Back Home Again in India
Return to India may be fraught with challenges, say NRIs, but the feeling of being home makes the move worth it.
Returning to the country for a Non-resident Indian usually means proximity to family, sumptuous food and hopes of an idyllic lifestyle. However, making a permanent move back to the roots brings its own set of challenges.
From finding the right house and school, to adjusting with a changed work culture, there are several roadblocks along the way that make the relocation not such a comfortable homecoming, after all.
Big Struggles for Little Ones
Ranjiv Dev always held the belief that India was a prominent educational hub, and was certain that he would return from Dubai once his children reached high school. He woke up to a rude jolt. “I enrolled my son in two different international schools in the last four years and both the experiences weren’t pleasant,” the 59-year-old businessman tells Little India. “I wasn’t aware that education is now a booming business in India,” he adds, narrating how the family was convinced by the school to enroll his child for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSC) curriculum instead of the Council for the Indian School Certificate (CISC) syllabus, without a proper screening process.
“My son struggled with the syllabus,” he says. “He was promised extra help at school, which was forgotten after I paid the fee. We cannot gauge a school’s authenticity by just looking at the website.”
A similar situation was encountered by Asha (name changed), a United States-based HR consultant who recently moved to Bengaluru. “Unlike in America, where the educational system is transparent and not geared towards profit, many private schools here can resort to unfair means to make a fast buck,” she says, recalling how the family was asked to enroll their son for the International Baccalaureate (IB). They later discovered that the IB syllabus is the most expensive one offered by most schools. “They only care about enrolling as many IB students as possible as opposed to recommending the most appropriate syllabus for students,” she adds.
The issues faced by children continue well after school admission is done. The youngsters, who grow up witnessing a different culture, find it hard to get common conversation starters, says Meetika, a fashion designer who moved to Bengaluru from the Philippines a few years ago with her family. “My accent was a mix of Filipino and American, which initially fascinated children here,” she recounts. “I was alienated because I was considered a snob. It’s unfair to classify NRI children that way.” Meetika still finds herself diluting her accent to come across as being more approachable.
It’s not just the children who struggle with culture shock. A big difference between working in India and America is the work schedule, stresses Asha. “In the United States, we start work early, and wind up at 6 p.m. so everyone gets time with their family every day,” she says. The tendency of colleagues in India to finish work at the end of the day is a huge shift for NRIs. Professionals also feel the pinch of lack of after-school day-care centers. Longer working hours compound the problem for working parents.
As does traffic. “Getting to work itself with such insane traffic feels like an ordeal,” says Meetika. “What scares me the most is that people don’t stop for pedestrians crossing the road.”
The menace of honking is yet another irritant, says Asha. “Seeing so many cows on the road surprised my kids initially,” she quips. The traffic mayhem, in fact, makes her long for more prevalent work-from-home options.
However, getting an ideal home space is not an easy task itself. “Real estate agents quote exorbitant prices, as much as three times the market value,” says Dr. Srividya Raghavendran, who returned from Canterbury in Kent, the United Kingdom, and had to cross-check every sum with local acquaintances.
Back to Bargaining Basics
Even setting up a home is fraught with challenges. Interior designer Bharti Giridhar recounts how several of her NRI clients had bad experiences. “A client of mine was fooled into buying a pinewood bed for four times the actual price,” she says, explaining how in the United States, pinewood is treated for strength, thereby increasing its cost, but it’s used in India for rough purposes, like in railway sleepers or packing crates.
“Another client had paid a sixty percent advance to a contractor, who just vanished,” Giridhar, who owns Bougainvillea interior designing studio in Bengaluru, adds.
The lack of trust extends to small-time kiosk owners too. The bargaining practice proved to be a challenge for Amy Srinivasan , who relocated from Pennsylvania last year. “Since I am not well versed with the local language as yet, I find it hard to bargain with vegetable vendors,” the 27-year-old yoga teacher says. “The prices they quote would make one think that a banana is more exotic than an avocado.”
Food for Thought, and Health
Speaking of food, another truth that NRIs stumble upon after shifting to India is the lack of availability of global cuisine. Even restaurants offering so-called authentic foreign food readily make changes to suit Indian tastes, as was discovered by Meetika.
“I miss Filipino cuisine like the traditional spaghetti and glass noodles,” she says. “There are hardly any authentic Chinese and Korean restaurants, as most of them add more spices than necessary even to signature dishes.”
For some, the local cuisine is not easy to get accustomed to either. “I grew up in Pennsylvania where rice is a slow rising crop,” says Amy, talking about how although she enjoys idli and rice delicacies, the preparations make her uncomfortably full. “I love the bounty of fruit available here but I do miss the variety of leafy greens, such as kale, baby spinach and collard greens.”
Finding authentic organic food also seems to be a daunting quest. “While some supermarkets endorse organic products. I doubt whether they really are what they claim,” says Asha. “In the United States, farmers markets can use the organic label for their produce only if they provide certification.”
The search for organic food assumes more importance for those who experience health issues, and discover that “Delhi belly” isn’t a myth, after all. “I succumb to a stomach bug for the first two weeks when I return from the Philippines,” says Meetika. “It takes time to adjust to the spices, and the water,” she adds, explaining why she prefers buying bottled water.
Raghavendran narrates a similar experience, saying the family fell sick often during the first year. “Although it’s a transitional period, it can be really difficult for children,” says the physician, adding that a more severe challenge is dealing with allergies. “My son has developed a wheezing problem that is persistent through the winter,” she says.
Many NRIs also feel that India should have better options for recreation, like budget resorts, and amusement centres for children.
All is Well That…
However, all the challenges notwithstanding, most NRIs don’t regret the decision to return. “For the same income, I would have led a less luxurious life in America,” says Asha. “We can lead a truly privileged life in our own country.”
Moving back is a conscious decision, asserts Dev. “Knowing that you aren’t a stranger in a strange land is, in itself, a huge blessing,” he says. “It’s such a comforting feeling to be surrounded by familiar people, who we miss abroad. It’s worth the initial hurdles.”