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Comings And Goings Of An NRI

Comings And Goings Of An NRI

April 06, 2010

More and more NRIs are returning home, but careful - readjusting could be a nightmare!

To stay put or to return is probably the eternal dilemma among most NRIs from any generation. Every once in a while first generation immigrants feel the pangs for their homeland and no matter how successful, how settled they are, there is always that hidden desire, that yearning to go back and rediscover their roots. While the last generation which came after the war or in the 70s from Uganda or Bengal have stayed put, forming large and hugely successful diasporas in countries like the US and the UK, a lot of the new generation only seem to be only flirting with their NRI status. Call it social mobility or whatever; there is a definite change in the dynamics of what it means to be an NRI today vis-à-vis 30 years ago.

An increasing number of them are packing their bags and heading home after a few years of having lived abroad. Ironically though, their reason for going back is the very same as that of the previous generations’ for staying put – opportunity. And the only difference is this: the West offered the best prospects then, now it is India that promises a better future. It’s a role reversal of sorts and there is a growing trend among even 2nd and 3rd generation NRIs wanting to touch base with their Indian roots.

As someone who will always be a fleeting NRI (It’s decided – between 12-18 months at a time, not more!), I am never quite faced with such a grave indecision of what to do. But judging by what some of my friends and family are going through, it can indeed be a nerve racking choice to make. Because for all its progress, multiculturalism and opportunities, India is still a completely different ball game for someone used to the clinical order of Western societies and readjusting will not just be difficult, but could many a time seem impossible. No wonder, then, that half of those who return promptly come back.

Of course with the so-called modernization of India, what with all those snazzy malls and fast food chains, it wouldn’t exactly be like returning to the medieval ages, but here are the givens that will infuriate you if at all you are planning to move (not in order of chronology):

1. Infrastructure – Or the lack of it (!) in major cities that apparently aspire to be the hubs for business activity in the future.

2. Lack of public spaces – Forget it! For all you know, the last remaining green spot is being sold to a developer for yet another shopping mall or movie theatre complex.

3. Rents that make a dent – Earning in rupees and paying rents comparable with those in London, NY and Tokyo can be a nasty surprise, so be prepared! And yes, no more back gardens and conservatories, garages and patios. Welcome to the world of apartment blocks!

4. Stark inequity – Be prepared to confront a completely different India that co-exists with yours – that of toddlers begging at traffic signals, of open sewers and slum dwellers. It can be excruciating to come to terms with.

5. Bad public transport – If you complain about the Jubilee Line every day on your way to work, wait to see what the Mumbai Locals or the Delhi buses are like. In all probability you wouldn’t be using them, though, preferring to curse the slow moving traffic in the air-conditioned comfort of your car.

6. Indian Standard Time – Is decoded as half an hour late, which is not only normal but also fashionable. Is that where the term ‘fashionably late’ came from?

7. Red Tape – From getting your car registered to applying for a gas cylinder, be prepared to endure the infuriating nonchalance of fat babus who will usually get the work done only after a small bakshish (gift).

I could go on and on, but you get the drift, right? It is hardly a dream despite the whole gamut of career opportunities available in India for those wanting to come back! On the flipside there is a whole lot to learn, especially for a 2nd or 3rd generation NRI, in the imperfection of India. The art of being flexible, of getting used to living in a society that doesn’t work on tick marks, of compromise and relationships – business and otherwise! Some of my NRI friends who’ve returned after a while say their most lasting relationships have often been those in India, very often through work – which isn’t as segregated from your personal life as it is here in the West.

Of course none of this solves that ‘eternal dilemma’ as I called it, but here’s a solution – give India a chance, but always keep a window open to come back! The chances that it might not work for you are just as high as the chances that it might.


  • mehroo
    12.02.13 08:42 PM
    hi, your post seems to be an old one and yet it features in the latest indivine posts? Anyway an NRI story doesn't change much, does it? Good points given, thanks for yr views.
  • Lucky
    15.01.13 03:05 AM
    I'm happy if I get to come to India once in awhile to satisfy my urges for all those stuff that's so truly Indian!!! (like the yummy food which can never be made elsewhere the way it made in India, the fresh,clean water, the temple bells and those kind of stuff.. ) And if I had my family with me in the US, I'm more than happy to remain here.
  • Rohit
    20.10.12 02:29 PM
    There are still many youngsters aspiring to have an experience working in abroad, or possibly getting a permanent residence in an English-speaking developed country. The standard of living is just not comparable as of yet, and the level of corruption is... well too high in India!
  • A
    02.10.12 04:14 PM
    I am living in UK since 3years and in dilemma of whether settle here or go back.

    I have always loved India, My parents are there and I am born and brought up there, there is an internal desire which compel me to go back. But there are reasons which are stopping me:
    1. Can buy a house in UK in an year but cant buy even a flat in Delhi... To expensive there.
    2. My wife can go alone, take kidds to school, buy day to day stuff.. But in delhi I can't let her go alone.
    3. UK is nearly no corruption, free healthcare (Though there is NI Tax). Doctors do what really is required.
    4. Who should i go to india for? my neighbors etc who do backbiting? well... in uk no body do backbiting, people here are more courteous and really take care of you
    5. If I met an accident on road in India. People may break my car window, beat me up even if it isn't my mistake.
    6. It takes me 20mins in uk to reach office which is 15KM with a pleasant drive, with a normal speed of 100KM/HR. Whereas in India bangalore/delhi same will take about 1hour with tons of scratches on the way.
    7. In UK No body will stop my bike/car on road and ask for Driving license and car registration and charge me money even If i have everything complete, Unless i am breaking any rule.
  • Shovon Chowdhury
    Shovon Chowdhury
    09.09.12 02:45 PM
    Shallow, much?
  • Shilpa
    14.08.12 01:59 PM
    I moved back to India 4 years ago and never want to go settle anywhere else apart from here. For all those who find it easier to complain about what India doesn't have to offer, I like to ask what is that you have offered your nation. We are willing to suffer racial discrimination, unjustified law suits, visa hassles and immigration rules that question our basic identity in other countries. But when it comes to our own country we find it easy to step out and complain.
    If you dont like something about the country, come back work with the millions other who are trying to make a change.
  • renu
    25.04.12 12:42 PM
    I agree to all the points you wrote about, but still there is something here which is missing abroad...I feel that India vibrates with life.Here we have boundaries in relationships and no limit in caring, there people care in a limit, but cross the boundaries on the other side.

    Its actually individual's choice and priorities..I would any day choose India to live..though i have seen and lived in US, Europe both.
  • Saher
    13.04.12 03:36 PM
    Well thought & very well written!! I couldn't agree more. I have a friend who had an opportunity to come back but after considering some real facts (I'm sure they match your 7 here), decided to stay abroad :)
  • Rahul Miglani
    Rahul Miglani
    17.02.12 03:40 PM
    I just can say its easy to write criticism !!
  • Chintan jhunjhunwala
    Chintan jhunjhunwala
    22.01.12 07:03 PM
    you mean to say there are no breathtaking sights that India has to offer. mobile communication which I can get in the deep himalayas,swanky malls if that is what you call development,fast developing expressways, world-class airports and underground metro are now all running. either you are sitting with your eyes shut abroad or not accepting facts.
  • Ashok Vaishnav
    Ashok Vaishnav
    28.12.11 11:01 AM
    I am sure it would not be more difficult than what NRIs would have experienced when they were 'settling down' there.
    The only difference ,probably, is that at that time there was the will, this time it may be against the will.
  • shooting star
    shooting star
    14.12.11 09:32 PM
    funny you ranting about all this...brits coming here for short terms in our firm..prefer to stay here for longer terms.....they happily want to live here in all the chaos than all the 'clinical' orderliness on their city!!

    and delhi transport...dude, it way way improved with the metro.....

  • Rajpriya
    02.12.11 10:19 AM
    I have read through all the expat problems of NRI's. Most people went abroad for economic reasons. I am one of those. We thought we could live free and comfortable, have good jobs and make good money. Your life is mostly what your thoughts make it. There are advantages and disadvantages in every form of living.

    Much depends on, at what stage of your life you moved abroad. As a child you have no fear because your parents took care of providing for you in the new environment. It was the parents who had to adjust to the new life mostly.

    After finishing my studies in London and New York, I never made up my mind where I should be living. I was visiting the Heidelberg printing machine factory in Germany for some training. One day in the evening strolling through the city I walked into a Pizzeria.

    Only knowing a few words in German I was going through the menu card when my eyes got stuck at Pizza Lollobrigida. Ordering Lollobrigida I could not hold back my emotions and laughed a little too loud when my order was brought to me, that attracted the attention of a gentleman at the next table.

    Knowing that I don’t speak German he started a conversation in English, I moved to his table with my Lollobrigida. That he owned a Prepress company, that he offered me a job and that I successfully settled down in Germany is all now history.

    Now retired I travel quite a lot may be because right throughout, my life has been intoxicated by the influence of Raghu. I come end of every year to India sometimes in June to attend some close relations‘ invitation to marriages.

    At the start I used to discuss what could be different in India but soon gave up knowing that one just has to learn to live the Indian way in India and Not US, UK or that matter the German way. Most expatriates are not happy with what’s going in India because they got accustomed to a different way.

    The reason most expats attribute to coming back to their own countries can be different from being patriotic. From economic recessions to losing jobs, cost of living and other complex problems can force you out of an adopted country.

    Many may find living without a job abroad can be more shameful than in your own country where you can find excuses and say well I had worked long enough, or live in your country with the tag US returned, UK returned and what not.

    After all is it not the Social status we chasing after all our lives?

  • a
    02.12.11 05:25 AM
    why don't you come back ? or even better go blond to match your fake accent
  • Pari
    21.11.11 05:34 PM
    Nice post
    but in spite of all these,India is the best place to live in.The culture imbibed in India,you will get nowhere
    Do write about positive things too :)
  • sushant
    14.11.11 11:28 AM
    Hey man!!
    Lot of people living abroad come up with blogs like these and in fact many of my friends too. And i just ask them one very simple question which is --> Buddy what is your contribution for india?
    You know its very easy to write blogs criticizing or rather putting the facts. INdia is developing and yes it will take time. I might sound rude but recently somehow i have come across so many NRIs blogs and all having just garbage.
    For me India is my home where my parents live and where I have spent my childhood and amazing college life. So one who loves will go back no matter whats the condition even its somalia....
    anyways enjoy
  • Kiran @
    Kiran @
    14.09.11 09:19 PM
    Very place has its own pros and cons. The only thing that matters is how one makes it "a home"..Well balanced article :)
  • Arvind Passey
    Arvind Passey
    01.09.11 06:53 AM
    Nicely written blog... not that London doesn't have its own share of 'apartment blocks' or commuting woes but they fade into insignificance when compared to what a Delhite faces everyday.
  • surya k
    surya k
    22.08.11 06:40 PM
    Its hard to accept certain things but they are true. I'd always respect your opinion but I don't agree with all you have said.. yet what you said mostly is right.
  • shreyonti
    11.08.11 09:36 PM
    Ever read that book 'Above Average'? The boys at IIT admire their teacher for coming back to India aftyer staying in US for a long time, for they know coming back is an uphill ride. But they later find out that the teacher had come just for a few years, only while waiting for another opportunity abroad. They are thoroughly disappointed.
  • ankit
    07.08.11 07:20 PM
    gr88 site...nice article...
    You have stressed on each and every detailing..
    Still for millions India remains the favorite place to live in...:)
  • Janhvi
    02.08.11 08:51 AM
    A very detailed and well written explanation. :)
  • Neeraj SIngh
    Neeraj SIngh
    23.06.11 01:40 PM
    Utterly true. This ambiguity is only because of the civic life rather any materialistic difference. India is in transition & will take some time but it will come good.
  • sandy
    28.03.11 11:53 AM
    Honestly i love India-it is and will always be my home, but the main reason for me moving abroad was the lack of basic safety and justice. Not that abroad you live in bubbles, but atleast you dont get worried everytime your daughter steps out late at night or your old mom is not locateable for a while. And thanks to the inequity and the heady materialism, I feel the situation is getting worse day by day.
  • Rama Mohan A
    Rama Mohan A
    17.03.11 06:57 AM
    India is a democratic country now. If you see from ancient days we have such freedom to live in our way. If there is no corruption, we would be kings in the world.
  • vivek
    10.03.11 10:13 PM
    Sure. NICE VIEWS here.
    Well, I feel NRI always have his views for longer perspective to not to settle abroad,but always have idea of coming to India by many thinkings.
    My views on this;
    1] NRI is always for short duration.
    2] He or she has to either way think to return In terms of settlement any way.
    3] Many NRIS settled abroad are not always happy,they always remember Indian days.
    4] LAST BUT LEAST NRIS always treat them in AIR. it should not be.
    Having stayed for 15 years in Gulf ,I never thought of settleing here with change of residential status,though GULF is the best NO-TAXED country...
  • Mayank
    16.02.11 02:17 PM
    Complements for the balanced view on the topic. I have never ever had chance to stay out of my country for long periods so wouldnt really know the hardships. But I quiet enjoy the fact that many of my friends want to come back home.. having made their dollars which can help them buy a plush apartment and a long car. But most of them stay unhappy for reasons well stated. They loose the ability to survive and compete. 'Here i can come back home at 5 pm from work and India it is a norm for professionals to slog till 8 pm' are some kind of whines i hear. But i know that the future is here in Asia.
  • shridhar agrawal
    shridhar agrawal
    14.02.11 09:03 PM
    I shall be returning India after staying abroad for more than 25 years. Pl. guide me as how to invest my NRI earnings in India and residence transfer rules latest one.

    Thank you so much.
  • Chiranjib
    14.12.10 02:26 AM
    Well written... I do agree to your views...
  • Shihabvm
    13.11.10 10:27 PM
    Thanks,nice post
  • Srikant
    16.10.10 01:19 PM
    Pretty cynical, but you fail to realize that despite these India or rather Indians make the world go around...

    figured out why ?????
  • prasanna raghavan
    prasanna raghavan
    05.09.10 04:17 PM
    hai Gourav

    Yes you have said a lot.

    of course home is sweet home always.
    And certainly we have decided to come home after retirement, because we want to live at home as well.

    But I am sorry to say that we are certainly going to miss a lot of personal freedom that we take for granted here in South Africa.

    The most sad thing about Kerala, my state,is that no body there believes in having a personal space.

    At the same time I never stopped loving my state or my country that have been working in me all these years as a pulling force backwards :)
  • Gourav Sharma
    Gourav Sharma
    03.09.10 02:41 PM
    Great thoughts and nice compilation,
    when i was working abroad the only thing which i missed was Indian Food and power of communication in our dialect which was nowhere in other land.

    You should also read this article :
  • Smita Kale
    Smita Kale
    27.08.10 06:25 AM
    You've put into words exactly what I've been working and reworking in my mind ever since I decided to move overseas 'just for a couple of years' and it's been nearly 10! With each visit back home, the corruption, the insecurity, the feeling of being taken for a ride is more acute. It's as if our family members have fallen from grace and we can no longer relate to them!
    Shall watch yr space.
  • pramod
    07.08.10 07:06 PM
    nicely written
  • pramod
    07.08.10 07:04 PM
    excellent writing.
    great thinking too.
  • Alpana
    24.07.10 11:47 AM
    Very well written.
    We NRIs in gulf are always mentally prepared to return anytime /anyday!:)
  • vinod
    27.06.10 10:26 AM
    Good one.. Especially so about the imperfections!
  • Vikram Karve
    Vikram Karve
    14.06.10 12:48 AM
    Nice balanced article
  • sanjeeta kk
    sanjeeta kk
    07.06.10 02:07 PM
    Living with such adversities makes us strong. Good chances of Indians surviving at any other planet!
    Nice read.
  • Jyothi
    31.05.10 05:18 PM
    A nice write up.I agree with magiceye. Its a case of "to whine or not to whine". :)

    I have lived in the UAE for almost 30 years now.I am a second generation NRI. Here we never get citizenship, so we know eventually we need to go back home.I wouldn't mind shifting back home at all! I love it there. :)
  • Guha Rajan
    Guha Rajan
    30.05.10 08:01 PM
    Its one choice whether to stay back at foriegn land or be in India.

    All the developed economies has its own problem in the last few years and there are negative as well.

    More than just opportunities & materialistic comfort there are much more in life. Would like to remember the famous quote from Gita " What have we brought to take it with you when you go".

    Be Happy!!
  • zephyr
    23.04.10 11:56 AM
    I agree with Nalini Hebbar, 'we live like kings free citizens.' I would love to go abroad for a holiday, but come back home to all its imperfections! I don't envy the NRIs trying to make their choice though.
  • Madhu Rao
    Madhu Rao
    08.04.10 12:23 AM
    That's a great write up and a nice site. Will come back for more. If you have not guessed already, an NRI with plans to return in the next 2-3 years .

    PS : Chitra Aiyer had a great site R2I chronicling her return to India.

  • magiceye
    07.04.10 12:47 PM
    :) to whine or not to whine!
  • nalini hebbar
    nalini hebbar
    07.04.10 10:42 AM
    In the 80's my husband and I made a choice. We decided to stay in India and also be our own bosses. I must say that that was the best decision we have ever taken. THIS is a land of opportunity and we live like kings here...not materialistically but as free citizens.
  • Nikhil
    07.04.10 01:56 AM
    @Deepthy - You might like this one - since you've been at the very heart of it for so many yrs!
  • Nikhil
    07.04.10 01:41 AM
    Hey Deepthy, thanks! Have been writing for NRI since Dec!!! :-)
  • Rax
    06.04.10 09:32 PM
    I want to come but NO STABLE INTERNET is big no no for me. I can sit in home 24 hours a day for months, won't mind to stay away from open pollution. But no internet, no space - just too much of crowd is keeping me away. When I am coming, I want my home out side city in farm keeping 100 square yard distance :P
  • Purba
    06.04.10 05:07 PM
    The things you take for granted here are the first things you miss when you hit foreign shores. I miss the food, the smell, the chaos. Delhi is definitely not a very liveable city, the frequent power cuts, abysmal public transport(the list is endless). But it is my city, I can crib, I can curse, dare someone say anything negative, I know I will jump to it's defense.

    I prefer vacationing abroad, the people have impeccable manners, the sights are breathtaking. But at the end of the day I want to come back to my crazy, chaotic country.
  • Journomuse
    06.04.10 05:04 PM
    Fancy reading you here, Mr.Inamdar...:) Nice piece!!!

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