Sunday, June 10, 2007

The deglorification of phoren

Once upon a time in India, around the time I grew up, foreign (variously spelt phoren, forin, for rin etc.) was a big thing. It was so big that, in fact, it was the only thing. People wanted to talk foreign, walk foreign and be foreign. People prayed to god in all temples so that they could go abroad, somewhere, somehow even if it was to pray in a temple abroad. That is how some people ended up in the jungles of Lanka, Nepal and even Kazakhstan since god is not very choosy of the place and they did not specify the country in their prayers. There were visa temples, visa pilgrimages and even visa archanais. There were visa agents, visa bureaus and visa exchanges. There were homams for visas and horoscopes were scanned for the visa factor in them. Research institutes published a statistical probability of certain gothrams based on travel in the last 40 years and concluded that some gothrams had a better chance than others to get a visa. (The American embassy has a list, claimed a source.)

In the scarcity fed economy of the 70s and 80s, the only things that were good were foreign. So, one hoped atleast for foreign goods from the returnees from those who went abroad. This obsession was exploited by the returnees. It obviously, was a very welcome thing for those who came back, filled with Yardleys, Toblerones and Hersheys Kisses. It seemed to be an unwritten code amongst all travellers, that Indians over a generation came to believe that there was nothing more to phoren than these three brands. Only much later have we realized that they were the cheapest brands available, but I digress.

The 80s were also the age of the gulf fuelled bodyshopping boom. An insatiable appetite for workers led many Indians to the Gulf. So, going abroad was a big thing for earning money, career be damned. (In any case there seemed to be no career in India back then.) Maamas, uncles trooped to the gulf to realize their lifes ambitions - they became plumbers, mechanics, drivers - all thanks to an engineering degree which they really did not need to do the job they were asked to do. Over time, the Gulf lost its charm, except for perhaps, real plumbers and mechanics.

That age ended almost as the other age began, the IT bodyshopping boom combined with the rush of students out of India - to the US. Students went to study abroad, engineers and programmers went abroad to work. Family forests threatened by global warming longed for a branch in California evan as entire families traced their genealogy in California and San Jose was as close as Matunga or Vrindavan colony. But all through these ages, going abroad was an elitist phenomenon, even for students, since it cost a fair sum of money to get through the GMATs and GREs and the admission process. So, the parents of these students travelled abroad and spoke about it in social gatherings and the elitism of going abroad was well cultivated and harvested. All was well with the world.

Like some forms of evolution (like almonds), this was turned around on its head thanks to the IT and BPO boom (and a few other things).

Once the Indian software biggies and BPO biggies got into the act, almost anybody could travel abroad. Once it was a preserve of engineers, but now, everybody could travel. Be calm graduates, bee aye graduates - there was no distinction, you could bump into them at Tilak Nagar or on Times Square and talk about Times Square and Tilak Nagar respectively. Going abroad, suddenly to the disgust of the "entitled" was not a big deal at all.

Then came the low cost airlines and that really was the last straw for the flying elites. Thanks to them, flying to the Dubai shopping festival was easier than getting out of your house to reach a mall in the center of the city (Dubai has very good traffic, ketto). Going to Singapore was cheaper than getting to Delhi, if you were in Chennai and then some. A honeymoon abroad was almost a given with Mauritius being a favoured destination. Thatha and paatis swarmed Singapore and Malaysia in a rash of saris and ill fitting jeans while breezing through Mustafa. Low cost airlines filled with the smell of thepla and chundo suddenly began to ferry tourists all over the world. Many cooks travelled with such chartered groups and gained international cooking experience too.

Suddenly, social gatherings from Subhash Nagar to Vadapalani were about the changes in Singapore since the last time someone visited it to the shopping in Dubai.

The dollar stores opened their branches in India and put one more straw on the back of an already bored camel. Once a brand is seen in dollar stores, it loses its significance in the mindshare of any literate Indian like a stone plonked into water. Any relatives who brought those brands to India were marked for deletion from the invite list for the next wedding in the family. The Toblerones, Kisses and Yardley found their rightful place in the graveyard of brands.

Slowly, but surely, going abroad has gone from a big deal to a non topic. Like mobile phones. Like the accent that you acquired from your last visit - the BPO boy next door does it better and has a pretty packet to show for it.


Kavi said...

Like the accent that you acquired from your last visit - the BPO boy next door does it better and has a pretty packet to show for it."

LOL ! LOL !!!

Earlier times, people with a different accent (read as fake) were asked if they went to a passport office! These days they are asked if they didnt complete a call centre training !

Raj said...

You are right. Every Tom, Dick and harry goes abroad. Once I had taken my family to Singapore, investing what I thought were my life savings. And what do I find there? Hundreds and thousands of Indians swarming all over the place. So, where was the foreignness of the place? Might as well stay back here.