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X= X+1 Articles, features and write-up's on NRI life in the US, Canada and North America. >> Features Achieve >> Articles >> Return to India Articles

The X = X + 1 Syndrome

When an Indian professional becomes a 'Non-Resident Indian' in the United States, he soon starts suffering from a strange disease. The symptoms are a fixture of restlessness, anxiety, hope and nostalgia. The virus is a deep inner need to get back home. Like Shakespeare said, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." The medical world has not coined a word for this malady. Strange as it is, it could go by a stranger name, the "X + 1" syndrome.

To understand this disease better, consider the background. Typically middle-class, the would be migrant's sole ambition through school is to secure admission into one of those heavily government subsidised institutions - the IITs. With the full backing of a doting family and a good deal of effort, he achieves his goal. Looking for fresh worlds to conquer, his sights rest on the new world. Like lemmings to the sea, hordes of IIT graduates descend on the four US consulates to seek the holiest of holy grails - the F-1 (student) stamp on the passport. After crossing the visa hurdle and tearful farewell, our hero departs for the Mecca of higher learning, promising himself and his family that he will return some day - soon! The family proudly informs their relatives of each milestone - his G.P.A., his first car (twenty years old), his trip to Niagara Falls (photographs), his first winter (parkas, gloves). The two years roll by and he graduates at the top of his class. Now begins the 'great hunt' for a company that will not only give him a job but also sponsor him for that 3" X 3" grey plastic, otherwise known as the Green Card. A US company sensing a good bargain offers him a job. Naturally, with all the excitement of seeing his first pay check in four digit dollars, thoughts of returning to India are far away. His immediate objective of getting the Green Card is reached within a year.

Meanwhile, his family back home worry about the strange American influences (and more particularly, AIDS). Through contacts they line up a list of eligible girls from eligible families and wait for the great one's first trip home. Return he does, at the first available opportunity, with gifts for the family and mouth-watering tales of prosperity beyond imagination. After interviewing the girls, he picks the most likely (lucky) one to be Americanised. Since the major reason for the alliance is his long-term stay abroad, the question of his immediate return does not arise. Any doubts are set aside by the 'backwardness' of working life, long train travel, lack of phones, inadequate opportunities for someone with hi-tech qualifications, and so on. The newly-weds return to America with the groom having to explain the system of arranged marriages to the Americans. Most of them regard it as barbaric and on the same lines as communism. The tongue-tied bride is cajoled into explaining the bindi and saree. Looking for something homely, the couple plunges into the frenetic expatriate week-end social scene compromising dinners, videos of Hindi/regional films, shopping at Indian stores, and bhajans. Initially, the wife misses the warmth of her family, but the presence of washing machines, vacuum cleaners, daytime soap operas and the absence of a domineering mother-in-law helps. Bits of news filtering through from India, mostly from returning Indians, is eagerly lapped up.

In discussions with friends, the topic of returning to India arises frequently but is brushed aside by the lord and master who is now rising in the corporate world and has fast moved into a two garage home - thus fulfilling the great American Dream. The impending arrival of the first born fulfills the great Indian Dream. The mother-in-law arrives in time: after all, no right thinking parent would want their off-spring to be born in India if offered the American alternative. With all material comforts that money can bring, begins the first signs of un-easiness - a feeling that somehow things are not what they should be. The craze for exotic electronic goods, cars and vacations have been satiated. The week-end gatherings are becoming routine.

Faced with a mid-life crisis, the upwardly mobile Indian's career graph plateu's out. Younger and more aggressive Americans are promoted. With one of the periodic mini recessions in the economy and the threat of a hostile take-over, the job itself seems far from secure. Unable or unwilling to socialize with the Americans, the Indian retreats into a cocoon. At the home front, the children have grown up and along with American accents have imbibed American habits (cartoons, hamburgers) and values (dating). They respond to their parents' exhortation of leading a clean Indian way of life by asking endless questions.

The generation gap combines with the cultural chasm. Not surprisingly, the first serious thoughts of returning to India occur at this stage. Taking advantage of his vacation time, the Indian returns home to 'explore' possibilities. Ignoring the underpaid and bureaucratic  government sector, he is bewildered by the 'primitive' state of the private sector. Clearly overqualified even to be a managing director/chairman he stumbles upon the idea of being an entrepreneur. In the seventies, his search for an arena to display his business skills normally ended in poultry farming. In the eighties, electronics is the name of the game. Undaunted by horror stories about government red tape and corruption he is determined to overcome the odds - with one catch. He has a few things to settle in the United States. After all, you can't just throw away a lifetime's work. And there are things like taxation and customs regulations to be taken note of. Pressed for a firm date, he says confidently 'next year' and therein lies our story. The next years come and go but there is no sign of our McCarthian friend. In other words if 'X' is the current year, then the objective is to return in the 'X + 1' year. Since 'X' is a changing variable, the objective is never reached. Unable to truly melt in the 'Great Melting Pot', chained to his cultural moorings and haunted by an abject fear of giving up an accustomed standard of living, the Non-Resident Indian vacillates and oscillates between two worlds in a twilight zone. Strangely, this malady appears to affect only the Indians - all of our Asian brethren from Japan, Korea and even Pakistan - seem immune to it.

- X=x+1 Source: Anon [or was it R.K Narayan?]. Alok Samuel a visitor attributes a version of the article to the article written by Mr.J.Rajgopal in Economic Times, several years back. A copy of that article can be found online.

In Response to this, Deepa Karunakaran writes

I wrote this a couple of years back when I re
ad X=X + 1 syndrome for the first time. Today when I read it again, I thought I should send it to you.

Our friend spends endless hours in +2 to get into a decent college. After securing 90% he rejoices that he will get into a decent engineering college. But, he gets into a private college in a government seat. He thoroughly enjoys 4 years of his college life. At the end of four years, he is ready to end his student life and start earning. But the reality strikes now. He is offered a job for Rs.2000/-, which would be increased by Rs.500/- at the end of one year. With in 6 months our friend is fed up of job hunting. He starts preparing for CAT to get into IIMs. Only 4 in 1000 get in to IIMs. Now, He starts applying for US universities. After all he has prepared so hard for CAT, so no need for any new preparation for GRE/GMAT. After spending a hefty Rs.75,000/- for applications and GRE he gets into 3 schools without any funding. After a long debate with his parents, he decides to take up a loan and go to US. He applies for visa. (One in 3 people gets rejected for no reason after 9/11) Luckily our guy gets his visa. By this time he has started chatting/mailing with his seniors. With their prudent guidance he starts shopping. He also finalizes his room mates with the help of the e-groups. He lands up in the Mecca of education. He is put in a seniors house temporarily. He finds an on-campus job in the cafeteria.

As our friend is a pure veg, he finds it difficult to work with meat. Finally, by the stroke of luck he lands up in a grading job which pays slightly higher than the canteen job. Now, he gets $10 per hour and works for 20 hours per week. After State and Federal Taxes he gets$700 per month. He is living with 4 roommates in a double bedroom apartment. He does his weekly shopping. Buys the cheapest groceries. Also buys some old furnitures from his seniors who were moving to other places. They religiously cook at home. After 6 months gets TV free of cost from a senior, buys a VCR for $10(He was dreaming of a DVD player when he was in India.) At the end of one year he gets an unpaid internship for two months. He loses his internship at the end of one month. Now he has one more month of summer vacation left. By this time he becomes home sick. So, he decides to visit India. But he falls short of cash, so decides to swipe all his credit cards. He buys lots of chocolates for his parents. He carefully avoids speaking about the miseries of student life to his parents/friends in India. With the help of the experience of the unpaid internship, our guy manages to get into a job by the time he graduates. (He is the only person in a batch of 50 to land up in a job) - courtsey 9/11 !!

Now, he has to repay the loan he got for his undergrad and grad (almost 12 lacs). Despite this he buys his first car(because without a car he cant even go to his job) He decides to come to India before he joins his job. Even now he doesnt have cash for his tickets/ chocolates. Again he swipes the credit cards.

In India he reads this mail from his friend: with a link to

And then there are desis like Jai Shanker

I was born in Bangalore, India, in 1954, and was one of the early beneficiaries of ! the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). I got my bachelor's and master's degrees in industrial management from IIT Madras (now called Chenai). I was recruited out of college by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In 1980, I was one of the first Indians to come to Atlanta! as a systems analyst. At that time, one of the only things people in Atlanta knew about India was curry.

When I resigned from TCS, I got a job in Atlanta instead of returning to India. I then met and married my wife of 22 years. I am an American citizen. In 2000, I was running one of the most profitable software divisions for an enterprise software company.

America has become a true melting pot of cultures. Unfortunately, corporate greed will end up spoiling the harmony of this pot. After the Y2K boom years, d! emand for enterprise software dropped off the cliff. I had to lay off people, and I got laid off myself. My wife and I rapidly consolidated our assets and debts and moved to Florida.

I have been unable to get permanent or temporary work since 2001. We have been living off our savings and 401(k) investments. I now realize that there are thousands of highly educated and experienced people like myself who cannot find work. Corporations now pay out cheap wages and are willing to set ! up shop in India. CEOs are also opting for short-term solutions without much consideration for the resulting brain drain from the IT profession. In my 23 years in the industry, I have witnessed conflict between the business and the IT department.

Communication has always been a problem between IT and the business systems user community. So outsourcing has become a prayer from the heavens for these business executives. The cost o! f living in India is a fraction of what it is here, so one can live like a prince there for one-tenth of American wages.

Modern-day India looks like the Silicon Valley of the '90s. Employees are job-hopping and driving up the wages in India for software engineers. Software development needs continuity, careful documentati! on of specifications and quality assurance. I wonder how it will work out with development and support teams in India.

Wall Street drives the American CEO into short-term thinking and a greed-and-fear cycle. CEOs are being rewarded for cost-cutting. The mass exodus to set up shop in India will backfire. In the meantime, middle-class Americans will have to tighten their belts and quit buying anything but necessities. The achievement of middle-class status is what made America a dream destination for foreign immigrants. Once the goose that lays the golden egg dies, where will the new consumers come from?

Like you, I am contemplating leaving my IT profession behind.
Jai Shanker, Former VP and General Manager, now unemployed

From CIO.Com

Note: The opinion presented here is that of the author and not 




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