NRI Returning Back To Home
The land of opportunity or God’s own country as one may like to call it seem to undergo a new trend as the entire Diaspora takes notice of this U-turn, wherein the globally settled Indians better known as the NRIs are heading back to their native land in what might look more like a reverse migration. In a nation where success used to be defined by how quickly a university graduate could snare a British or American passport, and where the up coming doctors, bankers and software engineers often did all they could to get somewhere else, India’s best and brightest are coming home.
The ‘Phirangi’ coast may not be as enticing as it were post independence for the prying middle-class; 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 lawlessness and anarchy; bureaucracy and red-tapism ruled the roost, sub-standard products and limited choices were the norm, ‘enterprise’ and ‘wealth’ were dirty words.
A natural outcome of the above lead to the egression of upwardly mobile Indians to faraway places such as the U.S., England, Canada, Africa, Australia, Singapore, and even the Middle East. Financial and material betterment that they could only dream of in India, was a real possibility in these lands of opportunities.
Thus, if a mediocre lifestyle 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.
The sense of ‘not belonging’ was found to be acute in the West. People who spent close to a decade in U.S. while admitting the prosperity and comfort of the foreign land had a persistent undercurrent of the “something missing” syndrome. That something was nothing more than a life style where one really did not need to explain oneself from a socio-cultural perspective. While this cannot be materially quantified it is positively exhilarating.
Most Indians felt that that choice of going to the West for a better standard of living came with the cost of never really fitting in. However this was not to comment on the American society which was as accepting as possible. But aptly suggested ‘East is East and West is West’. While the NRIs abroad made the most of their immigrant lives there it was almost difficult to get rid of that tag in terms of not being a part of their societal set up.
This may not have been an acceptable tradeoff twenty years ago, considering what India was then. But today, India is bustling with possibilities and the homeward bound Indians enjoy all the tangible pleasures of a modern world in their own country. Even in the relatively small cities of India, one can enjoy the best of international cuisines, watch CNN, CNBC with the option of watching some popular Indian soaps and as well. The houses have modern amenities and to boot, help is readily available.
So it appears that all the allurement that acted like baits for the Indians to move to the West are now available in India itself without the downsides of having to live in cultural alienation.
In propinquity to 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 whiff 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.
The IT sector is playing a dominant role in this transformation. It 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.
Sheila 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.
Jaspreet 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.
While most returnees are first-generation expatriates, second-generation Indians living in the US are also returning. There seems to be an altruistic motive among some who would like to help build their home country to a greater power than the country had ever hoped to achieve.
But some of these trends are raising fears among US specialists, who apprehend that it could deplete the country of scientific talent and blunt its edge in innovation.
The 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, Principal Scientist at Dr Reddy’s Laboratories the future of the Indian pharmaceutical industry is quite bright.
Welcome to the world of Consumerism-the opulent shopping malls clubbed with a six-lane highway makes for a fa�ade of the developed nations in some ways. India is in the midst of a retail boom, with sparkling shopping plazas sprouting up in urban centers.
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.
The coffee-pub culture has rapidly spread in urban areas, especially with the young crowd. The coffee pub is more a lifestyle than just a place to go for a hot cup of coffee.
The social precepts are also more conducive for the liberalized NRIs. With MTV and Fashion TV screaming their way into Indian living rooms, the urban Indian has been completely bowled over by Western attire. Where earlier girls would leave home in sedate dresses and hurriedly change into something revealing at a friend’s house, today kids openly leave their homes in tiny mini skirts. Dating is no longer a no-no among urban parents. While 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 to conform.
The biggest concern for those considering a move back is often the issue of how their American-born children would fair. Surprisingly, most of the returned NRIs begin with complaints but end up reporting that their kids have positively adjusted to their new environments. “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, and 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.”
The robust sense of competition is aiding in bringing about competitive educational techniques, which India has been devoid of so far. 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 and laptops for the students, and multi-cuisine dining facilities at residential schools.
The real estate developers and the 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 customary Indian life revolves around the family, which is an essential part of its culture and ethos. The extended family is known to be the bastion which is there for one equally in good and bad times. And while life in the West offers everything in terms of material comfort, loneliness is a consistent comrade for many, especially those who are single. Couples, too, miss the interaction with family.
Earlier, the standards of living between India and the West were too dramatic, and many felt that the compromise in having to move elsewhere, while painful, was worth it. Now that India is globally competitive when it comes to lifestyles, the wrench of the family has beckoned many who had settled elsewhere, especially those who had left parents behind.
The concept of a joint family acts as an asset especially for working couples in India, where the 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 out on the 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.
Padampani Nallan, who now works with Satyam in Hyderabad 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.”
However on the hind side the NRIs have had those initial teething problems in their homeland. For starters there is the universal complain of the phoren-returned about the abysmal conditions of roads in India. Most of them lamented the potholes, bumps, chaos and the nerve-wrecking traffic.
Several think about the US whenever they tend to compare the roads and other infrastructure, facilities, and services. There is a sense of discontent that while much can be done in India the entire endeavor fails due to corrupt politicians, apathetic and corrupt officials. The sense of intrusion in a common man’s life is higher back home than that experienced in the West by the NRIs coming back home.
A sense of professionalism, responsibility and maturity also lacks in the native lands. Even though some multinational are living up to the hype that they stand for, but the work culture still have miles to travel. Parts of India are still being gripped by machoistic values. Attitude towards women is a huge problem. While this may not be true in bigger cities by and large women have moved forward tremendously, it remains a problem area in the smaller towns. However, Indian women are empowered today, especially in the bigger metros and they are bold enough to live life on their terms. They are not confined to hearth and home.
Yet, 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. It no longer seems as a trade off where one has to give up the material comforts of the Wets to settle back in the homeland.
The economy is growing at 7 percent a year, the infrastructure is improving and salaries, once dwarfed by the pay in the West, are catching up. These days, India’s small but growing consumer class can get everything from a decent cappuccino to a pepperoni pizza.
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 has been an enriching experience that has added to their quality of life. For them, it has literally been the best of both worlds.