Thursday, December 14, 2006

In search of international success?

Reading the interview with Yiyun Li in The Guardian made me think more about the regime in China and the flight of the Chinese students to the USA (strangely about Indian students to the USA too), and much less about literature and short story writing.

Though I am yet to sample any of her stories, I am sure she makes a great impact as a writer, going from the kind of awards she has got and the kind of strides she has made in the literary world (apart from the letters of recommendation she has got from the likes of Rushdie and the editor of The New Yorker). Her story comes off as a success story of an immigrant who has achieved recognition in her field. Instead of a writer, it could have been the case study of a person from any other profession: metallurgy, nuclear physics, hydraulics, genetic engineering.

So what has she made me think about China?

The point I am going to make will only make sense to you when you compare it with India's case. The big picture in this context is this: The Indians and the Chinese make the highest number of foreign students in the USA.

From her interview, and after reading many accounts and reports, it seems that the Chinese flock to the USA (or any other developed country) for higher studies more for reasons of escaping the authoritarian regime at home than for anything else. Of course, making it to the USA is anybody's dream from poorer and less freer societies. Of course, Getting rich is glorious, as the Maoist slogan goes. That inspiration is always there. So the dream of success is there but I guess those who make it to the USA to settle down there for good make a good number (majority) of Chinese migrants.

This is understandable in the case of the Chinese. But what about the Indians? India is a democracy, there is freedom, all sorts of facilities are there--IITs and IIMs and so many other good institutions for many many decades. The why do members of the Indian elite flock to the USA for settling down there? What repression/system failure are they escaping from? While many are returning now, the majority of them still want to remain in the land of the opportunity.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong here. I also suspect that many Indians would not buy this line of argument. But does it not strike you that the Indians, more than the Chinese, go to the US to get degrees and then settle down there? All my friends who went to the land of Uncle Sam have no intention of returning to India. Many have taken American citizenship and have married into the local community.

I never looked at these numbers, thousands of Indian and Chinese students, from two opposite socio-political system, immigrating to USA and other Western countries in search of suceess, in this light before.

We know what is lacking in China. But what about India? The Indian brain drain started a little after Independence. Since then, we might not have much else but we had plenty of freedom. So what caused the Indian brain drain? Nehru's socialism? But that was then. What accounts for this current outflow of students from a shining liberalised India?

And here is a relevant qrote. Arguing for allowing FDI in the education sector in India, economist Bibek Debroy writes (OPEN EDUCATION TO FDI TO REVERSE BRAIN DRAIN) in Tehelka: "First, with 1,20,000 Indian students going abroad annually, the annual foreign exchange outgo is $4 billion. If FDI entry leads to supply-side improvements, not only will this foreign exchange outflow be saved, there may even be some inflow, because students from elsewhere may come to India."

Clearly the problem is there. But for many Indians admitting even this, that there's this problem with the shining India, might be problematic.

Perhaps what is fuelling this exodus is the pursuit of success. Now homegrown success is not enough. International success is the authentic success. This perhaps cannot be more true in a globalized world. Getting success with an international label--a Penguin, a Random House, a Columbia Pictures, a Luis Vuitton-- is being more successful, being more recognizable than getting success with any of the big label's local variants, or much worse, with local brands. Everybody wants to be on the big billboard, beating the 'mini successful' crowd back home at the game of Warholean fifteen seconds of fame.

Is this the whole truth or there is something else behind the dream of super-size-me success and a Staffordean wives' lifestyle?

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