In the 90s, the popular refrain in India was “Brain Drain” – educated Indians were leaving the country in droves to greener pastures, to use a cliché. The world has changed drastically since then. India is no longer a leper among nations. Now, we are experiencing brain gain – with many talented foreigners wanting to live and work in India, at least for a short period of time.
We ourselves left India for the USA in early 1996 and returned 10 years later. Many of our friends have returned since then and some of them have managed to actually stay back Jan 5, 2013 marks the beginning of the 8th year in India for yours truly.
Countless NRIs have asked us how we took the decision to come back to India for good. Many more have sought our counsel on whether returning to India was “worth it”, whatever that means. So we thought we’ll write a post on WHAT NOT TO DO if you want to move back to India from a 1st world country.
1. Keep your house and car; move other possessions to a storage facility in the developed nation.
If you’re serious about the move, make a clean break. Meaning: sell the damn house & car. Donate the rest of the stuff to charity. If you don’t, in your mind, “Home” will always be the spacious, 2-garage house with a lawn in New Hampshire or Minnesota. It will never be the 3 BHK flat in Chennai, Pune or Hyderabad.
2. One of the spouses continues to work in the 1st world country, while the other returns to India with the kids.
Adjusting to a life in India is tough. Your children may have loved India as a vacation spot, when they were pampered silly by their grandparents. This doesn’t mean they’ll love shifting lock, stock & barrel to a 3rd world nation. You have to constantly field questions from your children:
- Mom! Why are the roads so dirty?
- Yuck! I can’t believe that guy peed on the road!
- Dad! The restrooms in this restaurant stink!
- But I want to play baseball, not cricket!
Don’t make your return back to India even more difficult by attempting single parenthood.
3. Moving to India without a solid job offer.
Despite all the changes in corporate India in the past 25 years, Indian offices are still old fashioned in comparison. Bosses may still be hierarchical; leaving the office at 6 PM may be equated with slacking; directness will be (not maybe) mistaken for rudeness; your co-workers may not know what professionalism means; peers may argue that piracy is “reuse” & not a crime – we can go on & on.
This makes it all the more important for you to find an organization & a boss that you like working for – before the move. If you have these 2 big things taken care of, you may see the other problems as mere irritants.
4. Evaluate forever the pros and cons of living in India versus the 1st world country; often at the level of minutiae such as how bathrooms in India don’t stock your favorite brand of soft toilet paper.
We often hear these (& a lot more) from NRI acquaintances:
- Driving in Europe/North America is a pleasure! Its downright scary in Indian cities!
- There isn’t a single clean place where I can take the family for a picnic!
- Why are Indian airports/railway stations so dirty and dismal? Have you seen the trains in Switzerland?
Comparing a 3rd world country – “Developing nation”, if you prefer euphemisms – with a 1st world nation is not an apples-to-apples comparison. But, what are your priorities in life? If driving long distances on pristine roads on weekdays and picnicking all weekend long is your definition of life – you probably should stay put in a 1st world country.
Understand what matters the most to you. If you still think a bleak & smelly airport will ruin your life, see the airports in Hyderabad and Bengaluru (to name a few). India is changing, albeit slowly.
Above all, don’t use dated information to analyze India’s relative merits/demerits. India today isn’t the India you left 15 or 20 years back. We die laughing when we hear these from NRIs:
- I get a global perspective only when I live in North America.
- But, there are no restaurants serving international cuisine in India! And I’m a foodie!
- If I move to India, I can bring my children up with proper Indian culture. You know, no dating or drugs.
5. Trying to move to India without a clear reason for the move. In other words, telling yourself “Let’s try out India, if it works we’ll stay there. If not we will return”.
If you are well settled & happy in the 1st world nation, why the hell are you contemplating a move? Moving to India is not a universal panacea; its not something you have to do. Move if and only if there’s a compelling reason – such as career growth, taking care of aged parents etc. India can’t compete with the infrastructure or the outward charms that a 1st world nation offers. So, if you take India out for a test drive, you will return post-haste to Manchester, Boston or Zurich in 1 year. Guaranteed.
6. Analysis Paralysis on whether to take the citizenship of the 1st world country.
We honestly don’t know why someone would become a citizen of another country if they want to return to India.
- But I want my child to go to college in the US! (You can’t run your child’s life)
- What if India becomes unlivable? I can’t stand in a serpentine queue before the US/UK embassy to get a visa! (There’s a new kid on the block in India called “VFS” – Google it)
- What if I’m not permitted to enter that 1st world country again? (There are 200 countries in the world – pick another one)
The world’s changing at a fast clip & no one has a crystal ball to forecast beyond the next 2-3 years. If you want to get the other nation’s citizenship, go ahead – but don’t try to predict what will happen in the next 20 years.
7. Obsess about your child’s education and extra curricular activities.
Moving to India doesn’t mean your child will endure the same ultra-competitive, pressure-cooker environment as you did, eons back. There are schools now that don’t focus solely on academics, provide a personalized learning environment and have healthy teacher-student ratios. You have to talk to the locals to find them.
- But I want my kid to play the piano – Western classical! (Yup, you can do that in major metros in India)
- My daughter learns the ballet! (We’re pretty sure this is feasible in India; if not – would it kill you if your kid learnt Kathak or Odissi?)
8. Mistaking the initial culture shock in the 1st 6 months as what you would feel several years later.
- I’m used to being independent! In India, I have to rely on a driver, a maid, a cook and a baby-sitter!
- I can’t handle all the dust and squalor.
- Why are Indian politicians so corrupt? (Hmm, join the club)
If you want to live in India – be determined to stay here no matter what. Enjoy the pleasures and charms of the country which are many. Focus on what you can do here instead of focusing on what you cannot do here. Yes, there are difficulties. But India is not unlivable like Sudan, Congo or Somalia. Try to explore regional cuisines, travel within India. Get exposed to music, dance and other art forms of this diverse nation. Get infected by the enthusiasm of the Indian youth. Above all, try to do your bit for the society. God knows the downtrodden in India need a lot of support: and every little bit helps.
Please feel free to share this with your NRI friends who are planning to return to India. Don’t blame us if they say their situation is unique and we don’t understand them at all
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