Originally posted on 8 Feb 2011 : 


When I was a child, people who had been to the UK were known as “England Returned” Everyone gathered around them to listen to their accounts of the land from where our erstwhile rulers had come. They used to bring things which we had not seen before and talk of fancy gadgets which we could only dream to acquire.

When I got my commission fifty years ago, some officers had gone abroad and they brought 8mm movie projectors through which they showed us the movie pictures which fed our dreams. Around that time, immigration to the US began. First it was a trickle, and then it picked up. The ‘land of opportunity’ picked up the best amongst us and we called it ‘brain drain’ When our bright lads returned, they brought cameras, tape recorders, fancy clothes and gadgets which were the envy of the neighbors. Even the soaps and toiletries which came from there was superior. Their packaging made them appear even better than the actual contents. And so, it seemed evident to us that those who had managed to get the visas were really lucky, if not heaven-born. One of my friends who got an opportunity to visit his brother in the US in the early sixties went to the extent of saying, “It is better to be born as a dog in the house of a ‘Memsahib’ than to rot here!!”

It was not until I visited Europe and the US myself, that I  discovered the flip side of life. I noticed that ‘all that glitters is not gold’ I saw how forlorn our immigrants were in the evenings. They craved for news from back home and were forever waiting for a phone call from their kith and kin. Most of them had ‘assimilated’ into the contours of the culture of their host country. They dressed like them and spoke English with a Yankee accent. They even ate their cuisine and did all they could to merge into their milieu. But they were also keen to retain their identity. And since they could neither change the color of their skins nor their names, they remained a different class. And every once in a while, when they did better than the native Americans, someone would taunt them, and say, ” Why don’t you go back to your own country?” And they would return home with a bruised ego.

Meanwhile, in 1991, an economic revolution occurred in India. Within a space of ten years, nearly everything which is sold in those markets became available here. People returning from the US had nothing to declare at the immigration. And our NRIs friends could no longer find suitable gifts to bring for us.  Most of that stuff is now cheaper here, and packaged just well. The tables had turned!!

More recently, another phenomenon occurred. In our filthy, corrupt, disorderly and badly governed country, the prices of the real estate shot through the roof. In a short span of ten years residential property has gone up by ten to fifteen times in certain pockets. Our friends who sold their property here find it difficult to press the “return” key now.

“The Dollar Dreams” which impelled some of our compatriots have turned sour. They find that the actual buying power of the green currency is much less than its exchange rate. The good old Urdu couplet has acquired a real life meaning for them,

“Na khuda hi mila, na visaal-e-sanam

 Na idhar ke rahe, na udhar ke rahe!!”

A Pakistani poet (name unknown) has composed a poem on this subject which appears very apt. I first received it from Talat Zameer. Since it has also come to me from another source, it is likely to make the rounds on the Internet. In case you have not received it from elsewhere, click on the link below. There are two poems, the second one is a lot like our “Woh kaagaz ki kishti” written by Sudarshan Fakir.

A link to the above ‘nazm’ is given below

Post Script,

Later, I was informed that the name of the poet is Irfan Murtaza, and he lives on the West Coast, in Los Angeles

  1. Saba says:

    I live in europe..I am really impressed by you ..may be I m in love wht you were wriiten. ..plz reply …love your story writing style…mail me or reply bye

  2. Alammas says:

    All lands are the land of God, so where ever you and your family permanently live is your own country, the nonsense dilemma is that some of the people consider their own county as “foreign”, and “desi in foreign” that’s an illogical thinking and mindset how one could be desi in foreign, so called desies could only be in their ‘Local” countries not in foreign.

    Need to change the mindset, the country where you and family live and you earn your bread and butter needs your sincerity and love, if you permanently live in USA then love this country from your heart, think for it, work for its progress and prosperity.

    Important thing is human and humanity, if you want to compare any country then compare on the basis of human values, can you even dare to think of comparing the human values in India or Pakistan with USA??????? Is there any comparison?

    Without human values and sincerity no country and its people can flourish.

    Be sincere and be honest to the land where you live! Its your country its your people! Love can not be forced, love is only by heart!

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Alamma,
      I am in complete agreement with you. You have a poignant message in this mail. I invite you to expand this idea in an essay, and share it with our readers.
      Thanks for the indulgence.

  3. Mandhir Kaur says:

    I completely agree with your views on this one,chacha..i hope all NRIs (atleast the ones close to our heart) take a cue from this & return to their homeland n the people who are waiting to welcome them with open arms….!!!

  4. Pawanbir Singh says:

    So True!!

  5. Shiv Mehdiratta says:

    I had met Irfan Murtaza in November 2008 at the meeting of the “Urdu Academy of North America” in San Jose (California) where he had come to promote his first two books listed above. At this meeting, he recited some of his “Nazams” from these books. I bought these two books and a CD on these books at this meeting. (Incidentally, I’m a member of the Urdu Academy and I attend their monthly meetings in San Jose). The “Nazams”, he has recited in the Facebook, are most probably from his book “Purane Ghar Key Mausam”.


  6. prabal sen says:


    (but only one recital by a Pak poet could be opened)

  7. Veerendra Jaitly says:

    You have hit the nail on the head.

    When I was at IIT KGP 74 to 79, there was a craze to go to US and I, a crazy chap chose to join Indian Navy. I used to feel bad that all these guys had been educated at the expense of the poor Indian Tax payer and they they flee for the greener pastures ignoring the needs of their own motherland.

    But they were opportunists and Uncle Sam was dearer than Bharat Mata.

    As you rightly said, tables have turned now. Their Deshbhakti has suddenly come to the forefront. And good number of these people ex IITians etc want to come back and give back to the society now. They seem to have realised too late. Anyway, at last ……..

  8. kamal khanna says:

    How true.

    You mean somewhat like the song:-

    “hum tumse mohabbat karke sanam

    hanste bhi rahe, rote bhi rahe”? (or words to that effect)

    Is VK Dhir the great and famous Gen VK Dhir?

  9. Ata Hasnain says:

    Beautiful Sir. I loved it.

  10. Gurjeet says:

    Well written Sir!

    Khuda na to US/UK mein hai, aur na hi India mein(for sure).

    Khuda to apke dil mein hai. Aap jahan bi raho, khuda apke ander hai.

    Having spent last 15 yrs in US, I think many things you wrote are true. E.g. longing for news from India or wanting to talk to someone. I still have & miss the fragrance of indian soil (fragrance of first rain etc) in my mind(which reminds me Kagaz ki kishti). This is the love for your roots or call it love for mother land.

    But I am very pained to see that India is more capitalistic in nature than US. Race for money in India is more unethical, ugly & senseless than US.

    Life of an average person is very cool here. Human values are better. We don’t treat poors as nit wits. Politicians respond quickly & mix up well with public. In india we elect & then make them VVIP’s with Z or other security and politicians become inaccessible. If veterans were depositing medals, President would have walked of White house to meet them & whole public would have supported.

    There’s no perfect place on this earth except your own heart to be. I love india but we need to bring some quick changes( like in Egypt). The people must rise and get rid of corrupt politicians/police/civil servants asap. Or we will left behind for the dream & existing opportunity of becoming a super power in less than two decades.

  11. Ritu Bhanot says:

    It is indeed an excellent summary of the state of affairs. In fact, most of the things sold abroad are made in India and I’m so proud of that… and then I can say, why would I buy it here when I can buy it much cheaper and have more choice in India :-)

    In fact, I know that even the things that are made by famous ‘designers’ are in fact designed by our poor ‘Indian designers’ and made by our craftsmen and those guys just put their labels. I was really surprised when a cousin of mine who’d visited me in France actually flounted the fact that she simply wanted to buy things made by French designers. I have a better option, my sister is a designer… and so, I can get her to design better things at a cheaper price ;-)

    Seriously, people who run behind foreign brands are really stupid. Pay well to our people here and they’d give you excellent quality things.

    I learnt so much during this trip to India. As you know, I’d gone to Aurangabad for work. And Ajanta and Ellora caves are not very far from there. We visited Ellora caves and I was shocked to see that things like ‘laughing buddha’ that we consider as a ‘Chinese’ thing, is actually an ancient Indian design. The Hindu temples of Ellora are on their shoulders and as these were apparently built before Budhism became the state religion with Ashoka… given that the adjoining Jain caves must have been built during the period of Ashoka’s grandfather who’d made Jain the state-religion… so it first, laughing budha can’t be ‘budha’… and it can’t be Chinese either!

    So much for imported goods ;-)

    We import things that we’d actually built. Now isn’t that foolishness.

    I’m actually taking lot of stuff for our home in Strasbourg ‘coz I want an Indian drawing-room… of course, it’s not enough… but slowly, I’ll have it. I got an excellent carved table for about 10 Euros from Surajkund festival and lovely solawood Durga for 2-4 Euros. These are things that are lovely and our own heritage. And even with all these things I don’t think I’ll have anything to declare :-)

    I’m thinking of using my Ellora pix with ‘Laughing buddha’ to write something… once I’m back in france (going back this thursday).

    You are right, we have so many things but we don’t care for our own stuff. Doosare ki taraf ki ghaas zyada hari dikhati hai.

    I guess, this e-mail is getting more like an article :-) so I’d take your leave.

  12. Raj Kadyan says:

    Thank you for sending all these gems

  13. Neena Singh says:

    Beautifully written as usual! Enjoyed every word as also the link. Thanks for sharing.

  14. J Thomas says:

    Quite a few have Anglicized or Americanised their names. And I know many friends and relatives who have surrendered green cards.

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