Oct 5, 2008

Brain Drain

Till I was 25, I didn't understand this phenomenon. Having grown up among men who were willing to lay their lives down to defend their country (some even did), I mildly despised those who fled the country for personal comforts and gains. I formed the argument more clearly in my head, when I was at IIT/IIM - the government subsidises the higher education of a few, using tax-payers' money, so that some of them help build a brighter future for India. They reap the benefits and then escape their responsibilities.

A lot of my batch-mates left for the US etc. as soon as we finished our courses. I was determined to stay back and do something, in my own small way, for my country. And with the development we'd seen in the past decade or so - 'India Shining' and all - I felt confident I could lead a good, comfortable life right here!

A little over 3 years later - having lived in Bangalore and travelled to London and a lot of S-E Asia, I've changed my mind and I want OUT of this place. Lemme explain why...

Aspect 1 - Public goods and services
In all cities I visted, one could:
- drink tap water
- not have to worry about power cuts
- reach anywhere quickly, and very conveniently, using public transport
- drive without losing their temper a dozen times an hour
- start working young. You have to work hard and PAY for higher education. And if you did, it would mean something

Aspect 2 - Discipline and behaviour
People formed and respected queues everywhere. Traffic signals were followed. Rules were respected. In general, people were courteous and cordial, and showed a basic minimum level of respect for each other even if they were strangers.

Aspect 3 - Leisure and luxury
There were 24-hours-open 7-11 stores and McDonalds everywhere. The number of convenience products available, large stores/malls, brands of apparel/automobiles etc. - was absolutely mind-boggling for an Indian.
After a hard day's work, or on a weekend, you had leisure establishments you could go to, have a good time, and meet new people. Contrast this with Bangalore - where everything MUST shut down at 1130. Single guys are not allowed in. And dancing is illegal.

Aspect 4 - Safety
If you live in a major Indian city, you could get bombed out of existence any time. Consider this - there were bomb blasts in M-block (Delhi) on a Saturday evening last month. Couple of years back, there were bomb blasts in Mumbai Locals at 630 pm. I could have been there. And ceased being the next moment. We have shockingly inadequate police coverage, high levels of corruption and low levels of motivation within the force. And we have popular politicians who defend the terrorists! Anywhere else - I don't think I'd have to worry about this. Such incidents would be exceptions rather than the bloody norm. And they are becoming bolder and more frequent. People laud our resilience. That's bullshit. It's actually apathy.

Aspect 5 - Govt. and policy
Kashmir. Godhra. Singur. Mandal commission and Reservation. Farmer suicides. Communal riots. Fodder scam. Bofors case. MP's involved in '86 anti-Sikh riots. CM's convicted of murder (and then acquitted to be re-instated as Dy-CM to keep the Congress in power). Mayawati. Jayalalithaa and Karuna throwing each other in jail. Laloo Yadav and fodder scam. A Prime Minister who slept during meetings. A president who couldn't maintain a dignified posture. Naxalsim. A colossal failure called PDS. Another, paradoxically named Public Sector Enterprise. Loan waivers. Currency scams. Exam paper leakages.
An electorate that fails to learn. Educated and affluent sections that refuse to stand up, roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
Need I say more?

Aspect 5 - Social standards
I've often heard that Indians living overseas often confront the ugly face of racism. Maybe they do. What happens here? Lemme narrate a few recent incidents:
- I expressed my views against the restrictions on leisure establishments at an online forum, where, supposedly, one'd encounter only educated and civilized citizens of Bangalore. I was told that people who partied and consumed alcohol (like me) became like 'horses without reins' and were a public hazard, and didn't deserve more freedom. 
- I was sitting on the steps outside Gokul Arcade (about 50 yards from Forum - very open, well-lit and public) with a female friend after an evening movie show. My bike was parked there, and we were just waiting for me to finish my cigarette before driving. We were harassed by cops and ordered to get the hell out of there and go home.
- A friend of mine is a graduate of IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta, employed with HSBC as a Marketing manager. He was, for a while, unable to get a flat in Mumbai 'coz he's a Muslim.
- Even in my own country, there are places where people have been hostile because I was from a different region and did not speak their language.
So, are things any better here?

For most of my life, I lived in Army Cantonments or reputed campuses, and did not have to face any of the problems mentioned above. I believed in India, and Indians. 3 years of living on my own, in Bangalore, has made me aware of a very different, and quite harsh, reality. Most Indians do not have a 'sense' of nationalism, or 'greater/public good'. Even a lot of those who are supposedly educated and should know better. Of the few who do, most either don't bother doing anything about it, or end up frustrated after failed attempts (like I have).
Having seen the alternative (US/EU/HK/Singapore), and evaluated all factors, I understand why some of our best brains escape. It's not just deplorable selfishness, it's also a natural instinct - self-preservation.
I love my job and the place I work at. But I hate the life I have outside the office. Given an opportunity (hopefully by my current employers), I'd get out! And maybe someday, when the love of the land becomes irresistible (akhir dil hai hindustani), and our nation has taken several steps forward, I'll come back. For now, I just want out!


  1. I know what you mean. I live in Bangalore too, so yeah join the club:-(

  2. Situations that you have described have been there for quite sometime (as long as maybe 50 years). The list of differences you have outlined (kind of comparison)between our country and the rest have been part countless debates (from school to college to whatever).
    I would definitely to agree to almost each of those but i would also add a statement "but there are somethings that have changed or improved" like
    we may not drink tap water but in comparison to years ago we have improved in reach of the water supply,
    some cities indeed have people worry/obey about the traffic signals (where breaking rule was considered cool once upon a time)
    etc etc (you got the point right).
    This will definitely not convince anybody to be proud of or whatever about our country and just as in any other debate my statements above are from the losing side.
    But, i would still be here because if you see any of the development (however small) there has been lot of effort that was put in behind it. You grew up among people who are ready to lay their lives while i have been with people who want to live every single day in building up this country.
    These are people (simple govt. officers)who have risked their lives in sting operations, busted scams, moved huge beneficial projects in several sectors (IT, irrigation) - its not easy to put things in place with so much political pressure all over.
    These guys need support - from people who are in the system and people who are outside. That's one reason why i would not leave the country. We can go at length about this but that's easier on talk than on blog.

  3. I absolutely agree with what you have to say.Maybe just 2 years back I never ever wanted to leave my country. I even kept rejecting all wedding proposals I got from abroad :) But somewhere things have changed.

    After I visited US I realized something really strange. With the money I get in India today, I could probably lead a better life there! US was so much cheaper than Bangalore!! Food, drinks, travel, activities...everything was cheaper. Just the excellent public transport setup there made me rethink my decision of staying back in India.

    The cost of living is so high here, its unbelievable! We slog our asses off, but end up saving zilch! To top it all traffic is so sad, I dont feel the urge to get out of the house and party on the weekend after a crazy week! I love sports, adventure and trekking...but there are absolutely no facilities here. There are no developed trekking trails, adventure sports, cycling trails, nothing! I love swimming, tennis, badminton...but the options in Bangalore are so limited and far away, one cant even think of beating the traffic and going for it. Finally, the ban at 11 leaves us with 'Zero' options for weekends!

    On the whole I agree it is best to move out now, make some quick money, travel, and consider returning when the infrastructure is bearable! I love my country and will miss it every moment when I leave it, but it is not worth staying back.

  4. Crasiezt: Welcome, madame!

    Shin: As always, u rock! Didn't know u were into blogs at all. But couldn't agree more with what you've said!

    Sandi: For starters, lets keep it on the blog for 2 reasons: it stays as a record, and others can also join the discussion

    Your statements show a certain exuberance of youth and audacity of hope (ha!i love cliches). As I mentioned, I also started where you are, but I guess I've lost that optimism over the past few years, due to a lot of frustrating experiences. Having seen for myself how far, far ahead other cities are, the snail-pace of change here, and most importantly - the regressive attitude and indifference that most people in our country seem to have, my fundas in life have been shaken. I've evaluated the pros and cons of both sides, keeping my own happiness as the primary objective, I find exit the far better option - for now at least. If anyone can convince me why I should make major sacrifices in terms of quality of life - prove all these frustrations are worthwhile - while much better options are so easily available (you'd have to see for yourself just how much better they really are), then I'd think about staying back.

  5. Shin - one little comment. u save zilch ONLY coz of ur shoppin habits. dont try and blame anyone or anything else for that.
    everything else is bang on ;)

  6. just read your blog for the first time. Am surprised by the contradictory nature of your posts- Brain Drain and then A life worth living!
    Buddy, be the life worth living and get all the fame and money you want, bringing about the change you desire in India! Don't say that you will go away and come back when things are better! All the problems that you speak about were recognized as opportunities by entrepreneurs and even your idols; and they did what they aspired.
    And our generation is lucky enough to have the kind of opportunities and money, the lack of which forced people to leave India 10 years back. To your points, You can earn enough to install a Reverse Osmosis Water purifier and drink from the tap; buy an A/C car-get a chaffeure- and drive in the traffic with peace; entertain at home all night long with a good group of friends with PS3 and so on....
    Point is, I was impressed by your ambition, but atleast channel it right here in India! Also, starting up a business is best done in a market and country that you know really well!

  7. @FickleMind: 'Life worth living' was more than 3 years back - when I was still a relatively 'fresh' IIT-IIM product - with the exuberance of youth and audacity of hope et al.
    Brain drain was written last year - after 2+ years of living in Bangalore and immediately following a week-long holiday in Singapore. That kinda explains the rather extreme swings you mention.

    To your point specifically - sure, one can virtually buy all the comforts in India, but you need to earn a LOT before you can really afford all that. Compare this with a Singapore, for example - where every citizen can take a decent house to live in, a clean city, and good public transport for granted. Why should these basics be the privilege of the few in India?

    This post outlines the problems I see in India today, which are bad enough to drive many people-who-can to move out. More worrying is the root cause - why I don't see things improving much in the near-term. We haven't really come together as a people to work at common problems and demand solutions from our govt. We still fight over language, regional sub-identities, 'Indian culture' and suchlike. I want to be a part of the change, but I've realized that such change is a lot further away than one'd think - I'll be explaining this in my next post.

    I love this country and can't imagine living anywhere else for long. But for the next few years - till the Indian people get their priorities right and start moving the country in the right direction - I'd rather take a break :)