SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Full circle

SOFIA GHORI SALEEM

When the wheel of time brings you back to where you started off…

The pied piper that visited homes two decades ago and took the children out to sea, has returned, with these same children now grown up.

Fourteen years ago, I left the shores of Mumbai, in pursuit of the golden dream that beckons so many of our youngsters abroad. After many years of living, working and raising a family overseas, the wheel of time brought me back right where I started. This summer, I returned to India.

My story resonates in the lives of so many Indians. The past two decades saw a deluge of young talent leaving their homes for a Western education. Student life was followed by work life — many found immediate employment in their countries of domicile and years went by. However, there always remained a nagging question — how was life like back in India? What would it mean to live and work and raise children there?

Shifting momentum

For India and many countries of the East, the moment has arrived. Today, jobs and fresh opportunity abound in the East. There is energy here and momentum. It’s palpable in the moods and attitudes of the people, in the surge of traffic blocking every major artery of cities, in the rising costs of real estate. The promise of making a living within the context of our country of origin is too attractive to resist. And so, the airplanes that flew away with full loads of people are now heading eastwards, overflowing to the brim, with not even an empty business class seat.

People have got to work, trying to figure out how to leverage an economy where huge markets exist for retail, automotive, sports and entertainment. A decade ago, a handful of the metro cities had export processing zones. Today tech park after tech park has mushroomed and the initial IT sunrise is being overshadowed by a second sunrise — the auto industry.

In response to this fast-paced growth, Indian society has reshaped and continues to change before our very eyes. Not just in the landscape of the cities, but in the hearts and minds of the people. From coffee shops to mall hangouts and multiplex theatres, new lifestyles are emerging, workplaces have become more savvy and competitive, young and restless working classes have been created. People have so many more choices — from deciding on their favourite grocery store, to which car they want to purchase or what national airline they would like to travel. People power has really caught on and it has become a compelling force you cannot deny.

Global village

My world view has changed from a young idealist’s mind-picture of a sprawling diaspora of diverse humanity, to a shrinking, increasingly inter-dependant global village. Global experience is no longer the exclusive privilege of a few. It has become a downright necessity — the competitive edge on a professional’s resume. Consequently, there are significant numbers of people who travel from land to land and project to project, living in countries and circumstances that are totally foreign to their native experiences. No longer are landmarks such as The Gateway of India or the Taj Mahal the extent of Indian exposure for people of White Causasian descent. Today Blacks, Whites and Hispanics throng our malls and workplaces on long term assignments. Many that I have met are gung-ho about their new lifestyle. Their lack of understanding of native Indian languages is no deterrent and the food and dress are enjoyed as a unique ethnic experience.

The process of reverse migration has caught on full force. The world has come full circle. The pied piper that visited homes two decades ago and took the children out to sea, has returned, with these same children now grown up. And their children now in tow. In the rich medley of cultures and languages that makes up the fabric of Indian society, a new class has emerged — the expatriate.