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.”
But 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.”