Non-resident Indians. Oh, what an eternal conundrum they pose. Are they international ambassadors for our great nation? Or economic Quislings with Modi on their lips but Obama/Cameron/Trudeau/proprietor of Singapore in their hearts?
On the one hand, they fly India’s flag high all over the world and add billions of dollars directly—FDI—and indirectly—gold smuggling, Yash Raj Films—into the Indian economy.
But, on the other hand, they are unbearable with their foreign standards and unrealistic expectations and constant need to tell Resident Indians how to live their lives and run their families and vote for their governments and maintain queue discipline and separate their recycling and… I could go on and give many more such insightful and incisive examples because I am an NRI myself, but I don’t want to get too high-concept and alienate Indian readers.
And nowhere are these NRI tendencies more obvious than when it comes to the matter of tourism in India.
How many times have we visited a scenic tourist spot in India such as Suicide Point in Kodaikanal, or Athirapally Waterfalls near Chalakudy in Kerala, or Poes Garden in Chennai, only to overhear the insufferable utterings of an uppity NRI named Ash (for Ashwin) or Ivan (for Tirumalvalavan) or Skimpy (Malayali name); who thinks she/he is better than everybody here because she/he uses a fork or owns a GAP sweatshirt or describes parts of the year as “fall” or “spring” or “post-season”.
“Chee. So much pollution is obstructing my views! Do you remember when we went to Yellowstone last fall? It was so beautiful.”
“Look, so many mistakes. These people can’t use a thesaurus or what? What is a mahalanobis? High time spelling bee is made compulsory…”
And of course:
“Beta, woh Frooti mat piyo, ebola ho jaayega.” (Son, don’t drink the Frooti, you’ll catch ebola.)
Yet for all these tendencies, NRI tourism has huge potential for India. And we should do everything we can to make the experience enjoyable for our cousins from afar.
Do I have three useful and low-cost recommendations? Yes, if you insist.
If there is one lesson we should learn from leading tourist destinations all over the world, it is that travellers are suckers for free internet. Showcase priceless Chola bronzes inside beautiful display cases with mood lighting and tinkly-tonkly sitar music… and many visitors will be underwhelmed.
Tripadvisor review by NRI without free high-speed Wi-Fi: “After eleventh dancing girl, it got a bit repetitive. Nothing compared to MOMA in New York or British Museum in Britain. Disappointed. Thankfully, avoided paying Foreign National prices by sending grandmother to buy tickets.”
Tripadvisor review by NRI with free high-speed Wi-Fi: “Spent an enjoyable weekend at the Chola Bronzes Museum and was also able to check email, post on Instagram, download podcasts, update iOS, and watch Modern Family Season 3. A great experience for the whole family. However, museum was closed for renovation this time. Will visit again later.”
It is now common knowledge in global tourism circles that a museum without an audio guide is like being a major international airline that does not give away hot towels shaped like little spring rolls that totally confused one of my uncles who briefly became a viral meme all over Doha.
It does not matter if your museum or tourist attraction is nothing but poor printouts of black-and-white photos, and creepy mannequins dressed in totally misguided period costumes with unrealistic moustaches.
Give NRI visitors the option (free) of an audio guide and they will immediately feel like they are in a world-class tourist destination comparable to the Louvre, or samosa shop on Jungfrau, Switzerland. This will double their enjoyment and halve their critical faculties. Thus making them overlook the fact that your main visitor attraction, a panoramic recreation of the Battle of Plassey, includes mannequin models of all the Mughal emperors, two Death Eaters, Henry VIII, Cher, and Asiad Appu.
At all times, ensure there is a non-Indian tourist, preferably a white person, at every major tourist site in India. If this tourist can ask questions occasionally, then the impact will be even greater.
Normal NRI Tourist: “My god, that pothole was the size of Alabama. Why can’t they lay proper roads? Corruption only.”
NRI Tourist in the presence of white person: “What I like best about this spot, Jason, is that it challenges you. You have to work to get here. Otherwise it would be flooded with tourists. Feels so special like this… Ah, the splendid isolation. Inhale that air… Inhale India, Jason… Inhale India…”
Normal NRI Tourist: “WHAT THE… 7 PER CENT GDP GROWTH FOR SO MANY YEARS AND SO MANY SLUMS STILL???!! KUCH NAHI HOGA… KUCH NAHI HOGA…”
NRI Tourist in the presence of white person: “Are they poor? Yes. Are they sad? NEVER. Look at them. Look at the sheer zest for life on their faces… the resilience in their eyes…”
Jason: “Dude, I think that guy is choking on something.”
NRI: “Or is he gasping with existential joy? Think about it, Jason. Meditate upon it…”
As you can see, just one or two simple things will dramatically transform the tourist experience in India for Pravasi Bharatiya people. I sincerely hope that the government of India will take my inputs seriously, especially given my international exposure and global ways of thinking.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way or form represent the views of National Geographic Traveller India.
is a columnist and author of the "Dork" Trilogy and "The Sceptical Patriot". He is also a proud Keralite. He tweets as @sidin.
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