Being a Mallu during my school days was considered a privilege. In spite of the heavily accented clan that we were, all puns on our intonation and our duskier membrane were relegated to backseat, the moment we came dressed in those satin knickers when even the noble class could afford only polyester; or when we sported that enviable Casio digital watch; or when we had at least one Hero fountain pen in our pencil box.
Certainly not the most affluent community, when compared to the Gujaratis and the Marvaris, what made Malayalis still stand apart rubbing shoulders with the prosperous was that every household from the pea-shaped state that we belonged to, had an Indian Diaspora.
It was the time when witticisms apart, it could be a true fact that Armstrong met a Chettan vending Chaaya when he set his foot for the first time on moon, at least one member from every house used to be in the Gelf repatriating Dinar and the Riyal, monthly without fail.
It used to be a proud moment, when during the school intervals, stories about our non-resident Indian Ungle in Dubai working for the Shaikh or that distant Aaandy who was a Nerse at the government hospital in Qatar, were heard and listened with awe by our classmates.
Blame it on the globalisation and opening up of the economy, it saw a mass out-flux of populance out of the country not just in search of livelihood that we Mallus were used to, but even to spread their business wings across the globe; and our South Indian community suddenly lost its prominence on the NRI pedestal to the affluent North Indians.
Caste and creed, religion and region had eminence only within the boundaries of our nation, and once out of the shackles, the NRIs were looked upon with admiration whenever they returned. And yes; they did return without fail, every year at least, with a lot of foreign currency in their pockets, scents, electronics, clothes and gold stuffed in their suitcases, with their less fortunate folks back here eagerly waiting for them to loosen their purse strings or open their bulging luggage.
The Pravaasi Bhartiya were felicitated by the Government, encouraged to invest in our failing economy, thronged by Bank officials to invest in their fixed deposit schemes, offered gifts for purchases at the jewellery stores; in short, they lived the life of royalty during their short stay in the country every year.
The definition of NRI has suddenly seen a massive revamp over the last decade with these hard-working community slogging out in a foreign country and feeling excited to return to their homeland every year with their families, losing their control over this term.
Non Resident Indians are no longer the NRIs.
There is this new smart breed of businessmen, who have connived with the bureaucracy and the governance and in the process bled all their unsuspecting fellow countrymen of their savings and earnings and then as you open your eyes to another fine morning, you are welcomed with the newspaper headlines that they have fled the country with all their moolah.
As we stand in serpentine bank queues for linking our Aadhaar cards in fear of our bank accounts being frozen or hammer our brains to ensure that not a single rupee is missed out being declared in our tax returns, this new community elegantly schemes with the bank and the tax officials siphoning off unfathomable amounts to their overseas destinations.
That fine day they disappear out of our vision across the borders of our nation, is the day anyone in this country would have seen them for the last time ever. We would hear about them for a few days more, in the newspapers and the news channels till perhaps a movie celebrity kicks the bucket and the media shifts its allegiance in its valiant attempt to outsmart TRPs.
Lalit Modi is long forgotten, Vijay Mallya too some time back, Nirav Modi too will be very soon. Long live our short memories.
Long live these new NRIs, the Non Repatriable Indians!