Saturday, March 03, 2012

Back in their native land

America-returned Malayalis speak about their experiences in Kerala and what they miss most about their former life in the USA

Photo: Shaji Radhakrishnan and his children in Chicago

By Shevlin Sebastian

At midnight, Shaji Radhakrishnan was returning with a friend, after dropping a relative at Chicago ’s O’Hare airport. “It was extremely cold,” he says. “There was snow piled up on the sidewalks.”

Suddenly a car overtook Shaji’s Toyota Corolla and took a sharp left turn. “We hit the other car,” says Shaji. The front was completely damaged. In the shake-up, Shaji found that he could not breathe properly. Somehow, he managed to open the door and get out. “When I tried to walk, I felt a pain in my lower back,” he says. So, he lay down on the snow.

But within seconds, the police had arrived, with an ambulance. “Inside, there was plenty of equipment, and the technician kept asking me a lot of questions to see whether I had a brain injury,” says Shaji. “I gave the right answers. Within 20 minutes I was taken to a hospital where ten doctors inspected me.”

All along, Shaji was thinking: ‘What would have happened if I had a similar accident in Kerala? I would have remained on the ground for several hours’.

“That is the beauty of America,” says Shaji. “It is a super-efficient place. Good roads and polite people. Life is very easy. There are no irritations and they apply a lot of common sense in daily life.”

So when the roads are tarred, it is done in a scientific way, and always at night, so that the travellers are not affected. “There is very little corruption,” he says. “If you need a certificate, and if your application is okay, you will get it within seconds.”

However, in June, 2008, Shaji returned to Kerala for two reasons. One was because his son Madhav, 11, suffered from a skin disease, eczema, because of a lack of sunlight in Chicago. Secondly, his company, Cisco Systems, had moved to India and opened an office in Bangalore. Shaji runs a small team for the company based in Aluva.

And in the past four years, Shaji had a chance to compare his life in Kerala and earlier. “In America , when they do a shift of eight hours, they work full-time, and are self-managed,” he says. “In Kerala, a lot of time is wasted in small talk and having tea or coffee. There is a lack of professionalism, apart from less passion and commitment. Hence, there is a fall in productivity. That is why we need to hire more people.”

He also bemoaned an environment where the inhabitants are not punctual, and promises not kept. “In queues, people are always cutting in, be it on the road or at the supermarket,” he says. “In America, from a very young age, children are taught the proper social behaviour. Once they learn how to behave in public, there are no problems. So, if there is a line, or a queue, they will never jump it.”

But despite all the problems, there are many pluses in Kerala. “There is a rich family and social life,” says Shaji. “My children can enjoy the company of their grandparents.”

Meanwhile, Anand Xavier is happy to be back, after 12 years in the USA. He works for an IT firm at Info Park, Kochi .

“My wife and children are now able to be in constant touch with relatives and family members,” he says. “They attend a lot of cultural events, and my children have got an idea of our Indian culture.”

But certain things do irritate him. “On the road, people can be so rude and angry,” he says. “There is a lack of awareness that there are other travellers.”

Anand admires American society, because of its emphasis on individuality, and the freedom to do what you want. “Yet at the same time, it is difficult for us Indians to completely adapt to American ways, because of our conservative upbringing,” he says.

However, Anand finds some habits of Americans unusual. “When we go out for dinner with friends in Kochi, the person who is inviting us will pay the bill,” he says. “But in America, each person will pay for what he has eaten. I found it strange. But that has been their custom all along.”

Anand and his wife may have no regrets about coming back, but his sons, Kenneth, 9, and Nicholas, 8, do miss America. “What they like the most is the fast food,” says Anand, with a smile.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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