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indiamarsmission

When India’s .Mars mission successfully reached the red planet, I was impressed. It seemed inconceivable that for a mere 74 million dollars, man reached mars when the 1969 landing of the moon cost $365 million (what is that in todays currency) or the $671 million to launch the Maven satellite.

It showed Indians can excel. Of course, there have been many scientific summits crossed in the subcontinent, and scientist Abdul Kálam became India’s president.

So why do so many Indians excel overseas and not at home?

A study ranked the individuality-conformity of nations ranked India 48th on I-C scale[1] (tied with Panama; Ecuador, 49, Guatemala 50 Pakistan tied with Indonesia at 44) the most Individualistic nations were from 1 to 3, the USA, Australia, the Great Britain with the Netherlands and Canada tied at fourth more collectivist nations.

When nations see themselves in terms of their inner feelings (“I am patient, easy going, kind” they will sacrifice to the group good, even strongly loyal, but demand their own needs are l bound to fewer groups distinctions, have shallower relationships that may end. Collectivist nations see themselves as “I am a daughter, a nurse, an Indian”) with interdependent cooperative relationship, see strong in out group distinctions, are far more adept at reading body language and interpersonal clues seeking group harmony ad long term relationships.

Or as the old joke goes “You can tell Indian crabs because while crabs will climb out of a jar, Indian crabs will get back in.”

All cultures have a Pavlovian reflex to seek group approval. It seems more pronounced in the large communal population that we are quick to condemn non conformists. Unless that nonconformity leads to wealth or power.

Indians do seem to be gifted with a heritage of inductive logic, an intuitive grasp that seems to elude some of our more addictively minded Western contemporaries.

Perhaps its the meditation? Or is it the need to take a street smart hunch to get ahead homed by years of reading the subtle clues of community. Reading body language and expression is a fine Indian art, less developed   by more verbal nations who take you by your word alone.

Indians lead Microsoft and internet technology . Unfortunately, Indian born Nobel prize laureate scientists Hargobind Khurana, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar  and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan were no longer Indian citizens when they gained success.

“We are all human beings, and our nationality is simply an accident of birth” Ramakrishnan said.

Sadly “Indian” successes abroad have little to do with the fact that they are Indian. They succeed because they abandoned India.

India’s policy of exclusion that holds us back?  India forbids joint citizenship, so to get ahead you become a foreign national. Or is it because the history of caste exclusion?

Go to a repairman and there will be plenty of promises but little performed, unless it can be put off onto somebody else.

Or is it the culture of mediocrity that discourages achievement?

Perhaps it is by escaping the social confines of the group, moving to USA, Britain or Australia, where innovation is rewarded, their gifts now shine. Many will not succeed  of course: I have seen many arrive expecting the Pan Indian network to land them a career. Misplaced nostalgia does not work.

Where personal effort and innovation counts, the hard work to simply get by in India, may find results for those seeking solutions. Colonial Britain wrongly criticized Indians as lazy, failing to realise the lazy Indian simply did not want to work for something that meant nothing to him.  The new Industries nations incentivise solutions. Where oversees there is personal reward – in India family  nepotism may swipe your profit.

I hope the successful mars mission inspires us to prove we can do it home in India. There have been great Indian successes when industries broke away from the mould. Let’s build the infrastructure to keep leaders where India needs them.

[1] Hofstede’s national scale 1980 study ranked 117,000 employees of a multinational corporation in 40 countries, that was expanded in 1983 to 50 nations. (Colleen Ward, Stephen Bochner and Adrian Furnham, The Psychology of culture shock, Routledge, 2001, Philadelphia.)

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