there. But then, there are deep reasons for why things are the way they are. Superficial discussions are not going to help.

    • Hi Jay- Clearly I am not as close to Sumedh as you are and I am not aware of all his “attempts to do something about it(poverty).” I am very curious to know what efforts Sumedh took to deal with the problems around him- other than escape from it by leaving to another country. Since the author mentioned “emotional issues” around dealing with poverty multiple times, I came to the logical (?) conclusion that he did not do anything about it. Clearly, I was wrong.
      I think the underlying issue here is that people start applying a western model of morality to an Indian setting. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and coming to India certainly validates that. If you should not be going to a NGO for a “non-reciprocative good deeds”, dont do it. Do whatever India requires you to do.
      The point you raise about “social pressures” when you go back to India is a valid one. I am assuming you gave into these social pressures, and lost your sense of individualism because of this. I think “Western” cultures are obviously known to be more individualistic and some people enjoy that. In my humble opinion, the “social pressures” are the price one pays to enjoy the benefits that come with it (a strong family network etc).
      Bottom line, this is a deeply personal topic for most people as it is for Sumedh. I think the piece that he wrote is fit more for his personal diary than for a NYT blog. That said, we would not be having this discussion if it were not for his original post…

      • Hi Vignesh,

        You bring up a great point about the “personal diary.”

        If an Indian woman wrote an essay titled “Why I Chose To Marry a Non-Indian Man,” based on her personal, terrible and yes, subjective experiences with a few Indian men, would that be okay for a major newspaper to publish in India?

        What if the ending was “happy” for mass-consumption, e.g. the Indian woman’s marriage with the non-Indian person is a disaster, say, due to cultural differences. Would it then be okay to publish?

        Most newspapers have a rich tradition of publishing personal essays. What should their editorial policy be? Only publish personal essays that agree with majority-approved narratives of their country? Or are you against the very idea of newspapers publishing personal essays?


      • Vignesh, clearly, you are not serious about the diary thing or suppression of expression. Needless to say, as a reader, you could also let it pass. Also, I don’t know Sumedh – just connected with what he felt. I love India and believe we could be a lot better by investigating how other societies have improved or are different. People and societies can always learn from each other.


        I want to thank you for the article and appreciate that you are engaging the critics. Wish the patriots did the same for their country. The responses to a large extent show that most of us Indians are taught to be prejudiced, and react instinctively and emotionally to everything.

      • Vignesh,
        You seem to be contradicting yourself here. Is it ok or is it not ok to submit to social pressure? According to you, submission is good because it leads to strong family ties. Yet, submission may force one to shed one’s individual sense of morality. Can you not see how that could lead to emotional problems, especially for one who migrated to a different country at a young age (yes, early 20s is young) and therefore picked up the attitudes of his host country?

  14. I thought your article was very well written and full of candor and I can appreciate it given I am a born-and-brought-up girl from Calcutta living in the US for six years now married to a white American man. We often talk about moving to India (I am an only child) but I wonder how I will react to what you term as cultural-reverse-shock, let alone my gora husband.

    I read through all the comments (as this topic is very close to my heart and I struggle with it daily) and I think your sentiments were largely understood by immigrants themselves while those who’ve never left India were offended and took it as a form of India-bashing.

    Everytime I go back home it takes time to adjust or relapse. I do think it’s easier to be a better person here in the US. Mostly, because your basic needs are met and you’re not, what my mother calls, “fighting fire” on a daily basis be it trying to get a gas connection or a telephone line.

    Poverty and income disparities exists in the US, too but certainly not to the scale or degree it is evident in India. You can be poor in the US but the government will provide food-stamps to you. You are covered by Medicaid. During the summer heat, the government will provide air conditioners to those without it. You can be ‘poor’ and still have an x-box and buy $15 under-eye creams from Avon.

    I love India and will always be an India. I love America for so many things it provides me with (a fantastic education, a lovely husband) and lets me be. I just wish they weren’t so far away from each other.

    Anywhos, thanks for writing a honest and thought-provoking piece.

    • Hi Priyam,

      77% of Indians earn less than Rs. 20 a day (National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, 2007).

      When the patriots suggest that there is wealth disparity and poverty in the US “too,” they are trying to create a false equivalence just so they can feel better about India.


  15. I feel quite pity for you Mr. Mungi. If you can’t stick to your own roots, where else would you stick. I recommend you read Chetan Bhagat’s response to your article. We do appreciate you writing an honest blog, unfortunately it is another cry baby NRI story.

  16. With due respect to the learned comments and to the authors’ ability as a prolific writer.I would like to emphasize that the blog in NYT sounds just like a Bollywood potboiler
    ‘A child lost from his biological mother(India) lives with his adoptive mother(America),One day he comes back searching for his mother,only to find the reality too harsh for him.
    Whom will he choose???’
    In this case the author chose the adoptive mother,so naturally its difficult to digest the end for what we call the Indian mentality,which only Indians can identify with.
    And for that matter, Sir,nobody is going to hunt you down,because that’s also a part of the Indian mentality.

  17. Hi Sumedh,

    I am an American Indian and grew up in Manhattan. My parents are doctors and have their clinic in Manhattan. I regularly used to visit India till my grandparents were alive. I have a question to you.Have you ever seen homeless people in US or people who live in projects? Do you still feel stressed when you see them? Who are you trying to fool?Indians or yourself?At the end of the day, you are still an Indian ( little better than Mexican) in US.

    • Umm…. Priya, shouldn’t it be “I have a question *for* you” and “little better than *a* Mexican” ? But then again, I could be wrong. I am just an Indian.

  18. I talked to my close friend about this article, and he gave a very simple answer. He would not sweat the small things, his only reason to go back is for his parents.
    It is all about priorities and everyone has their own.

  19. Sumedh, I truly admire the honesty with which you wrote the NYT post, and also the fact that you have opened up your blog to take and answer questions on the post.
    As someone who has been away from India for more than a decade (and who visits India as often as time, visa status and money allow me to), I can relate with some of experiences in India. I was, however struck by one statement of yours – “I probably spent more on pizza than on my maid”.
    Did you, at the time, believe that the salary you were paying your maid was an adequate compensation for the services she was providing your family? If not, did you settle on that amount because it was the prevailing rate. That was what your family and friends were paying their domestic help and so you were expected to pay in the same range (no more, no less).

  20. Hi Sumedh,

    Your post on NYT was a very good read. Actually someone I know posted it on FB and there was a big discussion (Still) going on it and the topic is sensitive and thought provoking. Under the same someone posted Mr. Chetan Bhagat article which also was a good read.

    However I kind of agree with both of you :)

    May be because I am trying to take the same decision myself

    Circumstances are certainly different but reading both your articles made things pretty clear :)

    Well thanks and keep writing …


  21. Sumedh,
    Both pieces are very well written. Maybe you should disable comments when you disable italics too :). Yes, most are ridiculous and not reply-worthy.

    I wonder if the New York Times will think Chetan Bhagat’s Blog post is print worthy… probably not. Its hardly well-written, descriptive to the point of boredom and inspite of not wanting to the extol his own virtues he does.

  22. Sumedh – After reading the innumerable comments filled with hostility, narrow-mindednessm and intolerance at your self-professed tolerance levels, I feel compelled to thank you for writing your original post as well as the follow up. Thanks for the wit, honesty and patience in your replies, it made reading these comments a little less painful.

    I’m from Mumbai and have lived in the US for almost 10 years now. I’ve struggled with the question of whether to go back or not all these years. I recently came to the conclusion that I don’t need to “decide” where I will spend the rest of my life…I can go back and come back as I wish (like you advised someone in this comment thread as well).

    I didn’t agree or disagree with your post — there is nothing to agree or disagree with, its a viewpoint that only helps me question and understand myself. And the same with most of the (respectful) comments on the NYT post, whether they argued for or against your viewpoint. Reading your post made me nervous — Will I feel the same way? A part of me hopes not, because a part of me really wants to be able to co-exist with India in India, for the sake of the things I really do miss about it and know I will never have here. That part of me hopes that I will learn to continuously strive to become the person I want to be (as I would strive to do in the US as well, because there is never a limit to improving as a human being and being more and more of who you want to be). That part of me also tries to brace myself for a lot of unpleasant, un-ideal experiences and emotional struggles, all the while reminding myself that if I go back it will be for other reasons. That in the end, this is a CHOICE, and I think as soon as you realized where you stand on making this choice, you took the appropriate actions for yourself. The other part of me can’t imagine leaving New York…it doesn’t know whether I’ll be able to live up to the challenge of facing Indian attitudes towards many social issues that I care deeply about. It doesn’t know if I’ll be able to deal with the constant social pressure, comments and interference by family, friends and strangers. It doesn’t know if I value the collectivity and community I’ve grown up in more than the individuality and freedom that I’ve experienced in the US and come to appreciate so much. I’ve complained much about loneliness in this individualistic culture, but I’m not entirely sure that it will be much different than the loneliness one feels in a more communal culture, given the same set of circumstances. So in short – I REALLY want to go back to India and be able to live there, but I’m not sure if I REALLY can, without giving up more than I get. And like for you, this will not be a reflection of how good or bad India is, it will (atleast in my eyes) be a reflection of who I am and my strengths and limitations.

    I just wanted to share my perspective with all others that may read this thread, and again to thank you for sharing and standing up for your personal experience. Good luck with the continued onslaught of hostile comments, its a small price to pay perhaps for the ability to freely express your views (even though some commenters didn’t seem to believe in freedom of expression) and for providing others (who do value it) with valuable food for thought.

    Thanks again.

    • After I read my post again I want to clarify that the reason it may be harder for me or any other India who has left India to accept and live with those things about India (the Indian attitudes towards social issues, social pressure, interference levels vs the individuality, etc) is because we’ve lived without it. For this reason, it may be harder or even impossible for an Indian who has never left India to really empathize with these concerns, and therefore the instinct to dismiss and pooh-pooh. But these are real struggles, clearly a lot of people seem to face them, so there must be something to them. And sure, if one wants to judge another for the kind of things they struggle with, thats their prerogative.

  23. Sumedh, It is really only the honest comments that provide more food for thought. Megha’s is one as she doesn’t pass judgement, she just wonders what she would do in the circumstances. (Megha don’t you have a blog or website?) But there is the other factor – most people feel a sense of loyalty and love towards their country of birth. It cannot be explained with reason or logic. It just is. People who’ve reacted emotionally and rudely to your article prove my point. If they were objective, they’d appreciate the effort you made in the first place. I do have one question though. In NO way is it a criticism – just an honest question. Did getting involved with an NGO not enter your mind at all?

  24. Hi,

    See, I get your post and your essay, you’re completely entitled to feel the way that you do. What I don’t get is why you’re acting like this is the first time you’ve ever been in India? You had mentioned that you’d been away for 11 years which means that you would’ve spent the first 15 to 20 years of your life in an Indian city. So this:

    “I blame my inability to handle the internalized stress that comes not only from being immersed in a society with so much poverty, but also in a culture that largely accepts the status quo.”

    Doesn’t make any sense to me at all. This poverty and status quo existed long before you left, and I’m sure you were a part of it while you were here. Did you think it would change in the 11 years that you were away?

  25. Hi,
    I think that the wole issue is being blown out of proportion.. A person is entitled to his own opinions and that doesn’t prove that he is right or wrong. However, having said that, I feel that the NYT article did not elaborate on author’s prespectives in a bit more detail. It would certainely have helped the reader to understand about the emotions and reasons behind these statements.

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  27. Mike contributed to this blog twice. In his second blog he mentions that one of his queries: ‘what did Gandhi achieve’, was not touched.

    Gandhi was no ordinary mortal. He practised what he preached. He was a Gujarati belonging to a middle class family and his elder brother wanted him to study law in Great Britain. After being called to the Bar, he started practice in South Africa. His professional success was followed by success in the political field. He himself was a victim of apartheid and championed the causes of inequality and inhumanity suffered by the people of Africa at the hands of the British imperialists. In these he had some successes.

    He .led a beautiful saintly life. His book My Experiments With Truth tells the story.

    After twenty years in South Africa, he was invited by the late Shri Ballavbhai Patel to join the Indian Independence Movement. His modus operandi of the struggle for Independence was based on the principles of non-violence & adherence to truth (Satyagraha) against the British rulers. While he was leading the Congress Party, he was also busy trying to get rid of many taboos and prejudices which bedevilled the massive Indian population. India achieved Independence at a price; the country was divided into two: India and Pakistan. Though he did everything to stop the country being split into two on the ground of religion, he failed to achieve his objective. He advocated religious toleration for all the faiths within the Indian society. He wanted to abolish the caste system and eradicate poverty. Safeguards were enshrined in the in the new Constitution of India for the backward classes of India in various ways though progress in all these spheres is being realised rather at a slow pace in post-Independence India. Gandhi himself lost his life in the hands of a religious fanatic.
    Today the world pays homage to him as a man of peace. In 2007 the United Nations passed a resolution establishing 2nd October, his birthday, as the annual International Day of Non-Violence.

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  30. Sumedh, While I do not have an opinion on your own choices – whether you live in India or US or elsewhere, its your own choice and no one else’s. You can choose to go back to US for materialistic reasons or as a way to escape the society India has become in your view. There is nothing wrong with that. However, you have a responsibility about what you write in NYT. Don’t misunderstand me but there is a very good chance that many Americans would read that post would think India is a hell hole and there is nothing worthwhile about the country. No matter how im-passionately I try to read your article, that is one thing that comes out glaringly. And that in my view is wrong. India may not have worked for you. That is fine. I returned to India after 6 years at a stretch in the US way back in 99. I haven’t regretted my move. Yes, I miss a lot of things about the US. But India ain’t the hell hole you have made it appear to be.

  31. Why does anyone think that staying or not staying in India is equal to being patriotic or not? Today, India’s success is quite a bit due to the many Indians who left India and then gave back or came back. Were they not patriotic? SM, if you have emotional attachments with India but find it tough to live there, it does not matter. As someone above said, you don’t have to choose. As long as you are a good citizen where you are and make something of yourself, you can be a contributor to India and your adopted country. Peace!

  32. What were the reasons you decided to move to India, and before living in the US for 13 yrs, were you born and raised in India ? if the answer is YES , you spent first 25 odd yrs in India , you knew what to expect.One does not move to India to live a californian lifestyle, I have lived in the US for 30yrs, and will move home (still mumbai) in 2012.
    bad infrastructure, filthly streets, traffic, are a given, just as the long list of negatives living in the US. and you know them, now the NY times article was well written, (congrats to your indian english school teachers). but the contents were well shallow. Now write another article on living as an immigrant, second class citizen, with no responsibilties to taking care of your elders and mother india.

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  34. Hi Sumedh,
    The vitriol from the people who don’t like your reading on why you left tells me that what you said struck nerves all across. I am someone who grew up in the Middle East, then spend the next 18 years in India hating my life there and always feeling like I never belonged. When I moved to the US 8 years back I finally felt like I was home. On subsequent trips to India to visit the extended family, I realized how glad I was that I had decided never to return to India – the apathy that motorists show as they speed up when old people are crossing the road, the rich people in the high rises built next to sheer poverty that is ignored especially by the rich like it never exists, the lack of ability to trust anyone, the sense of being taken for a ride no matter what you did unless it was your direct family were things I couldn’t put up with anymore. And I was slowly becoming that person too so I completely relate to what you said and I applaud you for honestly saying what many people feel and never admit or prefer to ignore as long as they make money. Keep writing – to the one who wants to track you down, tell him that crap works in India but not in the US; let him first clean his backyard then once he is done fixing India he can come find you.

  35. Sumedh,
    Nothing about India makes you evil, you are just erroneously justifying your stance, your argument is “Reductio Ad Absurdum” where in your proposition is making you come to absurd conclusions just because you became insensitive doesn’t mean its the environments fault or its country’s fault, it is solely you, Just to give you an example, “A Country doesnt make a person , evil, wicked , unethical or destructive… its solely you!!
    you as the author have fallacy of generalization, you cant come up with a broad conclusion from a small number of unrepresentative cases!

  36. Very well written. A lot of food for thought for NRIs contemplating a move back.

    “The idea that you can fix India’s problems by adding more people to it — even smart people — is highly suspect.”

    Couldn’t agree more. It irks me to see the very root of India’s problems, her uncontrollable population, being touted as the very reason for her huge growth. There must be some leap of logic that I don’t understand.

    Welcome back to California.

  37. “a culture that largely accepts the status quo” – fyi you are the “culture” that largely accepts the status quo. No, i dont think you are under any obligation to bring about a change, but it’s not really about your inability to deal with a culture that accepts the status quo. it’s your inability to deal with a reflection of yourself. What bothers, though, is the authority you think you seem to have to yell at a hawker on the road. (now that is status quo – the top 3% who think they own “poor” people ) I’m sure you would have thought a hundred times before yelling at a guy driving a merc instead.

  38. The moral of the article/story (according to my children) is real humanity if superficial, has to come out at some point, esp in India where reality checks come up every day (if not every other moment). I can’t agree less. I shared your original article with friends who too said they were hurt, which subsequently made me stop sharing it. The callousness of the NRI, some said. I have lived in Italy (mainly) & other parts of Europe over 10 years & is currently settled in India & pursuing (real estate & construction) projects. I have not just been doing well, but have found myself fulfilling my parents’ need to have them supported & loved. I have several friends (most of the from the silicon valley) doing much better in India, than they used to back in the US.

    I have a trust worthy driver for many years & a maid who is like family. I went the same road sometimes, but hardly exploded, nor did I (most importantly) make blank statements on a whole population.

    Though we’re hurt, I do not expect anything out of you. As my grandparents always said, the actions of the parents will bear fruit in the live’s of their children & will return you in old age.

  39. Hi Sumedh,

    Contratulations on being still alive. You have raised a storm and lived to tell the tale. Another feather in your cap, and plucked from your own plume at that!

    I read your departure note and couldn’t help thinking that all the drawbacks you listed were in fact your own drawbacks. It was you who did the ‘terrible terrible’ things that you mentioned. It was you who looked down at people, abused them, refused to help, etcetra. The grotesque creature that you were becoming was not through transformation but through revelation. The monster had walked out of the closet. India had shown you a mirror and you were terrified of the reflection.

    So you chose to attack that mirror, as if the monster was in the reflection and not in your self. Everywhere in your essay there is a ‘me’ and a ‘them’. The ‘me’ is an NRI who was amongst the dregs of US society and decided he could lord over poor oppressed Indian people – dazzle them with dollars. There was a time when such an effect could have been produced. Not any more. Nobody paid homage to you, not even an hawker. Your driver did not respect you — I bet you wouldn’t if you were him. You thought that you saw respect in the drivers eye when you abused a hawker — it was acknowledgement of your faults that showed through the veneer of sophistication.

    When you came to India, you found that you were insignificant so you ran away, back to US where you gained a semblance of significance (because you were Indian of skin) and NYT decided to publish an essay by you in ‘Notes on the world’s largest democracy’. NYT chose an honest injun to speak for India.

    I can understand that you had a bad time here. You could have had a bad time in any place. It is not about the place being good or bad, it is about how you touch the people there. Try to live even a day as you must have lived here in India (in terms of acts and demeanour), try to speak to people the way you did (even before you ‘learned’ to abuse) and behold the wrath of your cherished American society. In fact try to do this anywhere in the world and see what you get. I am not a betting man, but even if I was, I would not take bets on your living to tell the tale.

    Buy a mirror and remember that objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

  40. Sumedh, I completely understand your desire to migrate and completely support your right to do so.

    But you say, “I blame my inability to handle the internalized stress that comes not only from being immersed in a society with so much poverty, but also in a culture that largely accepts the status quo.”

    Isnt just packing up and leaving the ultimate acceptance of the status quo ? I dont see how doing so ‘rejects’ the status quo. In fact, it indicates an acceptance of the unfair status quos in both India and the US.

  41. Read and empathized with your article. We moved back to India in 2008 and have moved back to the west a couple of weeks ago. We came to India full of good intentions – we will treat people we hire well, pay them much higher than market wages, get them to eat with us etc and at the end of nearly 4 years, found that we had given out loans of more than Rs 1 lakh each to everyone who worked for us, which never came back (all of them had house leases coming up for renewal at the same time), paid for medical expenses for our driver´s father, who we later found had died in 2001.

    Finally, we fired the maid for stealing jewellery and the driver for wrecking our car after he took it out on some personal business. There is a loss of innocence involved as you say- in checking your maid´s bag in her presence and finding your jewellery in it or in finding out that the driver has negotiated with the car that hit him to “forget” to file a police claim.

    But how much money is it? All the extra money we paid or lost, we can recover within a couple of months overseas. I guess it may the same case with you. It is just that being fooled like this hurts.

    We miss India – we miss the food, we miss our parents, the kids miss their grandparents, we miss how kind our kids school teachers are in India (and how commercial western education is in comparison), we miss the temples and we miss that slow pace of life. We moved back, primarily for economic reasons – the same reasons we moved to the west nearly 12 years ago – we simply earn far more outside India.

    If we were very rich, we will stay in India forever.

  42. Hi Sumedh,

    You have written an honest account of your experience – I think that’s very brave, given the fact that not everyone will empathise…but that’s ok too…part of being a writer is to say uncomfortable stuff like it is.

    Secondly, I think your readers are forgetting that each person’s India experience is different and also, that India is also moving forward after having opened its markets. So, nothing is the same as it was – after 2000, it is even more so. For some this might be easy to digest, and for you perhaps not due to different factors.

    And just for the information of your critics – no country is pure as the driven snow. All kinds of crap happens in India as well – it is not some Utopia as some make it out to be. The utopic factor lies in rejoicing in what is familiar and meaningful (culture/religion), and from a jolt of nostalgia that’s all. Prioritize your life – if culture and religion mean so much that putting up with a few material inconveniences is ok, then go back to India. If adjusting with everyone and everything is becoming a problem, then don’t go back.

    Just know that the longer you stay abroad, the further you and India (or what you thought it was) are growing apart.

  43. We moved to Bangalore from NYC with my two 3yr olds for 11 months and though there are times I want to stay back, mostly I want to go back. For peace of mind and my own sanity. I cannot handle the vagaries of life in India anymore, not with these two precious ones. I admit I am weak and ill-equipped.

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