Young Indians Abroad Return to Help Better Country Young Indians who grew up in Britain, Australia and America are working elbow-to-elbow on India's environmental projects. The collaboration is not without challenges, but along the way the participants are building an identity that crosses cultural borders.
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Young Indians Abroad Return to Help Better Country

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Young Indians Abroad Return to Help Better Country

Young Indians Abroad Return to Help Better Country

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Steve, it's coming to an end, our year-long trek around the globe with National Geographic that we've been calling Climate Connections. In our last few stories, we're looking to the future. And today, we go to India.


Which has a lot of new problems that come along with rapid development. India also has a lot of new problem-solvers, though. Young Indians born in America, Britain, and Australia are traveling back to India. That's where they're going to work for start up companies or NGOs, non-governmental organizations. They're tackling pollution and carbon emissions and recycling and energy. NPR's Robert Krulwich meets some of India's climate change generation.

ROBERT KRULWICH: If you go to India to see water pollution projects, air pollution projects, green architecture projects, global warming initiatives, what you find naturally are lots of young Indians working away. But surprisingly often, right there with them on the frontlines are kids who look Indian until they open their mouths - for example, Preeth Gowder(ph)?

Mr. PREETH GOWDER (Venture Capitalist): I'm a venture capitalist.

KRULWICH: ?is a young guy who lends money to the poor.

Are you an Indian or are you?

Mr. GOWDER: I'm Indian.

KRULWICH: You're an Indian?

Mr. GOWDER: Yeah, yeah. I consider India home. As soon as I come into this city?

KRULWICH: You don't sound Indian though.

Mr. GOWDER: I don't, I don't. I was born in Alabama, and?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRULWICH: As so many Indians are.

Mr. GOWDER: Right.

KRULWICH: And you?

Ms. RANU SINHA (Consultant): My name is Ranu Sinha, and I'm a consultant.

MR. DAVE MADDEN(ph): My name is Dave Madden, or Dave Madden in Indian context. My mom and dad are both from India.

KRULWICH: At a restaurant in a Delhi neighborhood, I ran into a bunch of these folks and their friends who are part of a growing wave of British, Australian and American born Indians who've decided to move to Indian.

Mr. MADDEN: I'm not just someone walking around with an America accent talking about social development just to be cool, that I'm actually going to do something about it.

KRULWICH: Their friends in India, local Indians have a nickname for these Americans. They call them ABCDs: American-Born Confused Desis. Desi is an Indian slang word. It describes a new arrival searching for his inner Indian myths, says Indian Gorham Shorey(ph).

Mr. GORHAM SHOREY: So what ends up is an American-Born Confused Desi.

KRULWICH: And do you know a lot of these guys and women?

Mr. SHOREY: Thank God I don't know them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRULWICH: Why? What's wrong with them?

This is a long story, but because of their American diplomas, very much honored here, these returnees get terrific jobs in India, better jobs than the local young Indians get.

Mr. SHOREY: The ABCDs, by virtue of their accent and style and having lived in the West, are given a lot more importance by the social - upper social strata in India as well. So they kind of get their due importance and they get their, you know, I'm sure they get a lot more women than we do?

KRULWICH: They get good women.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHOREY: ?as well.

KRULWICH: Now we understand.

Mr. SHOREY: Which is the case, come on, which is the case because, you know, what I read about is really crazy, Maxim India. I read this amazing article about how the ABCD who comes by virtue of having eaten beef most of his life, he's bigger than the normal Indian guy and he has this deeper voice, and he dresses well and he's got an accent, so the chicks fall for him.

KRULWICH: The chicks fall for him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHOREY: I love that. It was brilliant. It was really awesome.

KRULWICH: But in his less jealous moments, Gorham says, well, the truth is India needs these young Americans and these Western kids because they known stuff that the young Indians don't know.

Mr. SHONEY: They come with amazing perspectives, amazing insights that Western countries have experienced over their development cycle, which India is going through now and making a lot of the mistakes that the West made, say perhaps 20, 30 years back. So the insights that we get from these people are extremely beneficial to us.

(Soundbite of traffic)

KRULWICH: So take this situation. Any day, on the streets of Delhi, you can see a crush of new cars, new stores, bigger and bigger malls, all signs that the economy here is growing very fast, and most young Indians, says Ranu, they like it that way.

Ms. SINHA: We're growing, and we like this growth and it's exciting. And no, we don't want to hear doomsday stories about some glacier melting in the future and - you know, sea levels rising 20, 30 years from now. We don't want anything that will stop this growth.

KRULWICH: If you drive to the south end of Delhi, a neighborhood that, nine years ago, by the way, was empty.

Ms. SINHA: ?literally just desert and sand, and there were no buildings.

KRULWICH: Now it is a strip of 10, maybe 15 shopping malls that are titanic in size. I went there with a young Indian, Leon Mirenas(ph).

Mr. LEON MIRENAS: I mean, look at, they can - the vastness of it is really echoing, right?

KRULWICH: And your friends like getting a place like this?

Mr. MIRENAS: Yeah, because this is exactly what they aspire for. I mean, Domino's is here, Pizza Hut is there?

KRULWICH: And so is the plastic, and so are the cups and the bottles and the wrapping paper.

Mr. MADDEN: Plastic bags, trash in terms of non-biodegradable. That's new, and people don't really understand what to do with that.

KRULWICH: Typically, trash was picked up by a special group called Rag Pickers, but there's now so much trash they can't collect it all.

Ms. CAROLYN HOW(ph): I had no idea how waste worked in Delhi.

KRULWICH: So Carolyn How asked her landlord?

Ms. HOW: You know, what do we do with our waste? Like, do you have a set up with the Rag Pickers in the neighborhood? Where do you leave the waste? He said, oh, just throw it off the roof. That was - I mean, that was the moment I decided I was going to move out. But it was also, I mean, and he did. He just threw - instead of paying 30 rupees, $.75 a month to have someone pick up our trash, he threw it off the balcony onto these train tracks.

KRULWICH: This happens all the time says, Indian Neeraj Doshi. People will keep a clean house?

Mr. NEERAJ DOSHI: But the problem is that the responsibly lies only until my boundary. Beyond that, that's not my area.

KRULWICH: So if it leaves my house, it's not my problem.

Mr. DOSHI: Exactly.

KRULWICH: So there's a lack of we-ness, of community, that the Western kids particularly seem to notice and they think needs to be addressed.

Mr. MADDEN: And it's as simple as that. It's a conversation that then needs to happen between people. And?

KRULWICH: And to start that conversation, for example, Neeraj, working a young Westerner, hopes to finance a new garbage collection company. And meanwhile, his friends, they talk about using movies to raise consciousness.

Ms. ALEXIS RINGWALD(ph): A good Bollywood movie on climate change here would really kind of increase awareness of my own perspective.

(Soundbite of music)

KRULWICH: Maybe Alexis Ringwald is right, but her friend Preeth thinks she's wrong.

(Soundbite of music)

KRULWICH: Actors don't create lasting change.

Mr. GOWDER: What they want from movie stars is kind of their glamour for the 10 minutes.

KRULWICH: But these conversations between young Americans and British and Indians, they can change minds. Young people talking together are critical for new ideas in Indian, he thinks.

Mr. GOWDER: I hear these conversations happening here. I don't hear them anywhere else.

KRULWICH: But because they are so constant and so intense, these young friendships may create a new kind of we, a pan-Indian we-ness, says Neeraj.

Mr. DOSHI: Yeah. The we is all of us. All of us is we. And that's what my thing is. We are all of us, are we.

KRULWICH: And who knows? This conversation could go on for a while.

Mr. GOWDER: That's why I'm here now. That's why I'm probably going to spend the majority of the rest of my life here.

Ms. RINGWALD: I would be one of the same. I - this is going to be part of my life for the rest of my life.

KRULWICH: Well, we'll see about that, because, you know, it's very trashy here and cranky and difficult.

Ms. RINGWALD: It's not. It's far more beautiful, stunning. It's amazing. It's frustrating. It's diverse. It's complicated, and it's mine.

KRULWICH: Robert Krulwich, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Much more Climate Connections is at This is NPR News.

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