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Tanuj Khosla
Tuesday , November 22, 2011 at 14 : 09

The inexplicable 'superior NRI complex'


Unlike my previous pieces, this one is more of an outburst than an insight or a viewpoint on any topic/issue. That is because I am seething from inside at a phenomenon which has absolutely no justification irrespective of how hard I try to play the devil's advocate.

I had heard a lot about it from friends and family before I left Indian shores but seeing it first-hand really makes my blood boil. I call it the 'Superior NRI complex'.

The trigger for this tirade is a recent conversation that I overheard on my flight from Singapore to New Delhi between an Indian Jat man in his twenties who seemed to have spent at least three quarters of his life in Delhi and a Scandinavian couple who were travelling to India for the first time.

The couple occupied the window and middle seats while our Jat stud sat on the aisle seat next to them. I was in the row in front of them. What started off as a polite conversation between the Scandinavian lady and the Jat turned into a India bashing marathon by the latter in which he self-appointed himself as the couple's India guide and warned them against everything from dirty drinking water to mosquitoes to dishonest cabbies to lecherous public to pollution.

Twenty minutes later, he seemed pretty happy with himself for sharing his 'local insights' while, not surprisingly, the couple, who were scheduled to travel to Agra and Rajasthan the next day, looked horrified.

However, our boy wasn't still done. He went on to draw the most ridiculous comparison between Singapore's (where he is currently based) positives and India's negatives (stuff like cleanliness, low crime, no corruption etc). Of course, he made no mention of the world famous hospitality, cuisine, historical monuments, bio-diversity and family values in India.

Thanks to the recent volatility in the global markets, I had a few rough days at work and was looking forward to some solitude and sleep on the flight. However the man's obnoxious sermon made me even more agitated and pushed my patience to its limits. I was just about to get up and give him a mouthful when a lady from Mumbai who was also overhearing the whole conversation did the honours.

The man didn't utter a word (not even to ask water from the air-hostess) for the rest of the journey after the lady was done with him.

The sad part is that this was not an isolated incident and such occurrences are not limited to lesser educated NRIs. A few months back, I was at an investor conference where I saw an Indian guy, a Harvard MBA and working as an investment banker at one of America's top banks, call India 'a third world country where one is forever stuck in a traffic jam on pot-holed roads and where electricity is a luxury' in front of his gora clients.

I am proud to say that I gave him a piece of my mind there and then without being any bit insulting or abusive. I simply asked him to explain 'the third world country's impressive GDP growth over the last few years and its relative resilience during the 2008 financial crisis'. Needless to say, the cat caught his tongue. I wonder what his expression would have been had I gone into reminding him of our rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Many would agree that for some inexplicable reason a large percentage of Indians start considering themselves a cut above their countrymen once they have lived abroad for a few years. Of course, you have thousands of exceptions as well as those whose love for the country seems to increase with the time they have spent outside it, but they are few and far in between.

This 'superiority complex' exhibits itself in less milder forms as well. Some examples would be

Developing an accent within two years of residing abroad despite having stayed in India for over 25 years before that. What is worse? - Talking in an accent to family and friends during annual visits back home.

Suddenly start looking down upon everything Indian, be it Bollywood or festivals like Holi, Navratra etc.

Mindlessly aping the lifestyles of Westerners (many of whom are ironically fascinated by India)

I am yet to come across any other nationality that has such tendencies. I really think that social scientists should investigate this.

The only half-reason that I could come up with to explain this absurdity is the penchant to hero worship NRIs by many Indian families.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, a family member staying abroad used to be a great thing in India. That chacha or mama used to be the favourite uncle among kids who used to get imported chocolates and toys for them during his annual visits to the country.

But the world has changed since then. Today going and staying abroad is no longer a big deal. In fact, IT companies send out software engineers by the thousands. Unfortunately, the mind set of many families in India hasn't kept pace with the times. A relative settled abroad (even he is employed in a menial job there) is a source of pride not only for the immediate family but for the entire clan. No wonder these 'heros' develop an air of superiority on account of their elevated social status.

Firangi accent and India-bashing are just manifestations of this 'foreign return' attitude.

In conclusion, there are many things wrong about India and our Constitution gives us the freedom to openly express our opinion against them (a fact that most of us fail to appreciate, try criticising the Chinese government or systems in China). At the same time, there are an equal (maybe even more) number of things that make us proud of this great country. Broadcasting the negatives to the world and conveniently ignoring the positives just because you stay outside the country is absolutely shameful in my view and simply speaks volumes about the weak personality of the individual doing this in order to fit in.


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More about Tanuj Khosla

Tanuj is an MBA by qualification and currently works at a hedge fund in Singapore. Prior to this he was a banker in India. Tanuj has written guest columns for finance journals like CNBC, The Asset, The Hedge Fund Journal, Institutional Investor, Risk.net etc. in the past and was also a regular columnist with The Wall Street Journal. He can be followed on Twitter @Tanuj_Khosla. Alternatively he can be reached at khosla.tanuj@gmail.com.