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Brain drain gives way to brain gain

May 31, 2007

CHENNAI: Brinda Somaya, a leading Mumbai architect, and her husband, a heart specialist, are both very excited that in a month or so their daughter, a lawyer now studying architecture in the US and her husband, a business executive in New York are both returning to India. “They have excellent prospects in Mumbai and what is no less heartening is that they will be living close to our apartment,” says an excited Brinda, who has travelled the world over and remembers her trip to Pakistan with a tinge of nostalgia.

Not too far from where the architect lives is Tariq Ahmed, who too has returned from the US. When he submitted his resignation for he wanted to go back home after so many years his boss — the CEO of the company —decided to retain him and asked him to open a branch office in Mumbai. Hina, Tariq’s wife, who was editing a house journal of a business house in the US, found a position in the editorial department of a magazine on a salary she could not have dreamed of a few years ago in India.

Pervez Sikora, who worked for Los Angeles Times as director of advertising technology, is now in Bangalore, where he has settled down with his lawyer-wife and two kids. He is now the Chief Innovation Officer for an IT company, which develops advertisements for many countries. He enjoys his present assignment more for it demands both creativity and technical know-how. Second only to the chairman of the company, Sikora is back in India after living in the US for 20 years.

Brain drain is giving way to brain gain in India. Opportunities are limitless and the salaries are quite high. Cost of living, though higher than what it was a couple of years ago, is still much lower than in the US. Then there are support systems like the family members who can, for instance, take care of the kids when the parents are at work. The grandparents are more than happy to shoulder the responsibility and domestic help is cheaper and much more easily available. “I hated washing my car, every morning,” says Prakash Swamy of Chennai. Now I get a sparkling clean car every morning for a pittance. Two of his close friends in the US are Pakistanis. One of them was seriously considering returning to his homeland, but the uncertainty —mainly political, has forced him to shelve the plan. His wife has her family in Pakistan too but she is also reluctant to retrace her steps.

Back to India, the IT companies are hunting for talents. Students are interviewed before they enter their final semester, and often given appointment letters before they qualify for their degrees. This is truer of South India, where literacy is almost 100 per cent and higher education more common than in the north.

Doctors are having a field day in Chennai, which is the centre of medical tourism. Hospitals advertise their services not just in newspapers and on the electronic media but even in cinemas. Apollo Heart Centre, for instance, runs an ad campaign saying “If you start sweating heavily for no reason or if you have a shooting pain in the chest then don’t waste time, make a beeline for the nearest Apollo Heart Centre.” The Apollo group of hospitals, of which Apollo Heart Centre is a subsidiary, has several branches in South India.

Higher salaries and increasing number of double income families have resulted in higher spendings. In Chennai, the supermarkets are bursting at the seams. That applies to other cities as well. All this shows that the middle class is emerging in large numbers in the last few years.

But the essential question remains: is the gap between the haves and the have-nots narrowing? Israr (surname withheld), whose family manufactures and exports shoes to the West in large quantities, says that the economic boom has resulted in more jobs for the poor. But Gopal (surname withheld), the CEO of a large IT company, doesn’t agree. He intends to delegate his responsibilities to his brother and other professionals in the next two years and devote all his time and some of his resources to social work. His role model is the Nobel laureate from Bangladesh, Professor Mohammed Yunus.

“Can you believe that the neighbouring villages of Bangalore get electricity only two hours a day?” he laments. It is all the more surprising since Bangalore is considered to be the Silicon Valley of India.

However, a point to remember is that one sees very few beggars on the streets of Bangalore and Chennai than in Karachi and Mumbai. One reason is that the people of the two cities don’t encourage beggars by giving them alms. They would much rather donate to ashrams, where the poor get free meals.