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American desis flock to Apna India

American desis flock to Apna India

Author: Nona Walia
Publication: The Times of India
Date: December 7, 2003
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/cms.dll/html/uncomp/articleshow?msid=344337

All Meenakshi Nankani, 24, did in Washington DC was practice ballet, hip-hop and jazz. Till she gave it all up, to educate children of migrant sugarcane-cutting families in Theur, Maharashtra.
Gaurav Parnami, 28, studied molecular biology in Arizona. He quit his cushy job as an investment manager to live in the Ramapir No Tekro slums of Ahmedabad for a year. Meet an all-new generation of American- born Indians who are giving up comfortable lifestyles and dollar dreams to rough it out in tribal villages, travel in rickshaws and buses, and do their bit for their ''homeland''.

Why are they doing it? It's the I-love- my-India factor. ''In the US, I lived a selfish life, I had everything. But now I feel obligated to India. It hasn't been easy to disconnect from this country,'' says Shruti Patel.
Patel, 24, who has a degree in business management from NYU, has come from New Jersey to Rajkot. Here's what she's doing in India: ''I travel to 30 villages in one month, on a mobile learning bus in Gujarat, teaching tribals and villagers.'' She is part of the Learning on Wheels programme.
Most of them are here for a year as part of a fellowship programme. But for this Gen Next of NRIs who wants to make a difference, the Indian experience is a transforming one, with many opting to stay back for a longer time.
''I love my Rs 50 Bata chappals more than I love my Gucci boots. I love the simple life here. I doubt if I want to return to the US,'' says Patel.
Agrees Sandhya Gupta from St Louis: ''In the US, all we did was go clubbing, camping and dancing. Now, we've found a motive in life. It was tough eating spicy food, using Indian toilets and getting lost all the time. But we're having a great experience.'' That's the reason, Amit Syal, 25, a mechanical engineer from California, is training the blind in Pune rather than making his own millions.
''I'm helping them be independent. I teach them how to talk in English, how to dress for work and prepare them to face the real world.'' Syal has conceptualised a self-empowerment course for the blind.

For the last three months, Kalaivani Murugesan and Komala Ramachandra have joined hands with President Kalam's initiative in Manchal Mandal, near Andhra Pradesh, helping villagers in vocational training and sanitation.
Says Murugesan, who has done her masters from Atlanta, Georgia in Public Policy: ''I'm helping the banjaras sell their products, and weavers of pochampalli saris to better their products and become market-savvy.''
He's also developing a water-shed management project. The man to bring them here, Anand Shah of Indicorps, says it's aimed at helping them understand ''what being an Indian is all about''. A Harvard graduate who has helped build life skills in Kerala and improve slums in Ahmedabad, Shah himself shuttles between California and Gujarat.
When Manish Pant, 22, misses his parents who live in Washington DC, he plays his guitar. ''Music helps me break down barriers. Living in India has made me feel complete. It's been an experience of a lifetime.''

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