Way, way, back, once during the annual trip to grandma's home, I met a distant relative, then in his mid-twenties (I was barely into double digits!) who had spent a year or so working in West Germany. To write that I was impressed would be a terrible understatement.
I returned home when the holidays ended only to discover from a conversation with my father about this German-returned guy that he had worked as a waiter there. The balloon was quickly deflated. But, still, in Germany!
Whether it was waiting tables in Germany, or engineering work in Nigeria, or petroleum-related jobs in Saudi Arabia, or university teaching in the US, there was a distinct deference to the ones with foreign flavors. There was something they had that we locals did not have. They had seen places that we had not.
More than anything else, they seemed to walk about with confidence that we did not seem to have.
That was then.
Now, with every visit to India, I sense a level of confidence that is infinitely more than whatever little that prevailed years ago.
Rare is a middle-income family that does not have immediate foreign connections. But, even more than that, the middle-income households like the one in which I grew up have generated children and grandchildren who lead remarkably successful and remunerative professional lives even while living in India. Yes, without having to go to Germany to wait tables, or to toil away in the harsh Arabian desert.
A foreign tag is no longer magical, and has become quite pedestrian. As a matter of routine, these descendants of the old socialist India jet around the world for professional reasons, and to have family vacations. Who woulda thunk that, forty years ago!
A friend "R" explained to me a simple parameter he uses to gauge how things have changed, and how India's confidence levels have transformed. The parameter is nothing but "தயிர் சாதம்"--the good ol' yogurt rice, which is all things Tamil!
In the early years of the IT outsourcing business, visiting clients were be provided with accommodations at the most expensive hotels in Chennai, said "R," who is a senior executive in that field. The clients almost always patronized only the European continental cuisine there. Meanwhile, it was quite common for the local IT professionals to hide and consume their தயிர் சாதம் at lunch.
In the IT evolutionary process, big firms started to build their own large campuses. Visiting clients from abroad were offered continental food catered by those expensive hotels in town. தயிர் சாதம் for locals continued.
The campuses then introduced cafeterias. Continental food was prepared in-house for the foreign clients. But, along with that a small window offered தயிர் சாதம் also.
தயிர் சாதம் and local meals are mainstream offerings in those cafeterias. Visiting clients eat a lot more local food, including தயிர் சாதம், than their more familiar foods. When the Indian IT professionals go abroad, they feel at ease to mix rice and yogurt at restaurants and make their own தயிர் சாதம் at the table!
The transformation of the mental approach to தயிர் சாதம் is, to "R," a measure of how far the confidence levels have shot up: from practically hiding it to boldly broadcasting it. Indian professionals are singing their own version of "anything you can do, I can do better."
I have never been to China, and even if I did, I doubt whether I will be able to understand the confidence boosts they have gone through within their cultural framework. I am able to fully appreciate the தயிர் சாதம் metric only because it is a part of my DNA. (As my parents know all too well, I rarely eat தயிர் சாதம் anymore!)
Most politicians and news people in the US--at least in their public statements--don't display a sense of their understanding of this phenomenal confidence levels in India (and China, too.) They seem to think that regular people in these countries are like the old stereotypes in movies: impressed that the White man has a magical device that produces fire when flicked. If only they understood sooner than later that it is a brave new world!