India bound…Mathematics and Thematics for NRIs


Amit and I often talk about how more than half our MBA batch is outside India (though still contributing to the Indian economy, thank you). Over the last few years, many of our batchmates have returned “home” to India after doing their 5-15 year stints abroad. Here in silicon valley when we meet our desi friends, conversation inevitably swings around to the subject of returning to India, and how many people have made the trip back home.

Often, in the privacy of their computer screens, many NRIs have found themselves googling the phrase “returning to India”, in the hope of finding out answers to their questions, or even just finding the questions they must ask before making their decision. Often, Google disappoints. There are not many places one can find a reliable list questions for the tentative returnee. Here is a list. You’re all welcome!

Mathematics First

First, we will tackle issues that can be handled mathematically.

Potential to save: Salaries in India are rising at a very rapid clip – 10-15% every year. While inflation remains high in India, the increases in salary mean that the potential to save money on a monthly basis is increasing every year. Given that most of the people leaving India had left for economic reasons, this implies that it is now safer to return to India. If you’re Googling this aspect, look for (1) salary increase levels in India and the US, (2) inflation rates, (3) compute the increase in expected savings

Career Growth: The Indian economy is booming. Thanks to India’s “demographic dividend”, India will continue to grow fast over the next few decades at rates much higher than the western world. This means people who are now in their prime careers (25-45 years old) will grow faster in their careers in India compared to being elsewhere in the world. Economic growth would keep fueling the demand for managerial talent. This means faster promotions in India, as well as meatier assignments.

Social web: Look at your Facebook profile and see which of your friends are in India. If you’re moving to Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, it is likely that you’ll have a richer social circle than in your current phoren city. If you can find time to drive 50 minutes to meet them for a 30 minute $3 coffee at a Coffee Day in India.

Household help, cost of: The typical NRI doesn’t notice it, but every household needs a cook, a cleaner (x2), a driver (x2), a home-delivered grocery service, a clothes washer, a clothes ironing crew and a daily gardener. These *basic* needs of an urban life are not available outside India unless you’re Bill Gates. That means that the average NRI helplessly slogs away at these articles of domestic drudgery, while their desi friends in India have all the fun.

Cost of healthcare: Ageing parents and growing kids means that healthcare costs are on the rise for the 1990s era NRI (folks who emigrated in the 90s). US healthcare costs are prohibitive, while in India the healthcare costs are relatively lesser, quality care more affordable and available.

The rational compass clearly points towards returning to India.

We still haven’t taken into account some themes that tend to be more subjective in nature, but may be more compelling for some folks.

Thematics: Subjective evaluation

The doorbell tolls for thee: There is no respite from the ringing doorbell in India. starting with the early morning milk delivery, newspaper delivery, morning dishwasher, car washer, driver, bread-delivery, floor wiper, car washer (returning keys), kids driver, lunch cook, lunch dishwasher, driver, driver, kids, kids, neighbor’s kids, vegetables delivery, fruits delivery…it’s enough to drive a sane NRI ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong!

Power corrupts, Power cuts Interrupt absolutely: So you’ve bought this fancy penthouse flat in a “24 hour power supply building society”. Well, when the 6-hour power cuts loom every day in the peak of summer, your society’s generator can only support two fans and one fridge. Go figure! Power supply in India is now 40% lesser than the need (by some counts). That means no power when you need it. There are some things money can’t buy. Continuous power is one of these.

Order, order: Despite the march of progress in India in recent years, things are still chaotic and rarely work as advertised. Service culture has yet to seep in, and Indian Standard Time continues to be lax. To to NRI mind, these could be mild irritants, or mind-numbingly irritating, depending on your personal preferences. The lack of order and control over one’s own destiny and phone service can get to one’s nerves.

Changing social mores. Believe  it or not, attitudes on dating can be found out through carbon dating. Most people who emigrate to another culture tend to “Freeze” their social values when they move. These social values are not updated on contact with a foreign culture. Meanwhile, values in their home country tend to evolve. The same is happening with India. When the 1990s era NRI left India, Times of India was the “old lady of Bori Bunder”, and not the purveyor of titillating content as it has become now. Item songs in hindi movies were not “better than Baywatch”. All these things have changed, but the old NRI mind-set has not kept pace. This means that when they return to India, they will face changed attitude towards money, fashion, sex and pretty much every aspect of life. They will likely find a more westernized version of the country they left (and carried in their hearts with them). The only fringe of society that carries their strain of moral values resides abroad.

Black Swan events

A black swan event is defined (by Nicholas Taleb) as the disproportionate role of high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, and technology. Things that cannot be forecast, but those that will have a heavy impact on the future.

Mao’s se tung: There is a heavy Naxal outbreak in India and according to some reports upto a third of India’s land-mass is under Naxal influence. Whatever the reasons behind this rise, what’s possible is that this could explode into a country-wise crisis at any time.

Water wars: India is largely an agrarian society, and the maximum fresh water is used for agriculture. With one of the world’s largest populations and limited water supply, Indian states are already beginning to fight over water resources. As ground water levels continue to drop all over India, these skirmishes could take a more sinister tone. This could lead to an all out water war between states, cities, communities and families.

Geopolitical nukes: There’s nukes and inter-continental ballastic missiles on two sides of the country. Pakistan and China both have unstable societies (China has a stable government with an iron grip, but the poverty differentials are  very high there), and a war with India is a couple of mis-steps away.

Racism Redux: While US, UK and Australian societies are largely peaceful, if the world economy continues to be poor, there could be a situation where any of these countries might turn xenophobic. While Indians are not the largest or most visible minority in any of these countries, they are still a minority.

All in all, returning to India is a personal choice. Let it be an informed decision.


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About Gaurav Rastogi
Gaurav Rastogi is a writer and a business-exec living in the San Francisco bay area. His other blog is a personal philosophy blog at http://rustus.blogspot.com

9 Responses to India bound…Mathematics and Thematics for NRIs

  1. sudip says:

    Though I agree with your Mathematics concept, Thematics is something I couldn’t. From my first hand experience who falls in your defined bracket of people returning to India, the door bells don’t ring that often unless it’s 1st of a month when they come to get their monthly dues. Power cuts not a problem as most housing societies have power backup facilities.

    The only thing that took time to cope up was comparing the drive on 1 or 101 to driving on MG Road.

  2. Good point on the road conditions Sudip. Bangalore and Delhi have very erratic traffic times. Power cuts are actually lesser in Bangalore as compared with, say, Delhi or Pune.

    How did your experience in India compared with what you had anticipated when you were in the bay area?

  3. amtgrg says:

    To complicate the issue further

    Also read this article on the freakonomics blog – the kids are alright http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/the-kids-are-alright/

    I suspect the situation in India is the opposite

  4. You didn’t mention education. I have heard of people who want to go back to India because they think their kids will get a better education there. And then there are people who have gone back who worry that their kids are not getting a good education. I think the difference is that to one set curriculum equates to education, while to the other set the quality of teaching is what is really education.

  5. Anurag says:

    As someone who has recently made the decision to go ‘back’ to India and has yet to face the consequences thereof, I can vouch that it is an inordinately difficult decision to take. There are far too many pros and cons – and those are also constantly in churn. And in the ultimate analysis there is no right or wrong decision.

    For me the reasons were neither monetary, nor social or practical. It was just that I wanted to be back ‘home’. That is the way I am.

  6. Sanjay Dutt says:

    As someone who returned 6 years back after the 5 year stint…

    The biggest learning has been sheer diversity of life styles I have been able to choose from…and continue to. The economics, risks, irritants, black swans …soon faded into making significant choices about my life. May be it also was about my life stage – search for more meaningful, expansive and diverse life. Where India scored – and I believe still does – above every other place I know of or have experienced is the endless and sometimes breathless expanse of choices it offers.

    India offers choices on every count that eventually define the identity of a person – social class, brand choices, career flexibility, spiritual quests, belongingness to a group or a cause, definitions of growth, family extensions, types of friendships, sexual choices, access to knowledge, power pow-wows (political, corporate, family or terrorist kinds), education systems, experimental living, access to opportunities abroad…..you name it.

    Of course all of this assumes one crucial thing – openness to change. I believe the biggest and simple block for anyone returning is the need for predictability that an American lifestyle is built on and thrives on. Nothing wrong with that – except in India it is different. If change excites you – you have an endless menu this side of the planet.

    I sure want my kids to grow here – for I believe India right now is a microcosm of all the tragedies and hopes of the world at large. What better to prepare them for the world ahead and actually live with the knowledge and pride that they are actually shaping it!

  7. kartikeya says:

    RAther surprisingly Ahmedabad comes 1st in the infrastructure. Roads are wider and flows freely. The power cut is not existent and atmosphere for business is conductive.

  8. Well, yes, but. A blog comment isn’t the ideal forum to explore these issues in greater detail, but here goes. First, some of us didn’t emigrate for economic reasons, more for a cultural ideal of personal freedoms. (Gender certainly played a role in this for me.) Not saying the west is perfect, but this is something I would have to think about pretty hard before returning.
    Richer social circle: I don’t know. I’d say my social circle is more diverse in the west, as economic/social divides don’t run as deep as in India. I hang out with librarians and artists and high school teachers and broke PhD students who work as waitresses. My circle in India was mostly other MBAs–this was entirely my own doing though.
    Also, I’m personally uncomfortable with the equation of household help = life of luxury. The very poor rubbing up against an oblivious very rich makes me uneasy. See White Tiger.
    And hey! we NRIs live in Canada too. And Canada = universal free health care.

    There are many compelling reasons to return–family, that it is INDIA, an exciting art and literary scene, the opportunity to actually make a change etc. etc. I agree with Anurag and with you–for all that you inform yourself, it is a personal choice. And like Sheena says, there’s a good bit of mystery when it comes to decision making–choosing is an art, not a science 🙂

  9. Pingback: Poll: Returning to India-What factors are important? « Two MBAs, One Blog

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