Editor’s note: Our article on Reasons why NRIs are returning to India attracts a lot of questions from NRIs keen on getting back home. One such reader based in Canada posted a list of questions related to her concerns about returning from Canada to India. It got a comprehensive response from another reader, Abhi Bhattacharya. We thought it deserved to be published as an independent article.
Returning from Canada to India
by Abhi Bhattacharya
I have somehow managed to live and work in 3 different continents and have been on the go for the last 10 years. I used to love that life but perhaps I am getting older and a sudden urge to settle down has struck me. I had taken the plunge to get back to India nearly 5 years ago.
Of course there are never any jobs and after having worked in a high position in Europe I had developed a sense of hubris so I was not keen to take the 2-3 lakh per annum package. I am not a software engineer but I had a core engineering background which was still useful enough. I tried a good number of job sites to no avail. Then connections helped. I am lucky enough to have a large and well connected family who put me in touch with relevant managers in MNC’s and I soon acquired a job. Unfortunately, within a year I got an offer from the US and after a lot of internal struggle I went back.
And now I am thinking of returning again, for good this time. There is a constant feeling that I am not a citizen and even though I belong, at key points I don’t belong.
However, now older, I am terrified of being jobless. I now have a family, pets and parents who need taking care of at different points. There are pretty much no jobs in my state so I will still not be able to relive that level of comfort which I once had.
The biggest thing I am jealous of w.r.t. my North American counterparts (i.e. those who grew up there) is that they have this luxury of choice. They can choose their career, find themselves, wait for a good job and actually live their life instead of a constant threat of having to excel and out-compete everyone else.
That said, after getting a ‘good’ job, life is awesome in India. By a good job I mean either government jobs (yes they perform even better now) or MNCs.
The problem is there are a lot of small scale companies in India which have a very different management structure (almost all are family owned) and treat employees very differently (I will go ahead and say, not well). They provide a lot of employment but a foreign grad in most cases has a very difficult time mainly due to a lack of respect for one’s work and a desire to only make profits.
Now, to make a jump… I thought of commenting on one of the comments in an earlier article.
Questions and answers on getting back to India from Canada
Question 1. Canada offers global opportunities for a career. There is Meritocracy in the workplace and higher education. What’s the work culture in India? Do we still call our managers “Sir” and get up from our chair when a senior manager walks in?
Answer: There is some hierarchy but it is also fun. My dad used to work in Central Govt. where of course there was hierarchy. It seemed though that everyone took care of each other and a sense of camaraderie was preeminent. The level of friendships which can be struck with ‘aap’ and even with the ‘sir’s’ and ‘saab’s’ was fascinating.
Of course you have to buy into the system. If you are the ‘foreign’ guy who has this sense of superiority and idealism then it is difficult. Being humble goes a long way in India…not so much in the US or Canada.
Question 2. Canada is a multicultural society. Kids get to know classmates from all over the world. How diverse is the education systems back home? Or do we have to consider expensive education in an international school?
Answer: If there is one thing India mostly excels at, it is education. The schools are mostly good and so are the universities. I studied at an IIT and I was pretty happy there even with the infrastructure. That said, the well rounded individual is not a priority such as in the US.
Interestingly, even in Europe, there is a severe lack of high standard varsity sports and frats and sororities do not exist. If you want an easy yet fulfilling school system, the US and Canada are the only 2 countries in the world which provide that. If you want objective education, India along with a lot of others can compete quite well.
Question 3. Very comfortable life here in USA in terms of material comforts. Systems work really well. People are efficient. Easy to get things done. Is this comparable to Indian life?
Answer: For every easily available phone book in the US, there are people to do stuff in India. And with the explosion of Apps and online retailing, I honestly did not find systems to be difficult in India. It is in some ways even better in smaller cities where getting things is so easy. Biggest benefit—you do not need a car to survive.
Question 4. North American values independence, self-reliance, go-getting drive. How do NRI’s cope up with a fact of being dependent on others for house chores, involvement in kids education (like after school classes?)
Answer: The question is that of time and money. Simple economics at work. I would much rather employ someone to do some work which is not giving me value provided that labor is cheap. There is absolutely no reason you cannot do your own chores…all the chemicals and equipment is available. Whether you will do it is a separate question. In North America, you pretty much have to do it.
Question 5. Do people still stare at young girls, women in public transit and roads?
Answer: Yes to some extent but it depends on the city. Once again, you have to navigate India based on an understanding of the country. I will give you an example of LA where I have worked for ~4 years. You need to know the city and there are parts which are unsafe. Till the time you do not figure out the system, be on the safe side.
Question 6. Canada is the least imperfect society. Has its problems, but at least we don’t have to worry about traffic, pollution, bribery, reservation in education systems and petty corruption, trains running on time, etc. How much has India improved in this in the last 10 years?
Answer: If you have such a strong love for Canada, perhaps you have found your ideal place. India is a complex entity. The law is not that strongly upheld which gives you a bit of freedom. Traffic is usually bad but trains and metros are your friend. Corruption exists but is not that visible the system is much more efficient. Reservation sucks tremendously and that is one thing which has not improved and shows no signs of going away.
Question 7. Medical facilities are much better and at almost no cost here. How are the medical facilities there and I am not talking about expensive private hospitals but general hospitals?
Answer: Public hospitals are not that great. If you have money you will not be going there anyway (and add more competition to the poor who are also seeking treatment). Private hospitals are perfect and treatment standards are at par with the best.
Question 8. India is full of festivals, that’s great but what happens when roads get blocked during Ganapati festival or people breath air full of pollution during Diwali because of crackers?
Answer: Again, India is not Canada. In fact, the US is not Canada. Neither are any countries in Europe. Canada presents some unique advantages and disadvantages but that is a separate discussion. India does have a ton of festivals which I personally love.
But again, I am not a person who eats organic or who does power yoga every morning. I can rough out the Mumbai locals and eat the misal pao of the streets.
This is where the beauty of India lies. The sanitized standardized atmosphere of North America is not there. Again, comparing Europe to Canada, the litter, the population, the noise and the smoke are simply much more in Europe. Canada presents such an underpopulated country with so much wilderness, it is hard to beat anywhere in the world. Only Scandinavia comes to mind.
Also read my other article:
– Living and working in the Netherlands as an expat
4 thoughts on “Returning from Canada to India: Some questions and answers”
It is very thought provocative article written from personal experience and the conclusions are dead right. I would like to add that citizens of all the rich countries (North America, Europe and Asian economic power hose like China and Singapore ) think only of material goods. Even the front page of daily news paper carries news about share market as it is so important for the people living in these countries. It is only in India, you see people living life, with almost no material goods but with highest mental satisfaction. At some stage people realize that material goods alone can’t give happiness and there is no end to desires.
I am research scientist who returned to India after spending more than 10 years in the US. I have a great academic position, have a good research program going with excellent funding, and love my life here. Despite the occasional (minor) problem, I think returning to India was the best step I ever took.
Abhi, Excellent article. Feels like heart-to-heart conversation.
Initially when we move from India/Asian country to US or Europe, our main motivation were the culmination of the dreams we saw since our teenhood and many of them conveyed to us via parents, media etc.. about U.S and Europe’s living standards: cleanness, efficiency, modern life, individual independent families who don’t require to dependent on others to get work (professional, private, personal) done, lot of entertainment options, easy and comfortable life. Our academics, goals, desire to outperform others to get best rank, achieve top position to satisfy parents and social status all were pointing to that one main goal. (I know that many chose to live India in spite of getting opportunities to go abroad for various reasons of obligations and objectives.)
After living in U.S for 20+ years, it is quite strange that I (or someone like me) feels that why has all this desire and competition and rat race to get out of India not been the greatest thing (I wont say it was futile but neither that it is the best or great thing that happened)? After 20+ years in U.S, why do I see more fun in chaos that India has? Why western strictness, strict obeyance to law, become a sort of a point of hatred and the ‘sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t’ aspect of Indian system feels like more freedom and fun? Why does stopping over at station and eating from Indian street vendor feels 100 time more mentally satisfying than sitting in western 4 star restaurant by oneself or with someone feel lonely and unsatisfying? Why does Indian system of going to office by travelling in local train, talking to people, reaching office late due to various reason and not standing out from all other who came in office in time, going to tea break in mid day office, leaving office to reach home after another 1 hr train ride, now appears to be more more fun, mentally satisfaying than here in U.S sitting in car reaching office in time everyday, reaching home by car, no small talks, no conversations apart from office work, monotonous weekends or maintenance work around house, seem mentally most boring thing to do?
When going to Mumbai airport on way back to U.S from visit to India, when I saw a boy fixing his fragile antenna after having climbed on top of his house in the slums area and which was surrounded by hundreds of other slum houses, why did I feel that he appeared have 100 times more positive and optimistic outlook towards life, had more fun, freedom of life, careless fun, upbeat approach to life in midst of so many thing that could go wrong, than me an ‘NRI’ ?
What is the answer to these feeling?
Is it that you an virtualize everything except certain things – soil of your country and people who live on that soil….
After years in the U.S which was your dream you overcame that excitement and reached a stage of boredom.
Going to the U.S was a dream and I dia was not appealing . Now that you have seen the other side now the other side looks greener . It’s human. Nothing wrong !
Learning to be happy everywhere at all stages of life is the most difficult art. There is no place in the world that is perfect . Be happy !