One of the surest ways to gauge social change is to study the matrimonial market. Infallibly, all the little transformations, as well as the major upheavals, are faithfully mirrored in the way men and women seek each other out to be joined together in holy matrimony. The changing status of women, for instance, is followed in the matrimonial bazaar in the way so many men now look for working women as wives.
But one of the most intriguing changes in this sphere has been the marked disinclination of many educated, career women these days to marry an NRI. This is a change that tiptoed in when nobody was noticing. Now, however, it is much stronger than a trend, and can almost be called a development in itself.
Young, educated, middle class women take their careers very seriously for the most part in our country today. They have usually invested huge amounts of time, effort and money in their education, and in getting where they are at the moment. Often, they put off marriage till it is convenient, career wise, to hitch up with somebody who will support them in their careers, in the same way as they will his. In this scenario, the NRI is irrelevant. Relocating to another country as a spouse brings with it endless visa and work-permit hassles. Besides, many degrees become irrelevant out of India . A doctor, lawyer or Chartered Accountant will need to bone up with many more years of study before she can work in another country. Besides, with so many layoffs happening in countries around the world, being abroad is a chancy business, job wise, these days. And in any case, the reverse brain drain is becoming quite a noticeable phenomenon at present. After all, ours is a growing economy, and one can make one’s mark in any field today much faster here than in countries that, till the other day, were viewed as being “Paved with Gold”.
This is indeed a change from the time when NRIs, no matter how geekish, or how ordinary, were viewed as tickets to Paradise . The “boy” could be a chinless wonder with a moronic, buck toothed grin, but any girl who managed to “hook” him was looked upon with envy. So what if his was a clerical job, and she was a highly educated, beautiful woman? Any girl who “turned down” an NRI was viewed as being foolish in the extreme. What was all this talk of career-shareer in those days worth, in the face of a person who could guarantee her a home in the land of the mighty dollar?
In any case, things are really different for the NRI today. His status has slipped, and he no longer commands the same awe and respect as he did even a decade ago, before the full impact of liberalisation was felt in this country. Previously, he would descend on his “native place” seasonally, his bag filled with goodies. Things such as polyester saris, Charlie perfumes, folding umbrellas, and – ah, the prize goody of them all – a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label – had fawning relatives boasting to friends and neighbours, “Our Bopa has brought so many things, such fantastic gifts for us this time…”
Of course this is not to belittle what they did bring. These were after all much sought after in those days. But how the wheel has turned! Everything that one needs, wants, or lusts after, is freely available in our country now. In fact, even this undeveloped corner of the country has shops and malls that provide things that one could only see in shops abroad, till the other day. And, in a rather neat turning of tables, it is intriguing to find that so many of the products that adorn the shelves of the fanciest stores in the West, come from India . Fantastic!
No wonder the NRI is hard pressed these days to bring gifts that evoke the same level of enthusiasm in the family. He is nonplussed when they tell him, gently, “Bopa, we look forward greatly to your visits, and we value the time you are spending with us, but …forget about the gifts. They are all available in the corner store, two minutes walk from here.”
The NRI is often a bemused person these days. Every visit he makes here shows up huge changes. Assam is one of the least developed places in the country, but even here, the changes are amazing. The “mobile mania” that has gripped young and old alike has ensured that the telecom scene is very different from what it was. Besides, young people here are extremely gadget savvy, and very well informed about the latest offerings of the big electronic companies, worldwide.
Indeed, nobody asks NRIs to bring them anything remotely resembling electronic goods any more. Nor do people buy much when they themselves go abroad, the reason being that excellent stuff is easily available here. And we have something that NRIs envy – service boys who come home cheerfully, efficiently fix the non-cooling AC, or clean the kitchen chimney, or mend the numerous little thingies that keep going wrong in all homes. In those other sparsely populated countries, of course, they have to do it all themselves. On Sundays. Ah, poor things.
Indeed, the phenomenon of the returning NRI is quite an established one in the metros of the country, and in places such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Which is all to the good. For of course they have a lot to contribute towards the development of this country, as indeed do the people who have chosen not to go abroad and work there, in the first place. What is irritating though, is the way so many of these visiting, or returning NRIs, point out the flaws of our country, as though we were not aware of them. “How dirry it is here, how can you live here?” wails the fresh-from-Florida visitor to her host at a welcome dinner. The fact is, the host’s home is likelier to be cleaner and better kept than her own ever was, though it cannot be denied that the roads and drains outside are usually a mess.
Still, the NRI actually has no right to comment on the badness of things here. For she is no longer a part of our country now. Just as it would be in extremely poor taste for a foreign visitor to talk about the badness of our country, it is also extremely unseemly for the NRI to grumble about the dirtiness of our country. The assumption that this dirtiness needs to be pointed out presupposes an idea that the people who live here are not aware of it.
All Things Considered, though, it seems there are very few NRIs who can resist the urge to “advise” people on how to go about improving things here. Luckily for them, people here are polite, and usually refrain from telling them that what they are saying is all common knowledge. The catch lies in the implementation of the grandiose plans that they advocate! But given the fact that the lustre is wearing off from NRIs so swiftly, it is time they took care to be more circumspect in showing their disdain for the land of their birth.