The Non-resident Indian's India

A recent article in in the Wall Street Journal’s online edition was forwarded to a newsgroup I frequent. Called “The Brain Boomerang,” it spoke about Indians who, after years in the US, go back to India.

When researching my book, India Business Checklists, I met people in just this situation. Some find it more difficult to adjust that do non-Indian Americans who’ve never lived there. Returnees look Indian, may still speak Indian languages. But India’s so different from the West, they have a hard time doing business there, or even dealing with the million small hassles of daily life. Others, even if frustrated, are better at dealing with India than Western people who don’t have third-world experience.

Me, I love visiting India and feel right at home there. A line in the article resonated with me: “Leaving India makes you love it, too. Hustle. Innovation. Growth. Golgappas.

blue manBut researching my book was frustrating. Traffic was a major problem. I could barely manage 1-2 interviews a day in person: I had to allow an hour or two of transit time each way because of unpredictable traffic jams. Unlike before – and unlike many Asian cities – the business centers are now dispersed, so interviewees might be anywhere. (On the other hand, people were very helpful, giving me information and introductions.)

People who have projects in India find it harder yet. Here’s the experience of one manager, who responded on the newsgroup. (If the language is unguarded, it wasn’t meant for publication until I asked permission to put it here. Anonymously.)


“Having worked in India for over six years after [graduating from an Indian Institute of Management], then moving to the US for 20+ years, I think I have an idea of both sides – yes, current India too, to an extent, since I go there at least two or three times a year for work.

The biggest issue is corruption – totally rampant. You nearly need to pay someone money to scratch your butt (I’ve personally done the cash-in-briefcase-to-govt-official thing).

“Second, the idea of infinite time – commitments mean little.

“Third, the endless hustling to get anything done.

“On the plus side is the refreshingly aggressive, can-do attitude that the current kids have – I would really like to see them land a succession of powerful kicks on the backsides of slothful babus whose main role seems to be to gum up the works.

“Bigger picture, I don’t think Mother India is mentally ready for the responsibility that a democracy entails. Autocratically run businesses – most of them – do well; democratically managed enterprises – government operations, for example, are mired in self-generated goo.

“Yes, there is always the issue that the government subsidized my education [note: Higher education in India is tax-payer-subsidized] and I need to repay it, that I am a gaddar who got my MBA on some poor guy’s khoon-pasina [blood and sweat] etc.

True. I tried to repay, but they want it in a plain, unmarked brown envelope, small denominations.”

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I'm an international Business Consultant; author of "India Business Checklists" published by John Wiley
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4 Responses to The Non-resident Indian's India

  1. If memory serves me right, I recollect Mahatma Gandhi referring to some book about India in his time as “the gutter inspector’s report”. Some of the comments made by this IIM graduate makes it appear that all is lost in India.

    In my opinion, India is like the proverbial elephant and depending on which part you touch, you come back with a different conclusion as to what you encountered.

    I visited India just a about a week ago and I can tell you that the airports in New Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore were top class and were better than Chicago, Newark and DFW that we passed through on the same trip. The service on the Jet airways flight far exceeded that on the American Airlines flight that we took on one of the legs. And while driving on the road from Poona to Bombay, I felt like we were driving from Dallas to San Antonio.

    Sure there are lot of problems and poverty but it appears to me that these islands of excellence are expanding rather than contracting and I saw way more optimism among the people in Bangalore than I see in Dallas.

    In my opinion, to the careless observer, on the surface things may seem hopeless but those of us who grew up there should be able to recognize that the trajectory is clearly upward and there is no cause for despair about the future of India.

  2. Renu says:

    Even I feel that higher education should not be subsidised, let the people pay if they want to study, and then even if they go outside we don’t have to worry. There should be financial assistance for those who can’t afford and they should have certain responsibilities towards the country after completing.

    For traffic jams, aren’t they there in NYC?..They are the bye product of over populated cities, but we Indians always follow the rules, wait there indefinitely without cribbing, but the same people when they are in India, want everything to happen in a jiffy, have scant regard for any rules, and still crib about everything.
    Does anyone leave his/ her mother if she is not well qualified or beautiful or resourceful? then why this attitude for our country? why not stay and try to make it better?

    First we must do something for our country and then ask it what it has given us or crib…

  3. Rupa Bose says:

    It’s true NYC has traffic jams, as does almost every large city in the world… it was somehow the combination of far-flung destinations and unpredictable traffic that made it so difficult. But you’re right – that isn’t a reason to leave India (it wasn’t mine).

  4. Rupa, what I find amusing and annoying is that the foreigners of Indian origin seem to be constantly surprised by India. Once they leave, most tend to forget (want to??) India and the way things were. Nothing has changed. Intensity has gone up. Population explosion in the urban cities, with Infrastructure unable to cope up (due to lack of political will). At the same time, everyone wants to ‘me for myself’ and screw the system.
    I have cousins in the US who are clear that they will never return to India.
    I tell my children to get out of this country only because opportunity is never equal. You need a political godfather or a pile of wealth to succeed. Or you have to be a law breaker to emerge. Behind every Ambani or a Narayanmurthy, there will be enough dirt to clog up any sewage. US gives you the breaks, if you have the talent.

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