Sunday, May 22, 2005

The truth about earning in dollars!

I flicked this one off the ginsoaked blog, and this well written article puts into perspective a lot of things that I wanted to write. I wonder if, being one of the lot who decided to "escape" sometime back, chasing the "60-cent" dreams (1 US$ = 1.67 S$), do I consider myself only 60% guilty?

For one, the whole dollar dream concept is full of contradictions from the very beginning.
We used to have this English lesson in 10th, on Brain Drain. My mother being the english teacher taught me the same. But in the same breath, she never stopped short of praising/feeling proud of her ex-students who were "doing-oh-so-well" in the US. I still don't know what any of them were doing, what their job profiles were.... but they were doing well by the sole virtue of the geographical location. And then there were these uncles and aunts who came back from abroad, full of nice smelling soaps and shampoos and deodorants... Somehow, any attempts by the people writing textbooks were not as convincing. Now, my teacher is having a tough time teaching the same lesson to her impressionable kids (nothing changes in India?). With her daughter chasing the supposed good life, its not easy at all. Needless to say, my mother is very happy that her only daughter is doing well.

Hopefully, there won't be any Freudian explanations to this one: nobody told me to come, I was convinced by this idea we all seem to be born with, I came myself. I couldn't be different, I couldn't risk being left out. The only thing "different" I did was: despite an admit in the US, I came to Singapore. While most people were supportive or neutral to my decision, few came up with ideas that stumped me. One person (close to me then) laughed at me, and said I must be nuts - Singapore is for second rung students, people who run out of choices, for losers. Few others of a similar opinon were thankfully a little more euphemistic. It was strange seeing the pride in them, on prophesizing my not-so-shining-future on the basis of physical coordinates. This was clearly no land-of-opportunity. Clearly, for them, the vivid dollar dream is very monochromatic: it excludes the dollars of any other colour except green.

I did come here full of dreams. The university, in theory, taught me a lot more than RV ever did. (Experiences are another tangent!) I did research on something that I always wanted to do, wrote a few papers, and travelled a good bit of the world presenting them. I don't deny that the opportunity here is tremendous, more than what is available to an average student in India. I am grateful for them. Things which were beyond my league seemed possible and in course of time, happened. I am not sure whether I still look like an underachiever to my friends in the land of opportunity. I know that one person transiting in Singapore (US-India trip), within 15 minutes of being here, told my friend-- "Dude, get a life!! What the hell are you doing in a place like this!!". I also remember that on my trip to US, a friend pointed at Starbucks and said, "That's a coffeeshop, you know". I don't have the heart to tell him that there is one inside the Forbidden City (in Beijing) too. Another person spent some time charting out my life since "Eventually, you have to be there", the statement padded with the very American "you know what I mean". No, actually not, what do you mean?? I don't seem to know how come the people "there", bound by limits of that one country have seen everything, and me in this small island-country, despite having so many stamps on my passport ain't seen nothing? Why must we all lust for the land-of-opportunity?

The PPP is true, it exists, but People in India refuse to believe it. People (Auntijis and Unclejis) consider people living abroad successful since we earn big money in Indian currency. But we pay 3$++ for a coffee, as against 30 rupees in Coffee day. The practical Fx conversion rate is roughly around 1S$ = 10Rs. You also cannot afford the services here, meaning: no dhobi/cook for the bachelors. What I pay for my room, will fetch you a whole furnished apartment in India. The 6 figure salary comes with a hefty tax. My cup of coffee comes with a tax. I will probably never own a "dream" house with a huge garden. It took me 9 months to get my dream job. Its not like in India, that companies are lined up at your door waiting to take you in. You need the precious something called "Work-ex" which I lacked. In India, an MBA with no work-ex is still paid a premium salary!! Medical bills? I still lug my yearly supply of medicines from India. Its wrong to say we, the people abroad, have it easy. The people here are not the same, society is non-existent. And I miss my family and friends! Holi, Diwali, Janmashtami, Ganesh Puja, Ugadi all come and go, and I sit and wait for Chinese New Year. I don't know what kind of comforts I am seeking! Is this the reality of my dream...?

At times, I feel terribly guilty. But I cannot go back, because I like my job, and with the huge number of applicants in India, I have no chance of getting a similar one in India. I do not feel safe there either. Yes, in my own country I don't. (Have you read the papers off late?) Feminist ideas aside, the competition & the comparision kills me, "He was a worse student in class, but is doing better now", "Oh, you know he has bought a house/bike/car", "Oh he just got his H1B stamped" .

People still in India, working in the ubiquitous software companies are weighed down by peer pressure. They are depressed because their friends are in the US... they don't want to be left out, and are willing to let go of opportunities for it. A few are waiting for the H1B stamped, waiting for the salvation, the good life. When they go, they won't ever come back. If they do, they will be even more full of comparisions and the desire to go back. Whats the biggest contradiction here is that, while abroad many of them wouldn't even live the good life they wanted. They will crave for desi food, look for desi people, and ensure their children go to desi Schools and learn enough desi stuff. They will complain: "The dal here doesn't taste as good as the one in that dhaba in Indiranagar". Then, the chase for the green card will start. You have heard it all before, it is just the same old story, this is no different...

It is not a hamlet-ian dilemma of whether to get into this or not! The question is very direct-- Is this really a dollar dream?

(This is an unfinished piece, rather a work in progress... got too emotional to finish it)

(Disclaimers & Clarifications: Friends, It may not necessarily be you I am talking about or quoting, apologies for any "controversial" statements: it was totally unintentional. Also that, I am not trying to make a point or stir up controversy, I am just describing a thought process, based on bitter-sweet experiences. It's not to judge anyone, but more to discuss my internal contradictions and dilemmas....)


Sinfully Pinstripe said...

This piece of yours is going places. Don't let go of it. Take your time.

Jeeves,Reginald said...

*clap clap clap*

oh! I just read the disclaimer.

*standing ovation*

Rahul said...

Couldn`t agree more. Have come to understand the phrase "grass is greener on te other side" a whole lot better now