During my last visit to India some of my relatives asked me what I missed most from my life in India in the US. I did not have an immediate answer, but thought about that question off and on for a long time.
There were many reasons why I embraced the USA as my country almost fifty years ago. Apart from the obvious comfort and convenience, the feeling of independence and self-reliance, opportunities to become whoever I wanted to be, freedom of speech, spirit of innovation and sense of humour all appealed to me. But the two most important factors were the observations that average Americans were honest, hard-working people and there is a justice system here that works. Frustration caused by rampant corruption and nepotism in India in everything I wanted to do was probably the biggest reason for my leaving India.
It is very sad for me to realize that the country I adopted as my own has been gradually disappearing in front of my own eyes over the last several years. It is hopelessly polarized from a political point of view. There is no fair justice system anymore. Money can influence almost anyone: politician, business CEO, celebrity, newspaper editor and even a judge. Freedom of speech is becoming limited by concerns for Woke culture and the requirement for diversity. Even comedy has lost spontaneity because it must be politically correct.
Educational levels and moral values are on the decline. Addiction to prescription drugs is destroying an entire generation. The economic divide between the rich and the poor has continued to get wider; mansions and condos have replaced uniform housing developments for the middle class. Crimes of all types are on the rise and homeless encampments are everywhere. Killings of young kids by senseless mass shootings in schools and shopping malls are in the news almost every week. People are being indicted for a political vendetta while murderers and rapists are released early from prison. School children are confused about their sexuality and transgenderism has become an item of experimentation. Influx of uncontrolled illegal immigrants across the southern border has made the overall situation even worse.
Every activity seems to be motivated solely by money. Advertisements on TV are always pushing some new medicine for ailments that no one has even heard about. Law firm ads encourage people to file lawsuits with the promise of big payouts. State-sponsored lotteries are vigorously promoted.
It seems that society has lost touch with the real world and traditional human values. While the kids are busy with Tik-Tok, their mothers are watching “reality shows” which are anything but reality. Human interactions are being replaced by automated machines and Artificial Intelligence penetrates almost all facets of our life.
All these issues have reached a point where I am wondering if I should even continue living here. Call me an escapist but I had a wonderful professional and personal life for several decades in this country and maybe the time has come for me to move on. Since I am retired, I am not tied to my job. The joy of carefree living here is gone.
But where would I go? Should I go back to India? My parents and most uncles and aunts have passed away, but many cousins and old college friends are still there. I have been impressed by the modernization of India, especially the vast improvements in infrastructure and information technology. It has become much easier to travel within and overseas and to convert money from rupees to dollars and vice versa. Western style shopping malls have popped up in all large cities and all luxury goods are available. I am sure that I can find a home somewhere with all the amenities and with the help of some domestic help, I can live like a king without having to go through all the chores of daily life.
However, I was disenchanted by the pollution and corruption I saw during my most recent visit to India. I do not know if I would be able to cope with the weather: heat, humidity, monsoon and occasional harsh winters. I also worry about the availability of good medical care during my old age. It would be ironic in the sense that I could have opted never to migrate to the USA.
Perhaps I should move to some place other than India. I have never been to South America but heard that there are several countries which are scenic, safe, liveable and affordable, such as Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina but I would have to learn another language. It may also be achallenge to adopt the lifestyle.
Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa are better choices from a language and lifestyle adjustment point of view. Canada is too cold, and I have never been to the other three countries and do not know anyone there. Thailand and Singapore are close to India and popular, but Thailand is no better than India and Singapore is too congested and hectic for me.
Then there is Europe. I have visited Europe many times for both business and vacation. I loved Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland as a tourist. My belief is that, apart from language issues, they are all very expensive for day-to-day living and life is not as convenient as in the USA.
Homes are much smaller, driving around is difficult and people are not necessarily as friendly.
One country I keep hearing about as an ideal place to spend a retired life is Portugal. Portugal offers a moderate climate, miles of beaches, more than ten months of sunshine in a year and hundreds of sights and activities. It is less expensive than its neighboring countries. Real estate is affordable, and one can get residency for five years under the “Golden Visa” programme by making a sizable investment followed by an application for citizenship. The icing on the cake is the fact that Portugal is part of Europe, EU and NATO and one can hop on a train to go anywhere in Europe.
The flip side is the report that the locals are getting fed up with the Americans who have already moved there and their culture, spending habits etc. Local landlords are catering to them, not only by selling homes but also building hotels and AirBnbs. Ordinary people are protesting on the streets because they cannot find affordable housing.
I feel like a refugee, not deeply attached to any place and lost.When I get lost, I turn to philosophical/spiritual thoughts.
This search for a better place to live is just a manifestation of “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. It is the same syndrome that causes people to look for a better job, get a divorce to find a new wife and buy a larger home in a better neighbourhood. The fact is that there is no absolute best in anything we encounter in life. The only way to stop this hankering for something better is to realize that God is the ultimate happiness, ultimate beauty, ultimate peace and His garden is the ultimate home. Without this realization, every search ends up being an endless pursuit.
I will most likely not move anywhere. My daughter and grandchildren are after all well settled here. Despite all the problems, the USA still appears to be the favourite destination of all immigrants. While I am contemplating a return to India, two Indian families died in their effort to cross into the US illegally from Canada in recent months; such a tragedy.
I will just isolate myself from all the bad news, meaningless daily events, foolish entertainments and new technology intended to make corporations wealthy and spend all my time on spiritual thoughts. I have added a couple of sentences at the end of my daily prayer: “If You think that my purpose on this earth has been served then please take me home. I want to go home and lie down at your feet in eternal bliss”.
(The writer, a physicist who worked in academia and industry, is a Bengali settled in America.)