Why Modi and NRIs respect each other

Nirpal Dhaliwal
Nirpal DhaliwalNov 27, 2015 | 12:27

Why Modi and NRIs respect each other

There's a painful description in Akhil Sharma's wonderful novel, Family Life, of how his mother, prior to his family emigrating from Delhi to America in 1980s, would carefully split each matchstick she had along its vertices with a razor blade in order to double the number of lights in the box. This economised matchstick would then be used to light a wick made of twisted newspaper that would burn long enough for her to light all the necessary lamps, stoves and other flames in the house. The Sharmas weren't poor. They were part of India's precarious middle-class, moneyed enough to afford plane tickets to the West and the chance of a better life than was possible in their homeland. Despite their many tragedies in America – detailed in the novel – the family's second son, Akhil, has proved himself to be an excellent novelist, feted in his adopted country: no mean feat for a brown kid who landed in the US barely knowing any English. I would call him exceptional, but for the fact that the determined pursuit of excellence is the hallmark of the NRI character.


NRIs are a tricky proposition for Indians – lefties especially. A shabby article I saw doing the rounds on Twitter is by someone called Anjali Mody, who decries the send-off Prime Minister Modi was given in London's Wembley Stadium because it was full of “British citizens who believe India is too filthy, corrupt and poor to live in”. This is considered to be some sort of treason, though it's an opinion overwhelmingly shared by ordinary Indians. NRIs are chastised by Mody because they “voluntarily suffer long-term separations or bankruptcy” in pursuit of their dreams, and are prepared to work for low wages “to give them and their children a better life”. While such qualities of ambition, grit and bravery are admired everywhere else in the world, among India's idiot Left they are regarded as character flaws. Mody's very tortuous argument in that article was that NRI success somehow proved that Aamir Khan is right to say that India is intolerant. Nope, it didn't make any sense to me either.

But then making sense isn't something India's left-wing writers want to do, requiring as it does some hard work. And hard work is a horrifying prospect to those ayah-coddled dimwits. Mody is obviously from an affluent background – she refers to her own recreational trips to the West, a treat only possible for an elite few – and, like most Indian lefties, she cannot sympathise with those who want to leave India because her own life there has clearly been a very cosy one. Why would she want to live in the West and lose access to the ocean of cheap labour she has on call in India to cook, drive and clean up after her? Why should she break a sweat in pursuit of any dream when her life is already one that most of her countrymen dream of having?


It is, of course, the relationship that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has with NRIs that these people find most troublesome. Wherever Modi goes, he's rapturously received by the NRI community and this is regarded by Indian lefties as evidence that NRIs are rabid jingoists and an external menace. What they fail to recognise is that Modi is the first Indian prime minister to openly acknowledge why so many Indians risked everything they had in order to leave and struggle and suffer in other lands.

The prevailing order of India's politics since 1947 had failed them terribly, and that is why they made the painful journey westwards.

NRIs have, until now, been proof of India's failure: their success abroad only underlined the systemic dysfunction of India that prevented people of obvious talent and ability from flourishing. Until Modi, India's rulers regarded NRIs as sell-outs and carpet-baggers. He, however, recognises the mountains they had to climb to earn their success in the West and build a bridge for India with the developed world, and the contribution they have made to India too.

My mother left Punjab at the age of twenty. Three years earlier she had been taken out of school by her mother – her father had died – because it was then believed that too much education made a young woman too independent-minded and thus umarriageable. Her only escape from rural village drudgery was to have an arranged marriage to a man in Britain – my father – who turned out to be a cruel abusive alcoholic. Nonetheless, she never wanted to go back. In England, she saw her children go to university, have access to healthcare and go on to pursue careers she could not have dreamed of for herself. Having dreamt of becoming a teacher, in London all she could do was wash dishes.


My paternal grandmother never went to school at all. From when she was a toddler, she was taught by her blind mother to do household chores. As a child, she saw her older schizophrenic brother kept tethered to a post in the family barn for his own safety. When she came to Britain with my grandfather – another alcoholic brute – she mopped the floors of Heathrow airport for almost forty years in order to pay off her mortgage and thus own outright the house she would pass onto her children.

She was, like many NRIs, a person of titanic character and resilience, who overcame the most awesome obstacles. That the spoilt-brat morons of India's Left could look down on such people is a testament to what sanctimonious cretins they are. People like my mother and grandmother left India because it was a land of unbearable anguish, an anguish that the likes of Anjali Mody cannot begin to fathom.

I suspect her type look down on NRIs because they possess the qualities bourgeois lefties most sorely lack and despise in others: courage, imagination and steely determination. But these are qualities that Narendra Modi possesses in abundance. How else does the son of chai-wallah arrive in the Prime Minister's office unless he's made of exceptional stuff? This is the bond between Modi and the NRI community: both embody the toughness and dynamism that is India's national spirit, and which is only coming to the fore now, having been suppressed for many centuries.

My mother left a village that had no running water, electricity or telephone, whose inhabitants rose at dawn to defecate in fields half-a-mile away. Today that village has flush toilets, satellite television and twenty-four-hour Wi-Fi. And that's largely thanks to remittances by those dastardly NRIs that the Left hates for so selfishly going abroad to pursue their personal ambitions. NRIs remit over $70billion to India every year – 4 per cent of GDP – giving more to India each year than its whining left-wing commentariat have contributed in their collective lifetimes.

If Anjali Mody really cared about her country as much as she claims, she could prove it by leaving for the West, to maybe get a job flipping burgers in New York, and sending back a few dollars herself.

Last updated: November 27, 2015 | 12:27
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