Saturday, May 17, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Why Indians turn into achievers abroad
Khushwant Singh

I HAVE been intrigued by the fact that so many Indians achieve eminence in different fields in foreign lands which they were unlikely to have if they had stayed in India. You can see them prosper as farmers, physicians, engineers, entrepreneurs, hoteliers, scientists, litterateurs, athletics ó name the profession and youíll find an Indian name in the list of toppers. Children of Indian parents get higher grades than do children of other ethnic groups. Millionaires of Indian origin in Europe, Canada, the USA, East Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan far outnumber millionaires found in India. Why?

It has to be conceded that Indians have it in them to make as good, if not better than any other people of the world in any profession they enter. Why they donít do as well in their own country is because of extensive corruption, favouritism, red-tapism, rampant trade unionism and mob rule to which they are frequently subjected. Countries in which Indians have flourished have less of these negative factors.

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As important as their innate ability, is the struggle for survival Indians have to face when they settle abroad. They know they have to be better than the locals to be able to live as well as they. So they work harder than they would have in their home country, their children study longer hours and make top grades. They are on their own without support of relations they left behind in India. Nor do they have time to waste on religious rituals, visiting temples or gurdwaras, which their kinsmen often do on a daily basis. For them work assumes top priority and it pays handsome dividends.

Indian achievers abroad ó led by Sindhis, Gujaratis, Punjabis and Keralites ó come from all parts of the country. Among the most remarkable are Sikhs. They were amongst the earliest to go abroad and because of their distinct appearance (turbans and beards) had to face more discrimination than others from their country. They overcame enormous odds and are today counted amongst the most prosperous of non-Resident Indians (NRIs). The saga of their achievements needed to be put on record. It has been done by Dr Surjit Kaur, a sociologist based in Washington DC. Her book Among the Sikhs (of US, Canada, England and Australia) has been recently published by Roli books.


I thought the succession of scorchers with hot winds (loo) blowing would continue till the advent of the monsoon sometime towards the end of June. I began to resent hours of sunlight and escaped them encapsulated in an artificially cooled room darkened by heavy black window curtains to shut out the light. Mornings were only marginally cooler but lasted barely an hour till the sun came up and turned the world into a living inferno. One morning it was different. As I threw open my windows, an aroma of parched earth freshly sprinkled with water filled my nostrils. There had been a mild drizzle at night, the thirsty soil had expressed its gratitude by exuding a heavenly fragrance, the like of which no flower or perfume has succeeded in matching. What comes closest to it is the odour of a curtain made of khus fibre when water is sprinkled over it. The French have made a perfume Vetivert which is a poor imitation.

The cool morning breeze of summer has inspired a lot of poetry in Urdu, Persian and Arabic, for the simple reason that it is a phenomenon more known and enjoyed in desert lands, than in temperate or humid climate. I donít know of any other language, European or Indian, which has a word for it. It is a zephyr which evokes fantasies of love and longing. Meer Taqi Meer has a memorable couplet on the subject:

Jaisey Naseem her seher, teyree karoon hoon justajoo

Khana-ba-khanna, dar-ba-dar, shahr-ba-shahr, koo-ba-koo

(As the morning breeze, so I do look everywhere for you from house to house, door to door, city to city, and lane to lane).

That morning I sat in my little garden now fragrant with the scent of jasmine. I let the soft cool breeze lull me to half-sleep. I dreamt of the years gone by, people I loved who have gone out of my life or are dead. Iíve had a full life with no regrets. Thanks to a few drops of water on the parched earth and the baad-e-Naseem.

India, Pakistan and America

Iraq is liberated, and before that

Afghanistan and Kosovo

And due for deliverance, among others are

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria.

The world had gone rotten, and something had to be done ó

Arrogant and self-respecting, assertive and independent

Despite warnings and opportunities to mend and bent.

This drift had to end

And all must fall in line with the wisdom and sagacity

All must subserve and be at the mercy

All must lie prostrate and be willing mates

To the unilateral glory of the United States,

Its desire to extract, exact and acquire

its desire to fix and fire

Or else, well-well-face the inevitable

And be ready for the bombing hell.

Well, India and Pakistan can sit pretty

And go on fighting over Kashmir endlessly

Go on spreading poison against each other

And endless animus harbour

And court the USA sincerely, openly, avidly

To be their benefactor

Like the two cats and the monkey,

Completely forgetting the American passion

To refashion the world after their own heart,

It being completely out of their mind

That if autumn comes, winter cannot be far behind

That India and Pakistan

Are not really very far from Syria and Iran.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Deft definitions

Diplomat: A man who can convince his wife that she looks vulgar in gold.

Waiter: A man who thinks money grows on trays.

Bachelor: A rolling stone that gathers no boss.

Life insurance: A contract that keeps you poor so that you can die rich.

Race horse: An animal (or a horse) that can take several thousand people for a ride at the same time.

Appetisers: Little things you eat until you lose your appetite.

Secret: It is something you talk only to one person at a time.

Rehearsal: A show at which the main role is played by the director.

(Contributed by Rajnish, Shimla)

Note: Khushwant Singhís column will not appear for the next two weeks.

..................................... This feature was published on May 10, 2003