|A View of Main Building, IIT Delhi|
It has been mentioned in ancient literature that a man or woman is fortunate if he or she can spend their last days in their country of birth. In fact the source ( I forget which now) listed dying in a foreign land as one of the great misfortunes of life that can fall upon a person. I have tried to relate this piece of ancient wisdom with my own experience of life as described next, even as I am reminded of the Prophet of Khalil Gibran and his tearful departure to the land of birth in his last days.
India is a country of vast diversity. Even hundred years ago, India had the most modern of cities and towns such as Lahore, Bombay, Simla and Nainital that competed in their quality and modernity with most modern cities and towns of our world of those times. On the other hand, there were until recent times, areas inhabited with fully nude tribes such as the Angami Nagas, Andaman tribes and a whole lot other half naked or topless tribes. These are aside from religious mystics such as the Digambar Jains, Naga Sadhus and the kind described in my novel – Nude besides the Lake – who as a matter of practice strut about with their stuff naked even in a modern shopping area and consider being dressed in nothing but the sky is a philosophical statement.
In this diverse country, where there are educational institutes that run in ramshackle rooms, there are also some that compete with the best in the world. A photo of one such, the Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi accompanies this blog. This is the institute I graduated from. Admission to it is through a stiff competition where thousands compete for a few seats. In high school I was less decadent :) than now and being a serious and brilliant student received admission to this college ( My position in the entrance examination was around 200 out of 200, 000 or so good high school students who had dared to sit for the entrance examination). The graduates of this Institute are sought after much by industry and universities, not just in India but also in developed countries of the world. Hotmail a precursor to other email services was invented by one of them - Sabir Bhatia Therefore it is not surprising that around a third of my class went abroad after graduation and settled in new countries (mostly USA and a few in Australia, Canada and UK). My own case was unique in that unlike the fifty other class fellows, I went to Canada but then returned to India after a doctoral degree. After working for around seven years as faculty at IIT, I returned to Canada again, and then continued to work around the world until nearly fifty. Eventually my desire to travel was completely exhausted, at least for this life, and presently I lead a sedentary life, that involves a minimum of travel, back in the country of my birth.
One unique thing about our graduation class called Mech71 ( 1971 Mechanical engineering graduates of IIT Delhi) is that ever since internet became common, we have revived contact and kept in touch. We have our email group through which we exchange frequent communications and arrange physical get togethers. With my unique position as having lived in India as well as abroad, for many years I served as a bridge and coordinated activities of this group. I still maintain a blog about its activities at http://mech71.blogspot.com.
Every life goes through ups and downs and the state of affairs is reflected in the kind of communications our group members exchange. I have been a keen observer of this. For many years the emails from the group in USA were more exuberant and cheerful on the whole as compared to those from India. Working life is less satisfying, even frustrating In India as compared to that in a developed country especially for talented persons and this is the likely cause for the difference. In an earlier blog post, the life of a human was considered divided in five stages of twenty years each. All of us Mech71 friends spent the first stage in India whereas as mentioned many went on to spend the remaining stages abroad.
We are all past sixty now and in the fourth stage of life where most have retired fully or partially. Now in this fourth stage of our lives a change has been noticed in the emails. The emails from the group in India have now become cheerful whereas those from abroad reserved, in some cases distressed and even reflecting frustration. Some in India who were reserved during their working years have become exuberant now and trying new fashions, taking up new hobbies and traveling to exotic destination etc. (Ramakrishnan Ramanathan, Girish Bhatnagar and Vinod Khurana are some of them) Perhaps this is because one is never at home even at home, in a foreign land howsoever long one may live in it, as one can be in one’s country of birth or the country where one has spent ones non-adult years and at this stage when one has retired one does not have to contend with a less than satisfactory work environment of a developing country but rather more with society in general.
Thus my own experience does seem to validate a piece of ancient wisdom set out in the first paragraph of this post and upheld by the prophet of Khalil Gibran.