This NRI came back to India, only to leave again in frustration

Red carpet welcome—or not.
Red carpet welcome—or not.
Image: Reuters/Babu
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This question originally appeared on Quora: How is life moving back to India after living in the US for very long on an H-1B? Answer by Deepak Kumar, an Indian expat who lived in the UK between 2009 and 2017, before returning to India. It has been edited for style and minor errors.

I moved to India for about a year and half, from UK after living there for eight years, so hopefully my answer should help.

To give you some background, I was a regular Joe in a regular IT job from 2006 to 2009. I managed to complete an MBA from UK (2009–10) and was working there in large banks as a business analyst until April 2017. My wife and I were both contractors, and were making decent money, which was enough for us to buy a 4.5 BHK apartment in Pune without any loans, afford a Range Rover Evoque in UK, and live in Zone 3, London, on rent (paying a rent of £1,600 (Rs144,000) per month). In short, we were living a very decent life financially, with good set of friends close by—in London and Birmingham—and had very little motivation to go back, except for my mom, who was living in India (but my sister and two nephews were living with her) .

I had a friend in India who was into construction (he was a builder) and his family has a sound background in construction. He wanted to venture into a separate entity with me as a working partner—someone who does not invest money, but works in the capacity of a partner/director—back in 2015. I took a year to confirm, evaluating my options, contemplating whether I should venture into real estate and all the other factors (which I will describe below in a short while). Late in 2015, it started appearing to me as a golden opportunity. I was very clear since the beginning of my UK stint that I will be returning back to India. It was only a question of when, and not why, for me. This opportunity seemed like the perfect answer. So, my friend and I signed a partnership deed in April 2016 and floated our LLP. We began working on a project in Pune and everything seemed hunky-dory. I had started wrapping up in the UK and did not apply for a renewal of my visa. I left the UK in April 2017, on expiry of my Tier-1 visa, for the homeland.

First Day

I landed in India amidst the chaos of demonetisation. We had more than Rs50,000 ($$713) in Rs500 and Rs1,000 denominations, but my sister, who is an ex-IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, had “spoken” with her former colleagues at CSIA (Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport) in Mumbai, where I was landing. So we got a some nice treatment from custom officers and our cash was cleared along with a certificate, so we can deposit it with the RBI (Reserve Bank of India). Also, a lot of our stuff from UK had arrived in the air cargo terminal, and I had to go get it cleared from customs. My ex-IAS sister had her “contacts” there, too. What happened next was my “Welcome to India.” You cannot get your stuff cleared from air cargo unless you have a “customs agent” certified by the government to help you with documentation. You have agents for those certified agents at the gate and you can be charged anywhere from Rs2,000 to Rs8,000. Agent’s agent charged me upfront, and only inside the terminal, I get to meet my certified agent. It was 12pm by then and he very encouragingly said, “Even if god decides to come down and get your stuff, he will not get it today.” I will not get much into the details, but I spent 7 hours in that terminal, running from pillar to post, talking to officers my sister had spoken with, banging my head with the agent, and somehow managed to get all my stuff by 7pm. I was hoping that the rest of my days are not like this, and God please help me like it here. None of that happened.

Remaining 1.5 years in India

  • My flat in Pune, which I mentioned above, which I had bought in 2014, was nowhere near completion, and was almost in the same state as it was in 2016, when I last visited Pune to sign the partnership. The builder had promised me that it will be ready by April 2017, had planned my return according to his promised dates, and was hoping to save on rent and enjoy my abode of my sweat and blood. But, I was not homeless.
  • I decided to give myself and my family a break, before we join the thick of things and so, went back to my home city (now in Jharkhand) for about a month. Power cuts, extreme heat, mosquitoes, drinking water shortages, no roads, scary roads, scary traffic on roads made my and especially my two-year-old daughter’s stay amazing. My daughter was initially quite fascinated to see cows, dogs, cats, insects, ants, mosquitoes…so many other forms of life, roaming so freely. But we had to suffer a lot because of her fascination. She had hand-foot-mouth disease, some sort of viral fever, some sort of insect bite, and a few more diseases. I ended up having two accidents in the two different cars we had bought on our return, and was roughed up by people who had hit my car because of their faults. But, I felt very secure and healthy in India.
  • Went back to Pune to join the business which was suffering a lot, thanks to the recent developments of demonetisation, RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority), and GST (Goods and Services Tax). My partner was striving to keep the business afloat, but we could see the future quite clearly for small-time builders. But, India was the promised land.
  • The place we ultimately lived in Pune was a much smaller rented accommodation, which I had not factored in any of the plans/scenarios. You don’t have inverters? You must be the kinds who enjoy stargazing. Storing water during supply hours is not that important. You can buy the 20-litre bottles which have water collected straight from gaumukh in Gangotri. All this while the builder for my flat kept promising that I will get it in June 2017, then Diwali 2017, then December 2017. Well, he was not wrong, I got the possession of the flat one day before I left India again on Sept.23 2018. But my crores of rupees were well spent.
  • When in September 2017, after delivering a small project of 47 flats, and making no profits at all, we decided to shut shop, I had already started looking out for other ventures and decided to enter the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry. Restaurants were apparently booming in Pune. After spending three months of efforts, zeroing in on location, hiring–restaurant consultants, legal consultants, property consultants, interior designer, carpenter, menu engineers, cocktail experts, facility management services; I found out that it is impossible to have a 100% legal restaurant in India. I will have to pay bribes to get incomplete papers to start the business, and then keep paying bribes as and when asked for. I will have to spend around 18 hours a day in the restaurant, if I want to run it for lunch and dinner, because of the prevalent theft amongst the staff who leave their jobs at the drop of the hat. I would also have to invest all my life’s savings in the business and wait around a year to break even, and so eventually decided not to go ahead with it. But, I was very optimistic about the future.
  • All this while, i.e. for more than six months, my wife who was an engineer and MBA (from Symbiosis) and was in the UK with me for six years, working as a business analyst, was not getting business analyst jobs in India. Forget about leveraging international experience and getting better positions, she was being tested on technical skills, which a business analyst doesn’t actually need. We had hoped her job and salary would help keep the monthly expenses managed, while I figure out all the other options we had considered for our return to India. She was getting frustrated and into self doubt—she wondered if she had done anything worthy in her career so far. Eventually she did land a job, with CitiBank, in January 2018. But, India is not the back office of the world.
  • I realised I would not be good at business, so I too should get back to the corporate world, and I too got a similar cold shoulder, like my wife. I had a cherry on the top of not being in the industry for around eight months now. Ended up working with a startup, only because it had its customers based in north America. But, I was not disheartened.
  • Work culture in India is a million miles away from the West. Don’t expect people to show up before 11:15am, if you scheduled an 11:00am meeting and it does not involve the customers or the senior management. Daily standups at 9:30am? What’s that? The only persons visible in office that time of the day are you and the janitor. Both look at each other—mesmerised. Thinking about maintaining a work-life balance? There will probably a time when that will be possible. If you reach office at 9am and leave at 5:30pm, you’ll be looked at quizzically, and the best part is the frowners will be your reportees. The lunch break is one hour, tea break one is 45 minutes, tea break two is 15 minutes, tea break three is 15 minutes. People leaving office before 7:30pm are not adding any value. There will be pleasantries discussed about you behind your back; amazing and quintessential feedback to the managers above you in the hierarchy; jokes with no sexual connotations; no boot licking; amazing professionalism; amazing etiquette; brilliant ethics and superb delivery of work. Take your people out for a dinner, tell them its on the organisation, and then look at the way orders are made. It’s amazing. But, India is the place to work.
  • Social life is amazing, too. I had around seven friends from my engineering college, five from my school and a few other close friends from my initial days of corporate life , prior to leaving for UK. I had imagined a party every fortnight, if not every weekend. I would watch their back, and they would mine. We would be the support system of each other, like I had in UK. I guess the city life, corporate responsibilities, and having a family changes all that. The friend who lived a stone’s throw away would find time to meet once in six months, others were a little far off, and therefore a little more difficult for them to visit or invite us. I guess, a gap of eight years not living in their vicinity, had created some gaps as well. But, India is full of people, you will never be alone.
  • Parents–My mom and my in-laws were a little far off from Pune. I wanted my mom to live with us in Pune, but she adored her home way too much. I wanted our in-laws to frequent, but their business was thriving and was difficult for them to leave it alone (genuinely). We were back to doing what we did in UK–Facetime/Skype/WhatsApp calls. But, I had traveled all this way to be with them virtually.
  • Relatives—were always there for your support. Need unsolicited advice? Wham!… Buying a car of your choice? Kazaam! how dare you?… Not getting your daughter’s head shaved? Immoral westernised moron! Have vacation plans? We are visiting you!…But, you get the best support from your relatives.
  • Education is relatively inexpensive in (GBP or USD terms), as well as very comforting when you hear about the quality. It will only cost you around Rs1.65 lakh per annum for a toddler’s playgroup, and somewhere around Rs3 lakh for kindergarten in an IB (International Baccalaureate) school of your choice. You can rest assured after that that your child is getting the best education in the world. But, Indian students are still the best in the world.
  • I will not even get into the various forms of pollution as it is well documented elsewhere, and also because they were the least of my concerns.

I am now in Canada, for the past 45 days. Got a PR, and now settling down here. Unfortunately, I could not go back to UK, as I had not planned for a contingency. That’s how brilliant I am! But, I am loving every bit of Canada. Both (My wife and I) have got decent jobs within a month of landing, with decent salaries (although not so decent as in UK). So, my ultimate advice would be, if you have that desire to go back to India, please do so only after creating a backup plan for your return. Be very sure why you are going there, and if that target is missed, prepare for contingency. A natural progression is from good to better to best. And not the other way around. Hope this helps you or others who read this.

Edit 1: Overwhelming response (130k views, 3k upvotes in less than a week) to what I thought would be a diminutive answer in this space, along with numerous encouraging judgements passed on me like “loser,” “sick mentality,” “spewing venom” and the best of all “anti-national” (not ignoring the actual love and support showered), has prompted me to provide some further clarifications:

  1. I am not anti-national and definitely more patriotic than all the keyboard warriors here. I never had any intention to defame my country, and I never will. It was probably my way of expressing my experiences (humour getting replaced by sarcasm ) OR probably the supreme capabilities of those readers who could read what I had not written. However, I will not be ashamed in calling a spade a spade. These were my experiences, and, in no manner, a generalisation implied to entire India.
  2. I still support the families of all the staff (by paying salaries) I had hired, till they find another job (almost a year after we shut down). I, along with some other volunteers, ran a few road safety campaigns, standing on the roads of Pune trying to make people aware of the hazards, and getting more blessings in return, relentlessly for a few weeks. There was no use, still I tried my best. Witnessed some horrible accidents, got the victims to hospitals, managed the traffic jams thereafter, begged people to wear helmets, begged students and bike riders to not look into their phones while riding and care about theirs , as well as, other’s lives—not one person listened or paid heed. May be my attempt was not good enough, but I did try to make things right. These are just a couple of examples, and in no way seeking gratification. I hate giving justifications or claiming achievements, but I want to let this be known that I did not just “run away.”
  3. In the answer I have tried to limit my experiences to external factors which were, more or less, beyond my control. Things I could change or act upon have not been mentioned at all. If I mention them, the answer will turn into a 500-page book. So, a sincere request, please do not become mi lords and try passing judgements on my efforts, capabilities, or ingenuity. I have ventured on this forum for helping others, and will keep doing so. Everyone’s still welcome to ask relevant questions, and I will try my best to help.
  4. I am obliged to all the warm wishes, love, and support. Hopefully, whatever little knowledge I have about this world, I will keep sharing…thanks to you all.

Edit 2 : I am overwhelmed by the response this answer is getting, even 2 weeks after it was originally posted (thanks to 3.8k Upvotes). To answer some of the comments I am getting, I recommend reading a couple of my other answers:

  1. Deepak Kumar’s answer to What are your life struggles which leads you to success?
  2. Deepak Kumar’s answer to Has anyone regretted moving to Canada by express entry? Why?

Once again, I appreciate all the love and support.

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