Once again the giant sucking sound of outsourcing sweeps across the United States, as IT jobs in Michigan move to Chennai, India. And it leaves in its wake dislocation, hurt, anger and fear of an uncertain future for the new unemployed of Michigan.

An educated and experienced workforce is faced with the bleak prospect of competing for work with foreign workers who make a fraction of their wages. In a state reeling from plummeting auto sales, mass layoffs and plant shutdowns, any hope of finding work seems hopeless. The mood is grim and somber.

Paul and Tanya are fortunate. They have not only retained their jobs but have also been asked to travel to Chennai to train their counterparts. They set off on their journey with much enthusiasm, curiosity and some trepidation.

Every experience in the next three weeks will be deeply etched in their psyche for the rest of their lives.

From the cool, crisp temperatures in Michigan, they stepped out on Indian soil in suffocating heat. Each breath burdens the lungs, for the air hangs thick and heavy. The drive from the airport to the hotel laid bare the unimaginable horrors that India is unfortunately known for.

In utterly chaotic traffic, devoid of discipline, etiquette or courtesy, man, beast and vehicle jostle for space. Strange smells, jarring noise and shocking sights greet their vehicle at every turn.

The appalling poverty rattles Paul. The sight of people living, eating and defecating on the streets they call home was gut-wrenching. “I saw a mom, dad and 2 kids sleeping on the street. No one should have to live this way,” he muttered sadly.

In searing heat, a man lies in a fetal position and withers away the last few hours or days of his life. Further down the gutted street, a cow has succumbed to hunger, thirst and decease. The carcass lay sprawled across a patch of dirt. The fetid odour of rotting flesh rises unbounded. Raucous crows and a swarm of flies compete in frenzied feeding off the animal. Pedestrians rush by, preoccupied with their own pain and hardship. There’s no time for the dead or the dying in this city.

In the days that followed, Paul worked long hours with his new colleagues. He has lost any appetite for sightseeing so he stays close to the confines of the hotel. He feels safe here. The horde of destitute people on the streets is unsettling.

Paul’s experiences and observations are real. Paul hails from a gentle, laid back state blessed with pristine lakes and beaches.Planned communities with manicured lawns, gardens and flower beds are the norm there. Even the forbidding ghettoes Detroit shine compared to what Paul has witnessed in Chennai.

Yet, despite what Paul has experienced, he has also learned there is another story and a different perspective of Chennai and the rest of India. In recent times, India’s numerous success stories have received wide media coverage.

In the last few years, India has become a powerhouse for information technology services. Educated and skilled in the complexities of computer software technology, Indian youth are fast becoming the preferred backbone of IT departments of many a Fortune 500 company.

Indian doctors have long had a stellar reputation in the United States. The high cost of healthcare in the US and other western countries has given Indian medical tourism forceful traction.

Indians are also making the news in the fields of science, politics, business and theatre, to name a few.

Indians are Nobel Prize and Booker prize winners, congressmen, business tycoons, astronauts and CEOs of blue chip American companies.

With much publicity and high profile manoeuvering, Indian business trumpeted its arrival on the world stage by taking control of competing businesses. The fifth richest man in the world is an Indian. His wealth was not inherited nor did he find it in his backyard.

The list goes on.

Clearly India is breaking away the shackles of colonialism and failed economic policies and a renewed confidence is taking hold. A “can do, will do” attitude pervades the country.

The exceptionally talented and excessively wealthy co-habit the same space as the illiterate, unskilled and the destitute. How did such a contradiction come about?

Scarcity of jobs is advanced as one reason but, as in any complex issue, there are probably many more. Caste and sub-caste, religion and regional differences feature prominently and frequently as the bane of Indian society. Each segment fiercely protects its turf.

Skewed religious teachings and beliefs have often impeded peaceful co-existence. Karma, the belief that a person’s current circumstance is a result of actions in a previous life, often gets in the way of reaching out to the needy with a helping hand.

Some of these beliefs and attitudes have a crippling effect. Society is fractured along numerous fault lines.

As Paul and I sit across a table and deliberate on the trip to Chennai, we are aware that India will play an increasingly larger role in our lives. When India does arrive as an economic and military power, what values will it have to offer? What strengths will India project that others would wish to emulate?

India today displays an insatiable appetite for anything western. Whether it is music, clothing and fashion or malls, morals and values, Indians have embraced them with an unabashed zeal. But what then of the Indian culture that stretches back a few millennia. Is there anything of value to be salvaged?

Paul drifts back to thoughts of the streets of Chennai and shakes his head. “How is it that such smart people can allow this to happen?”

It is not clear to us how and when the street people of India will join the mainstream of society and be able to live in dignity. Yet we do believe that in time to come, India will find its way.

It is timely that India’s ascent is taking place in these troubled times. Perhaps, the answer lies in the religious and spiritual traditions that India has gifted the world. It is time for calm and circumspect leadership.

The time has come for India to take its place at the table. We wish this ancient land much success.

The author works with a multinational company in Michigan.

Source Rediff