Posted by: Vikram | January 28, 2009

The tortuous tale of a conscientous migrant

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I landed in the land of opportunity, tired, not of oppression and penury but of a 24 hour long flight from Mumbai. I had huddled, but only to board local trains and in the queues outside the American consulate. I wanted to breathe free, not because I was suppressed but because my city was too polluted. The land of opportunity has no opportunities for the real tired and poor of my land. They have been made into examples for Americans to realize how fortunate they are. There are no more new worlds for them, only new rulers.

Obviously not all migrants to America from India are like me, many come from very poor families and work very hard to reach the promised land. But for many like me, America is an escape, an escape from the poverty that never touched but still stifled me, the injustice that I never experienced but tortured me in its mere existence. But there is no escape for India’s poor and wretched. They cant just move to freedom and opportunity, only to the slums of Mumbai. Some lucky ones might make it to the over-crowded quarters of Dubai.

But I am not part of Europe’s medieval feudal aristocracy. I am one of a billion. I am not singular, I am supposed to be the citizen of a very special nation. One that my forefathers had to fight very hard to obtain, one which was supposed to represent the best humanity had come up with. But often it seems that India is as ugly as God’s most beautiful creation can get. The shoulders of a billion sometimes lift me above the skies but then their arms pull me down to the depths of Earth.

But maybe I ask for too much. The past looms large over my republic. It tries to choke democracy with its stifling social order, it strangles freedom with its chains of tradition. I cant fight it alone. So seeking a brighter future I abandon India’s present and run away from its past. And why not ? Why subject myself to the dirty streets, the daily inconveniences, the corruption, scandal after scandal, the nepotism, the crowded everything ?

But I cant. I cant enjoy the super cool silence of the Austin winters. I cant appreciate how clean everything is. I cant admire the order of the traffic. I cant smell the clean air. My senses are trapped in the prison of my conscience. What about my family who sacrificed their comfort to raise me well ? The house-helps who made sure I lived in luxury. The soldiers trying to save a thankless me. The teachers who taught me everything I know. The little kids in the heartland who never learnt to read and write so that I could. One might say thats just how it is.

But who is going to save India’s strained environment ? Who is going to stand up to corruption ? Who is going to smash gender bias ? Who is going to build a better India for tomorrow ? Or even save whats left of it from the vultures that are circling closer than ever before ? Who is going to fight ? The grind of urban India can crush anyone in its mix of poverty, crime and corruption. But a way has to be found. If for nothing else, then just for my selfish peace of mind.

If India’s poor cant come to the new world, then the new world has to be brought to them.


  1. @ Vikram : Guilt consumes a person. Enjoy it all. Life is too short to bother about such things.

    Thanks odzer, I wish I could be more practical like you man. Maybe I will be one day. Till then, let me enjoy the pain.

  2. That is a very ‘from the heart ‘post Vikram……..the guilt is not easy to let go of…….and in all probability one shouldn’t….because it helps one remember…..just dont let it become all consuming…should only be to an extent thats productive…… don’t let it become a chip on your shoulder……in a few years we may see you come up with something big…..considering how passionately you write and put your views across…:)
    Do enjoy that land too….
    take care..

  3. Vikram, think of this opportunity that you’ve been given, as a gift and not a burden. Your American experience will be valuable and not go waste if/when after (I’m assuming) completing your studies you decide to focus your energy and skills to tackle India’s problems.

    It’s easy to get overwhelmed by emotions when one considers these situations, so keep both your short-term and long-term goals in mind, as it’ll be difficult for you to achieve the latter without achieving the former. It’s good that you’re thinking about these issues and writing about them – just be careful not to get overwhelmed by guilt as that’ll be an obstacle to your short-and-long term goals. 🙂

    While India has its problems, there are also positives – it’s good to have some balance and perspective instead of focusing only on the good/bad. It takes time for a seed to sprout into a plant and then a tree, so patience is required.

  4. Thank You Amit and Indyeah for your kind advice. I will keep it in mind. 🙂

  5. Even i have a odd euneasy feeling i never felt before..I wish to reach out to those people,atleast those people in my immediate community circle..Well i don’t know what how when where..but i just hope and pray that i will touch atleast a s ingle life…

  6. Vikram:

    I must disagree with those who suggest you let go of the guilt. It’s there for a good reason, I feel it too every day. I think it’s just my mind’s way of telling me that what I’m doing (coming away to America) isn’t right. The arguments for staying back may sound tired but they’re true.

  7. i am sure you know that there are thousands of gujjus who come to the US via the family visa way and no guilt because they have escaped the drought and unemploymentt of the villages and the slums of the cities.

    – Until we work on a policy level one cannot accomplish the major change that one has to see. “Educated minds ( of what vivekanada says ‘ liberates millions irrespective of geographical borders.

    Build some great mathematical models that will allow policy changes and allows redistribution of resources – food, water, oil, infrastructure, housing, health care.

    many ph.d’s who studied here are now helping irrespective of borders.

    you will do the very best and your mind for a conscientious change will take you miles.
    mathematicians need to diverge from wall street models and focus towards more useful things (like what i have written above) that is what i keep telling my partner too who is pure maths student.

  8. Here is a nice post about the American Dream

    Thank You Reema, that story is all too common. I feel for the guy, his dreams got crushed.

  9. But who is going to save India’s strained environment ?

    Here is my answer for your extremely anti-human question

    Every parent wants his children to lead a life better than what they experienced themselves. This simple natural instinct of human makes it possible for every parent to work, innovate and create wealth, pleasure, and comfort for their children. Towards the better way of life, is the motto of civilization, which lead human to innovate agriculture, housing, wheels, and the list goes on towards the latest technologies.
    Everything we do to maintain our lives has an impact on nature. Every assessment we create to advance our well-being; every ounce of food we grow, every structure we build, every iPhone, mobile laptop we manufacture, is produced by extracting raw materials and reshaping them to serve our needs. Every good thing in our lives comes from changing nature for our own benefit. It is all selfish; we lead towards progress, sustenance, good living by the virtue of selfishness.

    Read more and proper answer completely Environmentalists and Human Action

    The only way to reduce poverty is, to increase production. The president of fools Obama, and representative of Indian fools the government, is going on its strides to renounce coal thermal plants and converge them to nuclear plants, who will solve the problem of nuclear waste?
    What is dangerous, CO2 which we exhale every other second while breathing out, or the nuclear wastes?

    Gargi, this post is not about that specific debate. We can have the environment/development debate at some other time.

  10. Nice post!

    You don’t have to be in India to work for its progress. Besides, of course, you can gain experience in the US and return to India and contribute your bit to the nation.

    I too am in a similar position and feel the same way about my country. Maybe it is time to return home soon.

    Thanks americandesi. Yes I concur, there are a lot of things I can learn here and take back. Lets hope everything works out.

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