Saturday, October 29, 2011


The debate in the comments section of previous post between IITG and Gaurav prompted this post. While it has become a dead-horse now, a few years ago Return To India (R2I) was a topic - I often liked to discuss with close friends and relatives. This post isn't about the broad topic. But just the portion that is relevant to the debate going on in that comments section.

My strong belief is that - R2I is not much different from preparing for an exam. For the most part if you don't perform well, it is *your* fault. You can come back and say that the question paper was tough or you made a silly mistake or you didnt have time. Its your fault. You screwed up. You failed. Outside rare events where something outside your control happened (someone died, car accident, etc) - the reason for poor performance can be boiled down to the fact that you didn't anticipate what the exam was all about and did not prepare very well. Or you failed to continue to fight everyday life challenges the way other people living in India do. My disappointment with the article was that the author was shifting the blame on an intangible 3rd party.

Returning To India is in general difficult because people don't see it as an exam and don't prepare well enough and fail most basic challenges thrown at them. They sort of have an attitude of 'Its my country. I can wing it'. The following are reasons why I think people say this or fail in the R2I efforts:

1. Returning with a pre-conceived notion of what their experience is going to be. One that is suitably colored due to nostalgia.

2. Returning and expecting special treatment as a result of being NRIs. Going to India on vacation is not the same as going there on a permanent job. Not knowing this makes a person's humility setting as very low. There was a time in 80s when someone who had been to Singapore for a week would put scene for 6 months and people would listen to him with mouth wide-open. The concept of 'foreign return' lost its sheen in the late 90s. And people who R2I have trouble being treated as normal people. They are unable to resist the urge to do running commentary on Indians as if the people living "there" were lab rats. So when you hear some one say 'I cant adjust 'there', cant live with 'them' etc'. The first instinct one feels upon hearing this is - what do you mean "them"? You are "them". What is all this drama about "me" vs "them". While there are logical reasons why one would like to think of non-NRIs as different - the first gut reaction in any person's mind is that it sounds supercilious when an Indian refers to other Indians as "them". I feel that way mostly because *I* mean to be supercilious when I use it that way. So the first suspicion I would have is that the person is trying to put scene and show that they are better people by virtue of staying abroad.

3. Most people I have talked to - fail in their return plans for reasons like "paying electricity bills is such a hassle, they ask for bribes, they are changing me to a corrupt person, traffic problems are too much, people are rude at work". Almost all these reasons are cliched and have been said several times before. The most cliched reason being 'I have changed as a person' and so wont fit there.

All the above only means that you didn't prepare well and so you failed the exam. Running a ball-by-ball commentary on every experience you have once your return is a sure-shot recipe for disaster. Not knowing about the way people pay electricity bills in India or whether you changed as a person - is your fault. Making a choice to come back, preparing poorly at that and putting blame on some vague intangible stuff is just bad. Putting on the garb of 'I want to change the world' as an excuse to criticize everything under the sun - smacks of arrogance and just hides the real problem even more.

There is also another angle to this. When people say they aborted their r2I effort and give above reasons - the 'real' reason lies somewhere among the below two points

1. Wife came back and couldnt get along well with her in-laws. She hates the concept of moving from an isolated environment to one where there s family all the time and everywhere. The complaint noise has increased.

2. Career progress isn't working out and dude is getting screwed at work.

If everything is going well - you never notice the environmental variables. they are just things you have to 'adjust' to. If family and career get screwed up - you are searching for things to blame. I have seen many articles by NRIs that refuses to admit *the person's own* failure and explains it away as some sort of a problem that India has. They blame the failure on some external thing that they had no control over. I usually dont react to them. The reason why I took exception to the specific article that I linked was because the bar was too low. The reason seemed ridiculously silly and trivial.

Now there are many kinds of exams. You can ask a grown-up person to appear for an IIT-JEE exam and if they fail, its understandable. Thats a tough exam. But if you ask them to appear for 2nd standard Math exam and they fail - one should be allowed to say without hiding behind subjectivity that failing addition subtraction type questions is a shame.

I cant imagine the Mungee dude and his wife having a conversation that goes "Honey.. I am treating my maid badly. This country has made me a bad person. boo hoo. I don't want to be this person. Let us go back to USA". At a practical level - I don't see a person changing his life for such a trivial, negligible reason. Losing a few bucks here and there due to someone duping you has been happening since my grandparent's days. I remember my grand mother's mom telling me stories on how her maid duped her of Rs 10. This is the most common form of duping ever. These things are like paying tax. Pay it and get on with life. If you choose to become rude as a result of life experiences - then that is the kind of person you are. Live with that. If you choose to ignore it, continue to be a nice guy and think that in 5% of the cases you will be duped but in 95% of cases you will be all right - then that is the kind of person you truly are. The key thing is - if you decide to enter a jungle then fight like an animal there. Don't compare every single experience to a hypothetical situation of "this wouldn't happen if I were in a zoo or in a different jungle". You are where you are. Deal with it. If you cant - accept it was your fault and go back. Don't shift the blame.

Writing that kind of maudlin and weakling type article that Mungee has written only happens if you received money to propagate someone's narrative.


Anonymous said...

Agree 100% up till and including point #3. Put simply, a lot of people fail at R2I because they simply did not understand the status quo in India before making the move. I think that there is also another narrative that the cliched items in #3 have improved by leaps and bounds (what Mungee calls "Friedman's India," I call it R2Itopia), and this has been making the rounds since 2005/6. This is akin to some all-knowing nerd telling you that a certain difficult chapter is no longer "in syllabus" for a final exam. Let's keep this in mind for now.

From what I read, it didn't seem like Mungee was faulting India as much as he was describing his dissatisfaction with his reaction the Indian environment, which he found to be quite different from his expectations, akin to how someone who believed the nerd's assertion would find questions from the "out of syllabus" chapter on the question paper. Here, my argument is (and has been) that one is often unable to control what sort of psychological reflex is triggered under surprise/ threat/ duress. It's a direct result of your personality, and some will have a much smaller threshold than others for these terms. E.g., getting into an empty subway car at 9 PM would breach the threat/fear threshold for my sister, but to any random New Yorker, it could be a daily occurrence & nothing to be afraid of.

Consider this like the case of an ape raised in a zoo being let out in the wild and later, its former handlers find that it routinely kills lemurs because once one of them stole its food. At this point, three truths are abundantly clear: 1) the ape overreacts to small trespasses that are common in the wild, 2) the ape has innate violent tendencies, and 3) these dormant tendencies are triggered in the presence of lemurs. Their verdict would be that the ape has adapted to the wild in a very undesirable way. Then, their options would be to either move it back to the comfort/ safety of the zoo where its violent tendencies would go untriggered or to leave it to cause harm to both itself and others in the wild.

So, if the subconscious mind is the ape and the conscious the handler, the handler had the right in Mungee's case to move to ape back to the zoo for the benefit of both the ape and the lemurs. Now, if you want the ape's head for it adapting very undesirably, it's unfair, because I don't think the ape chose its innately violent personality. If the handler is faulting the jungle, then the handler is just stupid. Blame can be placed on the handler, who decided to move the ape to the jungle, but what if the handler was misled as to the condition of the jungle. Then those who propagate those falsities have to share the blame as well.

So, in this case, I'd blame greatly exaggerated articles on India's progress just as much as I would Mungee for moving back without doing in-depth research on life back home. But I wouldn't blame Mungee for reacting like an asshole, because I don't think he chose to be an asshole - he was born/ raised to be one and he just didn't know it while in the Bay area, because there was simply no trigger there.

Finally, not everyone would be satisfied with just career success and family stability, as you have implied. Even without Maslow, I've personally seen that those who're content with their wealth, family and social status (regardless of absolute/relative level) spend way too much time thinking about things like what kind of guy they are. Who else would give to Amnesty International? :)


Hawkeye said...

idling swaminaha,

i didnt imply that career family were the only two important things in one's life. infact that r2i site quotes religion as the biggest reason for return to india. which maybe true.

just that they dont damage r2i experience as much as others. for example i worry about state of temple in South India, the overall ruin of practices there and the fact that they are in path towards extinction. but things that happen around those thoughts have lesser probability of causing me to reverse r2i

mungee couldve quotes thousands of examples. that he quoted onnarooba type silra matter makes me wonder.

Vijayashankar said...

Nice article. Good points.

There are people like me who have returned back for good 12 years ago... wanting to go back again, for the sake of experiencing the same *USA* for some more time with family. Doesnt hurt right?

*mathemagiclogical* way of thinking when you have to pay for that big cost *one year savings* hurried vacation every year.

Anonymous said...

Kind of lame. Read the original NYT Article through this link only.The guy is a wuss, trying to camoflague his real reasons for returning to the US.Have done that and now am based in Singapore and would not make a huge fuss about going back once I get bored of Singapore.For all you know Mungee might be complaining that he cannot afford a maid in the US. Or have a maid and pay her the minimum wages as prescribed by the govt and feel happy. But whether that minimum wage is enough for her to live in the US?Just because the govt sets those rules, it becomes a paradise and Mungee becomes a better human being by adhering to the govt rule?

You hit the point right on the head.The so called R2I's expect to be pampered and it does not happen when you are there permanently.Things are taken for granted when you are a guest but when you live there,you have to get into the grind. For all his complaints about Electricity connection the bills can be paid online.Almost everything you can do online, without going through queues.

Mungee is free to make what ever decision that suits him.But pasting it on some one else makes him much less a human being than any one who lived in India for long.

anush said...

nice post. I agree with the *real* reasons why people return - they are seldom discussed in social situations, especially the ones that are more public. *your fault* concept applies to all miseries in life, not just the R2I efforts. Plus, as long as there is an OPTION to return to the US, a person can never be truly satisfied in India. Sometimes I think people want to feel that they *tried* and do a half-hearted effort, while all along, they never wanted to be there. Seems like it is easier to move your family there in the name of trying, than to come to terms with the truth - both about yourself and going back. Like you mention, sometimes I feel like lot of the excuses that people give are completely ridiculous - to the point where, if they had sat in corner and imagined such scenarios in their head before making the big move, they could figure out pretty much everything that they will experience.

Unknown said...

Its not fair.Why blame the wifey???may be the in-laws had a problem with 'adjustment'. I feel the farther the better.

I read this somewhere - 'while in India people try to be American Indians and while in US they try to be Indian Americans'. Do people moving back from other parts of the world have the same issues??

But Mungee saying 'I could not look my daughther in the eye' is crap...

Anonymous said...

I think that blaming the wife is as cliched as the 'I have changed as a person' argument. Most R2I decisions are made as a family unit - often, both husband and wife need to find new jobs in the same place. Most women prefer to R2I because of the availability of household help to take care of the house and availability of grandparents to take care of the kids. If family pressure comes into the picture, it could also be because the guy is now forced to live in close proximity to his in-laws and extended family. There are people who look at R2Is as some sort of a failure because 'why else are they in India if they did not get a pink slip out there'. That's a deterrent, that's family pressure right there and not necessarily from the wife. Also, the nature of life in phoren lands is such that guys can have a mini-bar inside the house, be out late, and the wife would not necessarily object. But his parents, or her parents, would find it objectionable. The 'complaint noise' works both ways.

Hawkeye said...


you want me to replace 'wife' with 'spouse' because of political correctness or have you really seen a guy complain that he couldnt adjust to his in-laws and so r2i is difficult.

i have never heard the latter ever.

Anonymous said...

1. Wife came back and couldnt get along well with her in-laws. She hates the concept of moving from an isolated environment to one where there s family all the time and everywhere. The complaint noise has increased.

Nowaday's the most common reason.

Anonymous said...

Hi Hawkeye,

I couldnt agree more in terms of replacing "wife" with "Spouse". I've heard umpteen stories from our men folk who finds it difficult to adjust with their own parents let alone their in-laws. As much as you've heard the wife complaining, we have seen men getting frustrated as well. So politically it wouldnt hurt to replace "wife" with "spouse"


Anonymous said...


No no, not because of political correctness. I have heard stories of guys saying they could never live with their parents because it curbs their independence. Or that they can't live in proximity with their in-laws because they nag. In the end, the reason for leaving is not so much that 'wife/husband nags' as much as loss of peace. Again, it is another factor that needs to be thought of while doing the homework before returning.

Anonymous said...

Speaking on this R2I issue: I've read IITG's posts regarding the issue and also read Ramesh Mahadevan's posts regarding his move back, while I was contemplating about whether to R2I. Two contrasting experiences indeed and it showed how much the self-perception of the whole R2I process is important for such a move or otherwise deciding to stay back to be successful.

hawkeye- you're right that Mungee's points of contention to justify his move back are rather lame. However I do think that his article sort of counterbalances the greatly exaggerated articles about India's progress. Both are lame and if people don't see Mungee's article, they may never realize that there are people who move back for the lamest of reasons, the same way as people move to India without proper understanding of what they are signing up for.

Self-reflection (manana) is by far the least slippery way one can go about deciding regarding R2I.

Anonymous said...

the single imp. reason that i've known when returning to INdia is that people tend to lose their "identity and independence". THese are the same people who would want their parents in US when there is a new born- or complain about being alone and no "Family" around. They think of the "american" way of appointment before we meet instead of taking the liberty called "family".

A friend also complains that mom never asked why she came home late when in US .. while she does in INdia. I have often tried not to explain hoping the answer to her would once be obvious.

THe cliched understanding is that everyone expects india to be "better" based on the overhyped articles and express avenues - like IITG points out. It isnt. You judge the reality and look at what works best for you.

and yes, every one gets duped - even the ones who are here. We've been complaining right from 80s and we will still. So are people in the US and what people dont understand is it exists everywhere. They wouldnt mind paying $2 or more for using another ATM in US while they(those R2i cases you referred to) enjoy it for free in india. But they complain of how Banks services badly in india - and couldnt get hold of "customer care" to complain.

PS: I am on a vacation to india, i hate being looked as though who lives in US - and i never divulge that info unless specifically asked. I know my ways and life and it just feels normal. I just survived [word used for dramatization] a 12 hour power cut in west mambalam and my mind didnt bother to compare/complain. [must admit my fears of me doing that] Amma kept asking "Anga irundha indha prachana laam illa la?" .. That some times adds ..

singapooran said...

Nowhere in the world can you see a community so torn between old and new homelands. Why R2I in the first place? Why don't/can't US NRIs think of moving to another foreign country if they have to leave the US of A? Oz, NZ, Singapore (hooray), Africa...the possibilities are limitless. Why R2I? Is it because they can't fit into the American way of life? Frustrated, they rush back expecting a comforting embrace of familiar India, but instead get a kick in the nuts!

Often it is the disease of nostalgia--the single biggest impediment to leading a peaceful life. If you keep dreaming of India all the time, when are you going to live your present? And as hawkeye rightly points out, India is changing all the time, often for the worse. Stay where you are if the going's good, and try visiting India as a tourist (meaning, don't just visit relatives and attend weddings, explore incredible India, with the $$$ you saved up).

Anonymous said...

I may not be the right person to comment on this as I have never lived out of India all my life. In fact, I have spent all my life (except for a couple of years in between) in Chennai and I can imagine moving out of this place for good. Yes, there is enough to complain about Chennai - it is filthy, people don't follow rules, auto drivers are rude, buses are always crowded - but this is my home and I have made a choice that I'll not move out of this place. For me it is driven more by family considerations - my parents and brothers stay close by and all my extended family live within a five mile radius of where I stay.
A number of my friends live in US and the UK and also in some godforsaken places like Luxembourg and I wonder how they had the guts to move out of here when I can't get myself to go on a two week business trip.
At the end of the day, it is the individual's choice and no one has the right to interfere or judgemental about it. Mungee's reasons may sound stupid but maybe, that's what he is and we should leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

I don't quite agree with the exam analogy. Exam is a matter of few hours to days. Irrespective of your preparation, you just want to get over it!


Anonymous said...

I spent a couple of years as a student in the US before coming back to work in India. Never wanted to move back to the US. I have heard from lot of folks that the primary reason they are looking to move back is for cultural reasons (for kids).
However, last week I was stunned at how some kids were trying to celebrate halloween last week. (Saw your frustrations on twitter). Forget the celebrations, schools celebrate it, and some kids are going out and partying till late night(let me not mention the kind of clothing they were in). So I dont understand what kind of cultural expectations NRI's are going to have especially when coming back(I am speaking specifically about bangalore).
I know lot of NRI's/US Citizens who have come back and are enjoying it here. But mind you they are filthy rich. It is the ones who have expectations of a certain lifestyle when they come back here after spending say 6-7 years in the US find out that things are not that easy, cop out and look for ways to return.

mokka musketeer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mokka musketeer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I am a ComplexNumber said...

It is really sad that we need to explicitly comment about the NYT article. Just like it is really sad that we have to state about grown up failing in 2nd std exams.
But sometimes we have to. So, thanks Hawkeye for writing this.

I agree with all the points.

Seriously, it is not that Mungee is changing into a different (bad) person while at India. It is more that he remains the same person (but) is kept in check while in the USA. So it is more like a patient checking into a hospital. That is how I understand it.

I moved back to India, enjoyed life to the fullest and then came to USA and trying to do the same. I dont think I moved back for any of the mushy reasons. It is just fated in my opinion :)

Again, I might move back to India and back. I don't see any reason why that is to be trumpeted / looked down. It seems to be very simple thing. I don't any "bigger" reasons for the occurrence

Anonymous said...

Sad and miserable

Let me start of by saying that my relationship with my parents has been abusive my mother abandoned me 15days after mt birth and my grandparents brought me up .Later on my entire life has been pretty much horrible except for the fact I was a meritorous student and did really well.I married a nice guy thanks to my relatives and settled in san diego .R2i has been on my mind and I came here to my parents house for 3 mos vacation with my daughter and this is what I have realised .
There are warm persons who are affectionate but there is only a pretense of development in blore .Mosquitoes everywhere , dengue cholera rampant in KR puram.almost every kid is wheezing or asthamatic and use of nubuliser seems pretty common .
The doctors sometimes dont even have a thermometer and have scant respect for the kids they are treating .Unneccessary blood tests scaring the parents ,in my case me , dirty clinics like amrjyothi in indiranagar .
Koshys had one dr Gopika ...and she was so impatient and pushed my kid around who was sick

We stayed in a hotel near ITPL whitefield and it had stains in the bedsheets and mosquities convention ...and the bed looked like a graveyard for mosquitoes !The rent was Rs 1800 per night .
Where is the advancement ?My desire to r2i has been crushed partly because of my parents attitude 2 of course who are hell bent on extracting money from me and also this sorry state of affairs.
My daughter developed pubic hair and she is just 2 young after eating the fruits from easy day suoermarket ..she never had those in san diego .
Apparently everything is sprayed with pesticides here in overdose .
No regard for human life ,careless attitude for peoples feeling and yes just a pretense of development ...disappointment is all my hubby &I have left after our 3 mos vacation .
The people here accomodate the drs attitude the poor standards of life ,kudos to them .