Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Suketu Mehta in NYTimes

A quick update: Reuben and Charu have clarified their stand in the comments area. Though I understood the context of their posts, I was sloppy in implying, inintentionally, that they said something positively positive about Mehta's op-ed. My apologies.

It is interesting that Reuben and Charu managed to find something, er ..., interesting in the NYTimes op-ed by Suketu Mehta. I just found it appalling, and a couple of commenters on Reuben's post seem to have come to a similar conclusion. Let me give a couple of extracts [with emphasis added by me]:

  • [The country of my ancestors] couldn't change its technology and its philosophy and its notions of social mobility fast enough to fight off the European colonists, who won not so much with the might of advanced weaponry as with the clear logical philosophy of the Enlightenment. Their systems of thinking conquered our own.
  • There are many more Indians in the United States than there are Americans in India. Indian-Americans will help America understand India, trade with it to our mutual benefit. Just as Arab-Americans can help us fight Al Qaeda, Indian-Americans can help us deal with the emerging economic superpower that is India.

Note that the 'us' (and the 'our', etc) are different in the two extracts. In any case, what is the idea behind these nuggets of wisdom from Mehta? The peg for the op-ed is the concern that the Americans have about outsourcing; so, if the idea is to convince the Americans that losing a measly 3 million jobs (out of its current level of 130+ million jobs) over a fifteen year period is not all that bad for them, I would just say that there are umpteen good and powerful ways of doing it, and Mehta's is *not* one of them. Or, who knows -- may be there is something deep in his op-ed ... ;-)

Update: Here is Uma's take on educating our children. Both Sepia Mutiny and (via Ashish) Dan Drezner's blog have interesting discussions about outsourcing, triggered by Suketu Mehta's op-ed.


  1. Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  2. Anonymous said...

    I didn't necessarily mean a positive when I said "interesting"....maybe "provocative" is the word i should have used :)

    I just left it without any comment on the content per se.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Abi, what I found interesting was the part that I have quoted on my blog - this is what happens when you (that is, me here) quote things out of context just to make a point - or a blog post!

  4. Anonymous said...

    I wouldn't say the article is appalling. That is too unfair.

    You are pointing to Suketu's inability in figuring out where he belongs - India or USA. It is obvious that he, as an economic migrant, seems to look at both the countries, so 'us' and 'our' is confusing, but honest.

    The comment on Arab-Americans helping to fight Al-Qaeda is stupid! It could have been edited out.

    I read the comments in Charu's post by Satya as well.

    My general observations: Indian educational system, to the most part, could be a good preparatory system. However, the American system is a much better finishing school. That is why the bright ones with Indian bachelors and American PhDs are doing quite well.

    Americans also seem to have given up on hard work at the basic school level. Harder working, economically starved kids from Russia, India and China are making the American kids look weak. However America is not going to succeed by merely improving on the syllabi. One of the reasons for harder work by the immigrants is the wealth differential they will attain through hard work.

    The American kids, at least for now, can make good money even without having to work very hard in studies. Such is not possible for the immigrants. So the immigrants and foreigners in far-away impoverished lands will always work hundred times as hard as an average American kid.

    The 17th century Europeans had to work very hard - raise money, undertake horrible, life threatening voyages just so that they could get enough pepper and nurmeg which would help their meat last longer compared to the Indians, Chinese and Indonesians who found life too sedate.

    That lead to colonisation. Hard working, opportunity seeking Europeans with superior technology (and they needed technology to survive) could easily beat the Indians.

    So, there has to be a reason for people to work hard. Indians have to work hard now. Americans have still not found reason to work as hard.

  5. Anonymous said...

    Reuben, Charu, my apologies for my own sloppy writing that, quite unintentionally, implied that you had said something positive about Suketu Mehta's article. I am putting in an update that would correct this impression. Once again, my apologies.

    Badri, you have made some good points about the performance of immigrant children vis a vis that of the American kids, and I agree with you (as usual!).

    My rant is really about the entire article; I just found it a terrible mish-mash of all kinds of stuff, some of which are quite irrelevant to the debate on outsourcing. For example, should the 'outsourcing problem' be viewed as the price that the West has to pay for its past sins?

    Even within all this irrelevant stuff, he has managed to sneak in things like 'their systems of thinking conquered us', and that truly offensive reference to Al Qaeda...

  6. Anonymous said...

    Badri, Abi - I also think the Indian / any immigrant kids work harder because of the 'opportunity' that has been given them - something that they worked hard to get to and not dropped on their laps -

    from a cultural / pop psychology perspective, I wonder if this also has something to do with the way we are taught from an early age to respect education - and teachers too...?

    as for Mehta's artcile (or the bit I quoted), I could relate to it immensely - I felt the same way when I did my post-grad studies in London - of cousre not just about basic math but about many things in general.

    abi, please read some time the earlier post I've linked on this one.

  7. Anonymous said...

    emerging *superpower* that is India - Ok - I really did not know what to do with that one!