Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain, and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own.
President Joe Biden was in an especially jovial mood this Thursday when he was introduced to Dr. Swati Mohan whose voice became permanently recognizable having led the landing of Mars probe Perseverance on live television. It is not immediately known if that audience of scientists included Dr. Vandi Verma, who led Robotic Operations or Dr. Bhavya Lal, Acting Chief of Staff at NASA; but, unofficial count of Indian origin people directly involved in the Mars project easily goes many times that.
Acknowledging that, Biden went on a monologue. “Are you kidding me? What an honor this is. This is an incredible honor. And it’s amazing, Indian-descent Americans are taking over the country — you, my vice president, my speechwriter, Vinay. I tell you what, but thank you. You guys are incredible.” Running count of the high-ranking appointees in Biden Administration of Indian descent crossed fifty, making them visible in all aspects of domestic and foreign policy and implementation. The Indians are here, most certainly.
Almost immediately there was sniping back. The President was not supposed to identify citizens by their ancestry, some said. It stereotypes Indian Americans as “good” immigrants, said others. It pigeonholes aspirations and choices of the next generation, went a third strain. It negates the “intersectionality” of experience shared by people of color, according to some others. Go figure!!
Wish these conscientious objectors spoke to the community first.
I have toiled with the question, and have been asked often – why are Indians successful in America? Often the answer comes to scope and change of settings, not unlike the experience of every single other immigrant community. It goes like this. People you see are the chosen ones, who embraced the change, uncertainty and the hazards of being a new kid on the block, and did so of their own choosing. They were the proactive bunch, the ones who accept calculated risk.
They speak the same tongue of all who came to America on their own, a language of opportunity, of hard-work, lost sleep, tired body and mind, and more, in the hope of better lives for their children. It has been the experience of my generation in India, generally, that people equally equipped with initiative have been just as successful in whatever field they chose to be in.
Any difference is easily attributed to the ecosystem – tech entrepreneurs in US benefit from a well-oiled nurturing environment, e.g., while those in India still have to deal with the juggernaut of bureaucracy in every which way. As these barriers get dragged down, there is no difference between comparable cohorts. Stories of commercial success are very similar and exemplary on both sides of the Indo-Pacific corridor. Lately, we have seen reverse brain drain, incrementally larger future opportunities are drawing many Americans of Indian descent to India. Among the younger set, the draw of America lessened significantly even before Trump, returning to India early gives many the benefits of exposure while they draw on home-court advantage, and a relatively untapped market, as they eke out a more entrepreneurial plan for themselves.
In other words, the Indian success story is really a granular story about individual drive and circumstances, just like everybody else.
Even then, it is hard to ignore our preponderance or to just attribute it to the law of large numbers, so to speak. Many oft-repeated virtues are not myths. Yes, we have bastardized, with pride, the Queen’s language. Yes, India is the world’s largest democracy. Yes, India invested very early in its forming, when it surely was ridiculously unaffordable to do so, in institutions of higher learning that still are among the top of the world. Yes, juggad is in our genes. Yes, faith and family provide a valuable anchor in choppy waters. Yes, I can go on for hours.
We grew up in a land that gets ravaged by atrocities of caste, patriarchy, and, religious divide, not infrequently to this day. Even then a functioning rhythm of life resurrects. Those who survive and thrive learn to work around barriers built around them, injustices even, and to work with others in spite of own predilections. How we do that is a secret that gets little mention, almost a secret to shared with only those in the know.
The difference between success and failure is a matter of laughter, even if not in a way you’d imagine.
Every college student has taken part in ritualistic roasting of someone else, and they bit own lips when getting roasted. In India we took particular pleasure in making fun of each other using stereotypes – but it was never a one-sided affair. A Bengali by birth, I am a “Bong”, and I am fully aware of what it means in all its splendor. Deep friendships routinely form across boundaries in spite of. You learn not to make a joke when the wound is too fresh, and you choose objects of your derision carefully. It is no different than being in an open mic comedy night. You have to take as well as you give, every day. And we learn it instinctively.
The lesson stays with you as people travel across continents. In the parlance of today, I have found that Indian Americans are less easily triggered. At the same time, they are less likely to offend. Stereotypes do not deter them and they know when to keep calm and carry on. Beyond everything else, this capacity to embrace disappointment as a matter of course, without malice, is what sets them up for success.
Pardon our lack of insolence as we take over the country, America. And I am only half kidding.