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Bound (By Vinita Nayar)
story of how India is luring back some of her expatriates.
it a new trend, call it a dramatic U-turn, call it anything
you will, but it’s a phenomenon that has everyone in the diaspora
sitting up and taking notice. We are talking about the reverse
migration of globally settled Indians to their native land.
that the allure of “phoren” shores was one of the defining
characteristics of middle class Indians in a post-Independence
era, few would have guessed that settling back in India after
having lived elsewhere would become a viable, and even desirable,
option. After all India, until recently, was stuck in the
rut of the License Raj; bureaucracy and red-tapism ruled the
roost, sub-standard products and limited choices were the
norm, ‘enterprise’ and ‘wealth’ were dirty words.
a result, the exodus of upwardly mobile Indians to faraway
places such as the U.S., England, Canada, Africa, Australia,
Singapore, and even the Middle East, was only natural. Financial
and material betterment that they could only dream of in India,
was a real possibility in these lands of opportunities.
if a sub par standard-of-living, and perhaps a sense of adventure,
is what motivated many of us to uproot ourselves from the
comfort of the native land, it only stands to reason that
having fulfilled the bug of adventure of “seeing the world”,
some of us would be drawn back to an India that is slowly
but increasingly offering the lifestyle and opportunities
of the developed world.
can’t beat having a shudh shakahari (pure vegetarian) McDonald’s
burger on the streets that you grew up in? while chatting
away in your mother tongue without having to feel self-conscious,”
explained a cheerful Sangeeta Rajani, underscoring the “best
of both worlds” scenario enjoyed by those who have gone back.
Speaking of the nine years she spent in the U.S., she says
her life, while comfortable and prosperous, had a persistent
undercurrent of the “something missing” syndrome. That something,
she found out after moving back, was the “turbo boost of living
in a place where you don’t have to explain yourself from a
socio-cultural perspective. This is something that cannot
be materially quantified; but it is positively exhilarating.”
further, she adds, “Until now, our choice of going to the
West for a better standard of living came with the cost of
never really fitting in. And this is not a comment on American
society, which, for the most part, is as accepting as is possible.
But East is East, and West is West; and our cultures are a
world apart. And adaptable creatures that humans are, we do
make the most of our immigrant lives there. But through it
all, there is an unmistakable feeling of not fully belonging.”
would have been an acceptable tradeoff twenty years ago, considering
what India was then. But today, India is bustling with possibilities
and I enjoy all the material trappings of a modern world right
here. Even in the relatively small city of Pune, we enjoy
the best of international cuisines, we watch CNN, CNBC and
Carry on Shekhar (The Indian version of the Tonight Show),
our house has most modern amenities, and to boot, help is
readily available. From dhobis to doodhwallahs, there is a
whole array of vendors who provide home service at affordable
costs. So, on the one hand we want for almost nothing in terms
of comforts and conveniences; and on the other, and more importantly,
we can live our lives with native pride. I don’t have to feel
self-conscious about wearing a sari or a bindi, the few times
that I wish to. In the U.S., even my kids used to feel embarrassed
about eating daal roti when in company of their friends. Because
you know what? No matter how much pride you instill in them
about your customs and traditions, peer pressure is a huge
thing at their age. They didn’t like to feel like aliens,”
may well have put a finger on the pulse of the growing trend
of the homeward bound NRI (Non Resident Indian). It appears
like having your cake and eating it too. All the enticements
that were the magnets for our move to the West are now available
right there in India ? without the downsides of having to
live in cultural alienation.
what is responsible for such a dramatic turn of events? How
did India become a viable destination in such short a time?
impact of IT
heady days of globalization in the early nineties suddenly
saw India turn topsy-turvy. After decades of deprivation there
was a whole new glittering world of a vibrant marketplace
with its luxury goods, unlimited choices, fashion, cuisine,
design, style and?attitude. These are hip times to be an Indian
in India ? which is not a claim that other post-Independence
decades could make.
on the heels of globalization came the information technology
(IT) boom. And suddenly the country was in the news for the
right reasons. Earlier it was the poverty-stricken millions,
droughts, floods, starvation, and of course, a liberal sprinkling
of exotica such as snake charmers, elephants and maharajahs,
that defined the Indian landscape to outsiders. Today, while
poverty, poor infrastructure, pollution and other host of
problems do exist, they no longer make the main story about
India. The progressive India is slowly but surely overshadowing
the third-world India.
a dominant role in this transformation is the IT sector ?
which is largely responsible for pulling back many of the
brightest global Indians in a phenomenon of the so called
“reverse brain drain”. While earlier there was a trickle of
Indians returning from abroad, today the facts speak for themselves.
According to one estimate, there are 35,000 returned NRIs
in Bangalore alone, with many more scattered across India.
According to a study conducted by India’s NASSCOM (National
Association of Software and Service Companies) in 2003, which
categorized U.S. returnees, 15 percent are U.S. citizens and
about that many more are Green card holders. These numbers
indicate that a significant percentage of those returning
are doing so by choice rather than compulsion.
Gandhi of NASSCOM explained why senior professionals are returning.
“Today India is getting into high-end work and not just grunt
design and they find that their experience abroad has helped,
and they like what they see,” she said. According to Gandhi,
despite the salaries, those who have returned couldn’t be
happier. Most are working for companies like Intel, Microsoft
and IBM because when those companies shifted high-end work
to India, they were the natural choices.
July 2003, in Santa Clara, in the heart of Silicon Valley,
industry bigwigs like Intel, Microsoft and National Semiconductor
Company were among a list of 28 employers taking part in ‘Career
Factory 2003’, hosted by Siliconindia magazine. Approximately
2,000 tech workers of Indian origin were checking out the
job opportunities in India. In a study conducted
at the University of California at Berkeley, it was discovered
that over half of the Indian-born IT professionals in Silicon
Valley would consider going back to establish a company. A
shortage of high-tech jobs in the United States and increased
downsizing could be motivators too.
simultaneous reversal-of-welcome for foreign workers in the
U.S. along with India’s growing prospects may have given rise
to the still, internal voice of dissatisfaction that Rajani
alluded to. Dr. Santanu Maitra, principal scientist at Dr.
Reddy’s Laboratories, returned to India in July 2003. One
of the reasons he cited was to “hopefully enjoy the grade
‘A’ citizenship without having to bleach our brown skins!”
Avinash Peters, another recent returnee, goes so far as to
say that there is an inherent undercurrent of racism in the
U.S. He says, “I never felt at home there.” On the other hand,
Viral Desai, a manager at Larsen and Toubro, has never felt
uncomfortable about the color of his skin. Neither has he
faced any form of racism. Nevertheless, Desai says, “Returning
to India and being among my own people ? it does make me feel
more at home.”
Singh, team manager for Microsoft Enterprise Platform Support,
who returned to India in February 2004, says, “The office
environments here are pretty much like the U.S.” Where earlier,
most offices were shabby, small and unprofessionally run,
today India has swank IT parks, glass-fronted office complexes,
plush interiors, channel music and broadband connections,
which can compete with any international office complex. Air-conditioned
offices are no longer a luxury but a necessity. For those
who return from abroad, it is a pleasant change to not find
slow running fans lazily spinning out hot air or dusty files
adding to the dreariness of the surroundings.
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai is possibly a
good reflector of India’s attractiveness as an IT destination.
Earlier more than half the graduates would migrate to foreign
shores; today that figure has come down to two-fifths!
like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have aggressively
promoted IT and invested significantly in infrastructure to
support the boom. State-of-the-art IT parks have sprung up
all over the country. The sector has singularly contributed
to a rise in standards of living within the country ? high
salaries are de rigueur in the industry. The best of the Multi
National Corporations (MNCs) are setting up shops in India.
And they are offering great salary packages and excellent
perks. Singh says, “The standard of living has really increased
in India. The salaries are a lot better, and actually adequate
to live a very comfortable life.” According to Sheila Gandhi,
“Salaries in the IT sector have gone up by 14.5 percent, which
is the highest (increase) in the Asia Pacific region.”
trend is not limited to IT. According to a study by the Charities
Aid Foundation of India, medical professionals are increasingly
giving up well-paid jobs around the world to return to India
to join research institutes and hospitals. Rukmini Kethiredypally,
a biostatistician at Dr. Reddy's Laboratory, offers “social
and political reasons” for coming back. In 2003, out of approximately
250 research scientists working at Dr Reddy’s Laboratories,
20 have come back from foreign shores. According to Dr. Maitra,
the future of the Indian pharmaceutical industry is quite
glitzy world of consumerism
endure the alienation in the West, when the West is as close
as the brand spanking new mall around the corner? From glitzy
shopping malls to six-lane highways, the Indian landscape
is beginning to mirror the developed nations in some ways.
India is in the throes of a retail boom, with sparkling shopping
plazas sprouting up in urban centers. Mohan
Babu, a green card holder, manages and helps maintain
a community web portal called GaramChai.com. He returned to
India to be with his parents. Mohan is a regular columnist
for Express Computers. He stresses, “Definitely we are experiencing
a consumerism wave. Walk down the Forum Mall in Bangalore
and you could feel that you are in Singapore, Europe or the
facts are staggering: the more than $206-billion Indian retail
market is presently growing at a rate of 8.5 percent annually.
Moreover, India has the highest number of retail outlets per
capita in the world. Rising income levels, a burgeoning middle
class and youngsters with far more spending power than what
their parents could have dreamt of, have all contributed to
this phenomenon. For the returning NRI this is a dream come
true ? he can enjoy an international standard of living without
having to disown his roots. Coke, Pepsi, hamburgers, pizzas?these
symbols of American consumerism have invaded India too! Padmapani
Nallan, who works at Satyam Computers in Hyderabad says, “It
is not a decisive factor (for moving back) but certainly it
adds to the quality of life we are having here.”
coffee-pub culture has rapidly spread in urban areas, especially
with the young crowd. There are many chains styled on Starbucks.
The coffee pub is more a lifestyle than just a place to go
for a hot cuppa! Jaspreet Singh observes, “Today, pubs and
discotheques are part and parcel of the urban Indian lifestyle.”
These along with bowling alleys, night clubs and more offer
plenty of lures for those “spoiled” abroad.
the changing social mores are also more conducive for the
liberalized NRIs. Singh explains, earlier, many NRIs who came
here on holiday would comment, “Everyone stares at you if
you wear tight jeans!” No more! With MTV and Fashion TV beaming
into Indian living rooms, the urban Indian has been completely
bowled over by Western attire. Where earlier girls would leave
home in demure dresses and hurriedly change into something
revealing at a friend’s house, today kids openly leave their
homes in tiny mini skirts and noodle straps! Dating is no
longer a no-no among urban parents. It’s hip to have a boyfriend/girlfriend.
all of this may not be considered as “progress” by many, the
point is India is no longer the rigidly orthodox place it
may have once been. One no longer feels the compelling need
biggest concern for those considering a move back is often
the issue of how their American-born children would fare.
Surprisingly, most of the returned NRIs that Khabar talked
to all enthusiastically reported positively on how well their
kids have adjusted. “Our seven year old son could not be happier,”
shared a very pleased Kavita Menon who had just left behind
a sprawling mansion and private schools in Atlanta to move
to Hyderabad. “After only a couple of months of some cribbing,
he is now having the time of his life. We can see a different
level of energy in him. He loves our colony, the new friends,
the school. In the States, our constant worry was to do with
activities for him. What to do? Where to take him? Here, it
simply is not an issue. The environment, friends, relatives
seems to take care of it.”
robust new capitalism is helping here too. Educational institutions
have woken up to the demands for international style schools.
Today’s new breed of schools offer a host of state-of-the-art
facilities. They come equipped with well-appointed laboratories
and computer facilities. They have high tech auditoriums that
encourage extra-curricular performances, well-stocked libraries,
AV rooms, and more. Some have temperature-controlled classrooms,
posh study bedrooms, wireless broadband networks, laptops
for the students, and multi-cuisine dining facilities at residential
to be left behind, real estate developers are also on the
double satisfying a growing middle and upper class, many of
who are the foreign-returned. In what is seen as a new and
lucrative trend, builders are constructing ultra-modern complexes
and self-contained luxury enclaves with all amenities including
swimming pools, gyms and parks; some specifically marketing
them as “NRI colonies”.
the example of Royal Garden City in Bangalore. This will be
Asia's largest web-enabled housing enclave. Once completed,
there will be 35,000 residential units. The perks: a central
business district, entertainment centers, parks, restaurants,
shopping malls and educational facilities. This project will
possibly be the country's first NRI hub. For the dollar-rich
NRI, a luxury apartment comes at a far more pocket-friendly
rate than its equivalent in the U.S. “We are living in a location
in Hyderabad which is considered to be the most posh and infrastructurally
best location here. I could not have afforded such a location
in the U.S.,” says Padmapani Nallan.
tug of the family
Indian life is centered around the family, which is an essential
part of its culture and ethos. The extended family is known
to be the rock which is there for one in good times and bad.
And while life in the West offers everything in terms of material
comfort, loneliness is a constant companion for many, especially
those who are single. Couples, too, miss the interaction with
the standards of living between India and the West were too
dramatic, and many felt that the tradeoff in having to move
elsewhere, while painful, was worth it. Now that India is
globally competitive when it comes to lifestyles, the tug
of the family has beckoned many who had settled elsewhere,
especially those who had left parents behind.
working couples in India, family is a boon because children
can be left with their grandparents; couples in the U.S. find
it tough when they have to leave their children in a day care.
Many also feel that their kids lose touch with Indian culture
when they are brought up there. Returning to India means reviving
those bonds, those familial ties, and letting kids play and
interact with their cousins as they grow up.
Babu says, “I was looking forward to spending time with
my parents back in Bangalore and it also helped that the job
market here is booming. In a way, it was a ‘win win’ proposition.”
“My ties with my parents and brothers were a strong motivator
for me,” declares Ranjani Nellore, associate director at Dr.
Reddy's. “My child interacts with grandparents every day and
I see my parents in Bombay every chance I get. I live a comfortable
life. I have gone from a six-figure American salary to about
the same that I made as a graduate student over a decade ago.
Yet, I have a driver, a maid, a cook (off and on), and a dhobi.
But I have other things to compensate that cannot be tagged
with any currency.”
says, “Family definitely is one of the main reasons for us
to come back. We want our parents to enjoy spending time with
us and more importantly with their grandchildren. Of course,
we want to be here to take care of our parents if and when
they need our help. We want our kids to spend time with their
cousins and develop a strong family bond with them.” Dr. Maitra
too emphasized the importance of family ties in their decision
to move back, “We want our toddler son realize that his family
goes beyond his parents’ territory.”
Varma of Los Angeles married an Indian living in Chennai.
She was spending her time shuttling between LA and Chennai
with her little daughter Yasmin. Earlier she was opposed to
the idea of settling down in Chennai and was keen on taking
her husband back to the U.S. She felt that India was too conservative
and stifling and that Yasmin would get better opportunities,
in terms of education, in the U.S. Today she is doing a rethink.
There are so many little things that impact her life here
? she can drop in at someone’s house when she wants without
having to call or make an appointment. Yasmin has many friends
and affable ‘aunties’ to look after her if Vinita and her
husband need to go out.
a little, take a little
moving back has been rewarding for most, there is always the
flip side! Som Velluri who now lives in Bangalore said he
had some of the most glorious years of his life in the U.S.
“Having lived there from age 19 to 32, I simply cherish and
appreciate the country. It is a misconception that all of
us move there only for a materially superior lifestyle. In
fact, the constant talk of fancy cars and mansions in the
desi community during those heady days of the IT boom is what
I detested the most. For me, America is all about all you
can be as an individual. It may sound clichéd, but
it is a level playing field to discover and achieve your best
potential,” says a perceptive Velluri. Having had a reasonably
successful career with Lucent technology and then with Oracle,
Velluri, who is equally thrilled being back in India, came
back last year to join the family enterprise in manufacturing.
He adds, “For me, America was about all the usual suspects
? personal freedom, opportunity, a robust capitalism, a functional
bureaucracy, lack of corruption. I know, I am aware of WorldCom
and other recent happenings what with the war and all; things
may be changing. But I can speak for the time I was there,
and must admit, it was not an easy decision coming back. Heck,
I even loved the lay of the land. Some of my striking memories
are of pristine spring days in the Tennessee mountains. While
I am psyched about the energy in India these days, lets face
it, most of India is not a nature lover’s delight. The thing
that I liked a lot in the U.S. is that a short drive would
take one from an urban center to the heart of nature.”
of short drives, the universal complain of the phoren-returned
was the abysmal conditions of roads in India. Most of them
lamented the potholes, bumps, chaos and the nerve-wrecking
traffic ? a far cry from the roads in the U.S. Singh misses
the “luxury roads and the clean environment.” Nallan says,
“We keep thinking about the U.S. whenever we compare the roads
and other infrastructure, facilities, and services. We feel
a sense of sadness that so much can be done here also, but
enough is not being done due to corrupt politicians, apathetic
and corrupt officials.” According to Mohan, “I do miss the
lack of pollution or intrusion in the common man’s life that
I saw in the West.”
are other aspects of life in the U.S that people miss. For
instance, Rukmini Kethiredypally reminisces, “Having gotten
used to a different work culture and with plenty of access
to good university libraries and having enjoyed both physical
and individual space, initially it was difficult. But since
we came back with full awareness of what we lose and what
we gain, the adjustment has not been that bad. I do miss the
U.S. Here are some of the things I miss: friends, the print
edition of The New York Times, wide roads with decent pavements
to walk on, museums, bookstores such as Borders, National
of course, there are the problems faced at work. Maitra says,
“What we miss the most are lack of professionalism, responsibility,
and maturity.” Shailaja Neelakantan, who returned to New Delhi,
believes that the men in India still belong to the Stone Age.
According to her, “Attitude towards women is a huge problem.
I could be (and usually am) covered head to toe, but people
still feel the need to stare; people have often commented
about my short hair.” While this may be true of cities like
New Delhi and many parts of the Hindi belt in Northern India,
by and large women have moved forward tremendously. Indian
women are empowered, especially in the cities, and today they
are bold enough to live life on their terms. They are not
confined to hearth and home.
Khatri who has lived in Africa, London, U.S. and is currently
residing in Ahmedabad, India, offers a sagely observation,
“The decision to uproot yourself yet again to come back to
India is a highly personal one. Life is a trade off. At the
end of the day your happiness has more to do with the kind
of person you are than how many gizmos you have and how many
channels your TV broadcasts, and what hemisphere you live
in. If you were a depressed and angry person here, that is
what you will be in the U.S., and that is who you will remain
once back to the ‘new and improved’ India.
it is enough for those who place a premium on indigenous values,
culture, and atmosphere, that thanks to the turn of events,
coming home no longer means having to put up with a dismal
quality of life. India does beckon; and whereas at one time
the only exodus was the one away from it, now there may well
be one shaping up that is headed towards it. For most, migrating
back been an enriching experience that has added to their
quality of life. For them, it has literally been the best
of both worlds.
Originally published in
The opinion presented here is that of the author and not GaramChai.com