As appeared in the Diamondback, University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper.
I spent my growing years in India; then, I moved here to America for college. One of the most critical benefits of this dual experience has been engaging with diverse groups of people on both sides of the world—and understanding how they think. Armed with this unique perspective, I bring signal of warning to all you folks: be wary of young people in India. They can disrupt your future.
The case for being wary of India has strong merits: India, the world’s largest democracy, is also home to the world’s largest English-speaking population. As the world has globalized, so has India’s presence and prominence. For instance, the highest-earning demographic in the Maryland-Virginia-DC area itself, where you live, is Indians. These were the people who came to North America and flourished in the pool of opportunities here. Imagine what will happen (to you) if the land of India becomes that pool of opportunity. Today, Her youth have become global citizens with sharp quantitative skills—engineering is the nation’s third language after Hindi and English—that can drain American brainpower out of competition. Are young Americans prepared to face the tropical Indian storm heading their way? I don’t think so.
At the outset, the best American students—argumentative, risk-taking, driven, broad-minded, with global viewpoints and diverse networks—out smart their counterparts in India by leagues. But these ultra-smart people comprise of a very small percentage of the entire American youth. To make things worse, the reverse holds true for the larger average: average young Indians—hard working, motivated, less party-quotient, etc.—outcompete their average American counterparts on most fronts required in today’s predominantly IT based job-market. And they don’t charge as much either—$6000 per annum for an engineering graduate is considered a decent salary. India’s competitive advantage is therefore young people producing work at par at much lower costs.
Yet, India’s biggest shortfall, and reason for reprieve in America, is that young Indians have an extremely low satisfaction threshold. The journey from no wealth to some wealth is seen as the benchmark for success. Unimaginative conventionalism is all it takes to reach ‘somewhere,’ and people are happy with that as of now. And while that’s justified at the micro level, it does not serve India’s macro aspirations well. That kind of mid-way complacency disables Indians’ potential to leverage on their otherwise sharp killer instincts.
In fact a friend of mine from one of India’s most prestigious engineering colleges, IIT Mumbai, now studying at Johns Hopkins for a semester, told me that less than 15 students applied for a subsidized, semester-long, study abroad program to the United States—out of a class of 3000 of India’s brightest minds. Clearly, learning, going out of comfort zone, and taking risks is not on any Indian agenda, at least for the time being.
But now that young Indians are beginning to reach somewhere, the ambition of their future goals will only increase in size. It is only a matter of time that they will begin to rise above conventionalism and embrace learning and risk-taking opportunities in the process—I experienced that first-hand this winter on a train journey with 400 of India’s brightest young entrepreneurs. The innovative spirit is already beginning to percolate, and soon will flood through the minds of a significant proportion of the general young populace. When that happens, the unprepared partying American youth will be hit hard.