February 20, 2007

Back to India?

So, I've been mulling over this for years (four to be precise - I spent the the first 2 and a 1/2 years ahem...studying for my Masters and the next 1/2 year frantically looking for a job here). So for four years, I have revisited the same argument:

To pack up and go back to India for good vs staying put.

It seems to me that NRIs suffer from a "Kal'la Chakram" syndrome (badly translates to a wheel bound to our legs :p); we want to leave India desperately (alright, don't huff and puff now, "Some of us, not all" - there, happy now?) to come here for whatever reason - in pursuit of a higher academic milieu, in pursuit of $, in pursuit of comfort and happiness - and then you would think that we bask in the glory of our achievements and look at the world with the equivalent of a satisfied burp? Naah, we want to run like the wind!

Back to India!

We talk about it at length, some of us dare to pack up and go back, some of us go back and then come running back and then there are the rest of us, that just talk about it. On and on, an unending stream of arguments, never tiring of playing the devil's advocate...a few of us even claim to have found "home" here in the US, and then wonder in the middle of the night if we still have enough reasons to support that claim and then we fall asleep wondering. Maybe our dreams will point us in the right direction?

By now, I have heard arguments from different sections of people, each section in itself offering different viewpoints, all true, quite interesting and conflicting:

- the back-then NRIs

The original settlers, "Back in 1976 your uncle traveled all the way to US with just Rs.500 in hand..." - those people. Comfortably wealthy, trademark SUV and a car, 2 kids, custom-made puja room in own house, meets with other such NRIs every weekend for potlucks and such.

They are (seem?) happy in America and do not have any intentions of traveling back to India.

- the aspiring NRIs

Finished Masters, found a job, just-married, looking for a house, planning on starting a family.

This group has started thinking about going back to India, but probably won't. I mean, visualize the excited look in her eyes as she picks out the right throw pillows for the couch or the right curtains for the hall. Think of the happy glint on his face (Wife happy-->No nagging-->husband happy :) They are just way too excited to move on with their life here to consider going back seriously.

But every other weekend discusses going back with friends, cousins, parents, anyone who would listen! Misses home.

- visiting US for a short project (work related)

Inspired by the life style here, pleasantly surprised with the traffic, wide roads, cleanliness and general comforts this country has to offer but also miss home a lot. May/may not go back. Definitely considering (at least talking about) going back for good.

- in India.

Never seen America. Don't plan to or want to (but might yield to childrens' pleas :)

My parents for instance and probably yours too :) What kind of a culture will the grandkids grow up with? What if they want to date, eat meat, marry a "foreigner"?

(There are several groups of NRIs that fall in between these categories; irrespective of the category, the confusion remains!)

Of course these are also concerns of the younger age-groups showcased above, along with which they also worry about their parents back in India. Why not just drop everything and go back to your parents? Maybe you can't, maybe you need the money for your parents' medicare back in India, for a sister's wedding...(Yeah, yeah, "thoda filmy", I know but life is stranger than fiction and life inspires fiction, not the other way around). And thus we let ourselves get pulled into a discussion that will never conclude until we go back for good. Or we eventually wake up one day and realize it's our Sashtiabdhapoorthi tomorrow and our kids don't even know what it is! Maybe they will know - "Mom, pop touched 60, ain't that like awesome?! Totally rad! Let's go like party!")

If you are a woman reading this post, you will of course know that we have a slew of additional issues to consider - day care in the US (too expensive, feel too guilty, your kid catches a ear infection from another kid every other week; back to India? No part-time, long work hours; Stay-at-home-mom - loss of confidence, "Am I a burden?", "I am worth nothing" and related positive feelings :)


Maybe we are just stuck like the man in the hamster wheel running away from now, to relive his past in the future?

Just like we came here to the promised land, in pursuit of several promises, some of us go back in pursuit of what we left behind. Some of us don't. I don't know for sure what I am pursuing now.

Maybe it's as simple as...happiness.

Image from


Chakra Sampath said...

Your post is very close to reality.. i fall into the second category.. we live in UK and the question we have every weekend is slightly more complicated. Do we go back after getting the Brit citizenship? or do we stay in UK as Indian? or do we get the Brit passport and stay here forever..

the argument continues...

IBH said...

Second week of march is THE day for us :)

Subha said...

Precisely written..:) I am seriously considering leaving but I am not sure which category I fall in yet! Perhaps, one year down the line, I might become complacent and settle down here?!!

If something motivates me strongly to go back, I think its got to be the temples, the way of life, the history and the general culture of the land I was born in. I think that pull is perhaps far stronger for me than anything the US can offer. So I think but we'll see soon enough. Not that you asked me about my plans but just blurted it out...:))

Zeppelin said...

i have to say three months do it aaaaaaaaaallllll for me and two days of the week... I have always, right from the day I came to the US wanted to go back.. lotsa reasons..

three months - january- pongal, oct/nov - diwali, dec - music season...oh and also the temple urchavams - especially Kapalesshwarar temple, mylapore (every march or something)... and of course my parents... with them I've shared a level of understanding that I have not had with ANYBODY at all..

of course from the US you can plan trips to almost anywhere because the "green" here is greener than elsewhere.... :) and I am hoping to get all my wanderlust quenched by the time I am all packed and fly one last time to go my own Madras... :)

Zeppelin said...

oh and i forgot to mention about the two days of the week.. the weekends... when my mom makes some of my favourite stuff to eat..:)

p.s. - sorry for the spam and the slightly dyslexic nature of the comment.. but just too much nostalgia and work and commenting goin on at the same time.. :D (and the brain has only two lobes :D:D:D).. ok.. sorry.. :D :))

Music Fan said...

yes there are several categories in between the broad categories u mentioned..... worst is when husband and wife want different things... I am one of the weird and my hubby are quite sure that we want to stay here and you would think I would sleep peacefully.....NO... i wake up in the night wondering... whats wrong with me? why dont I want to go back and stuff like that and hence the chakra continues...good post...would love to read u write more of these categories..

ramesh said...

Lucidly written..:)I decipher an awful lot of confusion right from the post...I travel the same road, but being single keeps things really simple :-)

Zeppelin said...

ibh - THE day ???

Manchus said...

Great post!! I was someone who strongly believed that I need to go back to India. That was 6 yrs ago. But everytime I visit India, it is an eye opener for me. Good thing is I am away from family politics (can't even imagine living in Kanpur my in-laws place for more than a month). And we always debate on where to settle Bangalore (my place) or Noida (closer to Knpr). So ultimately, decided to stay here. And of course when I think about how safe I feel here (no eve-teasing) etc..I feel it is a good decision I made. But time will tell what is good and what is not!!

RT said... much for the conversation we had yesterday:-)

The One said...

First time here and great post!

I am not sure where do I fit in - probably somewhere in between.

Came here for college, single - and think about going to the new India - aka, to run, start, head something - and not mud wrestling as in Swades!

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

RS said...

chakra sampath - green cards and citizenships just make the whole process more difficult...sigh.

ibh - cool, girl! Go for it!

subha - Let's compare notes after 5 years :)

zep - of course singers need their "home" to perform their best! I undershtaand! Me likes dyslexic comments :p :)

music fan - wow! Thats yet another way to complicate this process! And thanks :)

ramesh - I agree, women do bring in a lot of confusion just by being themselves :p

manchus - hmm, yes, it's a love-hate relationship I guess, which is why it takes so much maintenance!

rt - lol, we should continue the discussion!

the one - who knows, indeed.

sb said...

"Maybe we are just stuck like the man in the hamster wheel running away from now, to relive his past in the future?"
sums it up.
I would say the in the past thirty yrs (time between the then NRI's and now) the GAP has narrowed a lot. The lifestyle between here and India is not so Black or white anymore, it kind falls in the grey area. So a lot of us are considering and many of them are successful.

India_or_US said...

We live in US for more than 7 years now. This is a very interesting post and I can't stop from making a comment here. Fortunate enough that my wife always says that - we will stay together wherever we live and she and me has a very same thinking pattern.

I think - to go back or to stay put - is a personal decision which can be influenced by many factors e.g., family in India, health of parents, responsibilities, business venture, lack of friends in US and child's educational and cultural issues that may arise contradicting to parents in future.

Many will stay and never go back and many will go back for good. Both the groups will be happy and sad on some or the other issues and may be on different socio and economic problems the country they live. Its all about what you want to gain and what to lose. Sometime this thin line is crossed many times and people never can decide. I have seen many people - even after living in US for long time (say 15 years), they still thrive to go back but have no practical desire or plans simply because they are not sure what the gain-lose line is and where it ends?

Some play it safe - get a GC and citizenship and then go back to have one door open all the time if the plan fails. Personal choice!

If you try to see where the life balances at different parts of will be the winner of your own happiness, everlasting!

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