My Experience of Returning to India After Spending a Decade in the USA

All rights reserved. Copyright: Ashish Gupta

Note: Short guide for the first 30 days in India

Moving back to India was not an easy decision. My wife and I spent more than a year deliberating on this topic. In this article, I elaborate on the various aspects that factored into our decision and also share my experiences after moving back to India. I know several people who are in a similar situation and I hope that they will find this useful.

Parents

The biggest reason I moved back to India was to be close to my parents. I had spent the first 1200 weeks of my life living with them. In the 9 years that I was in USA, I spent only 36 weeks with them. The thought that most of the time that I would get to spend with my parents is already past me used to make me miserable.

Moving back to India, I took at job at Google, Bangalore. My parents live in Roorkee where my father works as a visiting faculty at IIT Roorkee. They spend 2 month of summer break and 1 month of winter break with us every year. We also get to meet on special occasions like Diwali, Holi and my son?s birthday. We meet several times in a year and somehow this gives me a feeling of being closer to them than I felt living in USA. My father went through some health issues a few years back and required several months of treatment. Being in Bangalore, it was very convenient to take care of his medical needs while balancing work.

I was a kid when I had left home. After returning to India, for the first time, I got a chance to observe my parents as an adult. I realized that in the time that I spent away from them, my parents had learnt to live alone. In fact, they love their independence. They love being in-charge of their day-to-day life ? what they cook, when they eat, who they meet, where they shop, what they watch on TV, paying their bills and so on. While they are really happy that I am now closer to them and they come to meet us very frequently, they want to choose when to hangout with us and when to be on their own. Being in control of their life is important for their happiness and health. My parents are about to leave Roorkee and move to Bangalore. We will ensure that they continue to have their independence even when they live closer to us.

For most people that I know, being close to parents is the biggest reason people consider moving back to India. If I had the option of having my parents move to USA with me, I would have taken that up. That option was categorically ruled out by my parents since they did not want to start their life from scratch in a new culture. We had also considered the option of deferring our move back to India to a time when (and if) our parents needed our physical support. However, in the end, we decided to put a premium on the opportunity of spending quality time with them and this was the biggest reason we moved back to India.

Social Life

The second reason I moved back was social life. I grew up in a colony where my family was closely connected with about 20 other families. The kids used to play together every evening. Families used to meet every evening for tea and often over dinner. We used to celebrate festivals together. We used to help each other out financially as well as in emergencies. When a special dish was cooked in one home, it would be shared with others.

In USA, social interactions required a lot more planning, confirmations, re-confirmations and were usually limited to the weekends. I missed India especially on special occasions like birthdays and festivals. I lived like an Indian in USA. USA always welcomed me with open arms. I made some really great local friends when I was in grad-school. Despite this, I always carried a feeling of uneasiness within me ? a feeling of being out of place, of being away from home.

It took us about a year to settle down in India and there were lot of frustrating moments and shocks during the initial setting period (more details in the section below called Resources and Infrastructure). However, as things settled down, the feeling of uneasiness that I carried in USA went away and I started feeling at home again.

In the last decade or so, India too has become capitalistic with more and more people working too long and earning too much. The side effects of capitalism like consumerism, competition and isolation have also started creeping into the Indian society. Things are still better than USA since there is still a greater diversity of Indians here than in the USA and it is easier to make connections ? I have a good set of friends who I meet frequently. Moving back to India has also allowed me to be closer to my extended family with frequent meetings. The third reason for a richer social life here is our son ? kid?s playground is a great place to make friends.

Overall, I am happier with my social life in India than I was in USA. I am also very happy to not have the lingering feeling of being out of place that I carried in USA.

Kid

The third reason we moved to India was that my wife and I were unsure of how we would feel to have an American child. Even when I lived in the USA, I lived like an Indian. We were pretty clear that if we raise our child in the USA, we would not want him to feel like an outsider. However, we were not sure how we would feel to raise an American child.

My wife and I finally convinced ourselves that we want to take the middle-ground. We decided to raise our kid as an Indian, but also provide him with the awareness and resources so that he can live his grown up life anywhere he chooses.

I see my reflection in my son. To see my memes transfer to him gives me a positive stroke. However, now that I am a parent, I also feel that no matter where I had lived, I would have loved my son the same. It is hard to imagine any circumstance where I would not feel unconditional love and attachment with my son. My son is just 3 years old ? I think Indian parents whose kids have grown up in USA will be in a better position to comment on the issues, if any, they face.

Medical Facilities

Moving back to India, one of our fears was that of being stuck in traffic in case of a medical emergency. While the emergency response in India is still far from what it is in the USA, ambulance and hospital coverage has significantly improved in India over the last few years, especially in big cities like Bangalore.

There are top class medical facilities and highly qualified doctors in India, many with extensive experience of working in USA. Unless you are suffering from a problem for which the treatment is still in the realm of experimentation, you will get good treatment for it in India at a fraction of what it would cost in USA. The best way to find a reliable doctor and avoid quacks is to go based on personal references ? over the years, living here, we have sufficient connections that we feel quite confident about finding suitable doctors when needed. Getting to hospital in case of emergencies does take time due to traffic and poor ambulance availability, but this too is improving with better civic sense in people for giving way to ambulances and due to improvement in ambulance availability. There is still a long way to go ? especially, for people suffering from chronic conditions or disability, the support structure in USA is far more advanced than India.

Resources and Infrastructure

I lived in the USA for 9 years. For the first couple of years, each day brought new experiences ? giant onions, Walmart, fast interstates, large cars, variety of cuisines, multiplex cinemas, fast internet connection, huge malls, airline connectivity.

The digital revolution in India started just around the time I moved here. Within a few years of moving here, we were able to take care of a lot of needs like grocery shopping, buying clothes, finding plumbers, doing interiors or renting a house online. India?s startup boom has created a large upper middle class and an even larger lower middle class. Since we now have a market, more and more international chains are opening their shops in India, especially in big cities like Mumbai and Bangalore. Bangalore has huge malls with international brands, speciality restaurants with cuisines from all over the world, large multiplex cinemas, theme parks and resorts. We have fast internet connection. Airline connectivity between major Indian cities is impressive. It is possible and affordable to hire help for all kinds of needs (However, constant reminders and close inspection is required to ensure high quality results). My son will find USA to be a lot more like India than I did.

The quality of public infrastructure, in particular, roads is still pretty bad in several places. Pollution and over-crowded roads is a real problem. My wife and son suffer from allergic rhinitis due to pollution. Commuting even for short distances takes crazy amount of time and thus impacts life decisions like where to live. Traffic rules are violated as per convenience and road rage is pretty common.

Seeing water being shipped through tankers every day makes it amply clear how fragile the entire living arrangement is, and recent water riots between Tamilnadu and Karnataka brought the seemingly futuristic water wars right to our doorsteps. There are regular power cuts which need to be compensated through power backup if you can afford it. (I am quite optimistic about the future of renewable energy and thus feel that water and energy problems will be solved within our children?s lifetime.)

Hollywood movies usually depict USA as a concrete jungle. That is the image I had when I first moved there. I was pleasantly surprised to see how green USA really is ? My frequent trips to places like Smokey Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Hawaii made me really appreciate USA?s beauty. In contract, most parts of India are very dry and barren. Most places that would have been beautiful in their pristine form are no longer so due to over-population, unregulated deforestation and trash.

Majority of Indian population is still economically challenged and struggles to meet the basic needs like food, clothing, shelter and sanitation. After moving to India, everywhere I would go, all I could see was problems. It took me almost a year to get used to this state of reality and was the biggest and most difficult adjustment I had to make after moving back ? I used to spend days brooding over these problems and was unable to carry on with my work. I am now more used to seeing these issues without getting completely bogged down – I do hope to spend more of my time in future in service to help improve living conditions in India.

India significantly lacks behind USA in resources and infrastructure. This is an adjustment you will have to make if you move to India.

Career

I had moved to USA in search of better career opportunities. Moving back to India, future of my career was my biggest worry. I was worried about losing great job opportunities, peer group, dollar salary and learning experiences. I had heard horror stories of politics in Indian companies and was not ready to deal with that.

Google India is a miniature version of Google USA. The quality of peer group is the same, work culture is similar, facilities are similar and salary is satisfactory. Relocation to other Google offices is fairly easy as well. Google made moving back to India possible for me.

I moved to India in 2011 ? just around the time when digital revolution was picking up speed. More and more US companies are setting their shops here and VC money is pouring in, encouraging entrepreneurs to create new opportunities. These jobs are offering extremely competitive salaries and good work environment. Since many of these companies require you to work with US counterparts, if you are talented and have prior US experience, you might find it easier to stand out in India than in the USA.

I have never done business in my life. I have never been part of an early stage startup either. However, I have heard from multiple friends that doing business in India is still not that easy.

All emotional reasons aside, I am pretty sure that I will not stay in India if I find my career getting compromised.

Conclusion

Between USA and India, neither place is absolutely better or absolutely worse ? in either place, you gain a few things and you need to make a few compromises. Where you choose to live is a very personal decision that depends on your circumstances, preferences and timing as life keeps evolving and our perceptions and needs change with it. I had lived a decade of my life in USA and overall, I was very happy there, but frequent thought of India. I have now lived 5 years in India after moving back and overall, I am very happy here too, but do think of my life in USA from time to time.

If you are in USA and seriously considering moving back to India, one message that you should take away from my experience is that your life after moving back to India will be much less like the life you remember and more likely to be similar to the life you are presently living in USA. If you move back to India, your life experiences are unlikely to move back in time ? life needs to keep moving forward.

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