The Future is Asian by Parag Khanna – Power of the Indian American diaspora


‘Made in Heaven’, an original series by Amazon Prime Video, focused on the lives and times of two wedding planners in Delhi, will release globally on March 8, to coincide with the International Women’s Day.

The series is sure to reveal some intricacies of the “big fat Indian wedding” – a term coined by Devesh Kapur, a Prof. in the University of Pennsylvania. Anybody in awe of the grandeur and scale of weddings in the Ambani family, or of some Bollywood film stars like Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra, can totally relate to that term.

The Indian wedding industry continues to grow in pomp and extravaganza. Last year it even saw some international travel agents get an amazing response for foreign tourists to attend an Indian wedding, its rituals and celebrations as a novelty, for a hefty price.

But here’s the thing which not many people do really know about the Indian wedding industry, but Parag Khanna, the Founder and Managing Partner of FutureMap – a Singapore-headquartered company with offices around the world, including in the US, which helps in navigating global trends – has put into perspective in his highly informative and engaging new book ‘The Future is Asian’ (Simon & Schuster, hardcover, $29.95): Indians and Indian Americans who get married in the US help contribute an incredible $5 billion per year to the economy, more than the annual spending on weddings in India.

The Hindu reported couple of years ago that the Indian wedding market is estimated at $50 billion, the world’s second-largest, after the $70 billion US market.

“Even though second-generation Indian Americans may be uncomfortable with religious rites they don’t fully understand, they are drawn to the pomp of weddings involving horses and drummers,” writes Khanna of an industry which now sees grand wedding expos from coast to coast where families can shop and book all their wedding needs under one roof.

The industry is bound to expand as the Indian diaspora continues to grow in numbers, if indeed it does.

Khanna, termed a ‘foreign policy whiz kid’ by The New York Times, is a brilliant academic and analyst, who succinctly encapsulate the power of the Indian diaspora in the United States, in his new book. He also delves extensively into India’s growth pattern, and what a force to reckon with the country is bound to emerge, in the coming decades.

Parag Khanna. Photo: Hart Tan.

Khanna, who has advised many governments and corporations around the world and serves on the boards of numerous financial institutions and technology companies, has been a fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School, New America Foundation, and Brookings Institution, and worked at the World Economic Forum and Council on Foreign Relations.

He is author of a trilogy of books on the future of world order beginning with The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (2008), followed by How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (2011), and concluding with Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization (2016). He is also author of Technocracy in America: Rise of the Info-State (2017) and co-author of Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization (2012).

Khanna holds a PhD from the London School of Economics, and bachelors and masters degrees from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. In 2010, he was recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Khanna give several nuggets of information, including the fact that Telugu today is the fastest-growing language in the US.

“It is safe to say that Silicon Valley would not be what it is today without Asians. With their level of educational attainment, Indian immigrants (72 percent of whom arrive in the United States with a bachelor’s degree or higher) now account for 70 percent or more of the United States’ annual quota of H-1B visas,” writes Khanna.

According to the researcher Vivek Wadhwa, from 1995 to 2004, 53% of tech-start-ups in Silicon Valley were founded by at least one foreigner, overwhelmingly Asians.

“Indians in particular are not only powerfully represented in the tech workforce but also highly networked through organizations such as the Indus Entrepreneurs,” Khanna writes.

Even as the 13th century Persian mystic Rumi is the US’s bestselling poet, Indian philosophers and Indian belief system has slowly created a niche for itself in America, over the decades.

“Americans have become ever more attuned to Asian belief system and spirituality. In the late nineteenth century, the Indian monk and philosopher Swami Vivekananda elevated Hinduism in global consciousness through his speeches at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 and lectures across the United States, giving rise to numerous Vedanta centers teaching Hindu ideas. Fritjof Capra’s 1975 bestseller ‘The Tao of Physics’ popularized Hindu and Buddhist mysticism while elevating their status in the West by claiming that their insights were complementary to those of quantum mechanics. Karen Armstrong’s books on Buddha and Muhammad and Deepak Chopra’s books, which repurpose Vedic philosophies for a modern age, have also been bestsellers,” Khanna writes.

He also writes of the remarkable Swaminarayan Temple in New Jersey, one of the largest Hindu temples in the world, made entirely of hand-carved marble.

Khanna notes the recent tremendous progress made by the Indian American community in the arena of politics, including national politicians like the former Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal and the former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, and analyzes at length on the influx of Indian students in the US, which has contributed equally to the diaspora’s growing sphere of influence.

“The single most pan-Asian spot in the United States on any given day might be a West Coast US college cafeteria, where Asians gravitate toward one another – and tend to vote for one another in student council elections,” Khanna writes.

Indian students, who are only behind Chinese students in numbers emigrating to study in the US, contribute immensely to the US economy. Tuition payments by Chinese students alone amounted to nearly $10 billion during the 2014-15 academic year.

“As Asian student numbers have swelled, new cottage industries have arisen to funnel Asians into community colleges and provide tutoring services to get them up to speed in English or other subjects. The University of Illinois pays commentators to broadcast its football games in Mandarin, Purdue University has hired Mandarin-speaking counselors for its mental health center, and the University of Iowa’s business school has hired instructors to coach professors in how to pronounce Chinese names,” he writes.

No doubt, it’s only a matter of time before several colleges and universities start to do the same for Indian students.

“Assimilating Indian students is itself a new cultural economy. Asian students’ presence in the United States also has far-reaching economic effects in the rental market, the food and beverage industry, and tourism. If Asian students were gone, the United States would miss them dearly,” Khanna observes.

Khanna notes astutely the damage to this progress of the Diaspora, though, under the Trump administration, which he calls a “sea change”.

“Yet a sea change is under way in the Asian student flow. As US universities cut budgets and raise tuition, while the number of student visas issues has declined precipitously since 2015, many Asian students have been choosing to go to Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and other countries. Indian student visa applications fell 30 percent in just the first year of Trump’s presidency,” he writes.

A consequence of this is also ‘repats’, opportunistic Asians who return home, Khanna says.

“…unlike previous generations from China and India, who were leaving behind poor and stagnant countries, today the percentage of international students who return home upon obtain degrees is rising steadily: for Chinese it grew from 72 percent in 2012 to 82 percent in 2016. Given the tightly knit Asian collegiate communities, in which many students often socialize only among themselves, it seems as though many Asians studying in the United States, if not the majority, wind up networking with mostly one another, building up relationships that result in entrepreneurial collaborations executed back home in Asia,” he writes.

“A degree from MIT or Stanford and a brief stint in Silicon Valley, are now predictably followed by a return to Asian tech hubs such as Bangalore and Hangzhou. Rather than remaining in the United States and contributing to the US economy – as immigration liberals argue should be encourages and rewarded with immediate green cards for foreign graduates – Asians are increasingly taking their US educations back home,” Khanna surmises.



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