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The Art of Returning to India

If you’ve previously visited the blog, you may have noticed that the blog title used to be Return to Accustomed Earth. It was a play on Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories – Unaccustomed Earth. You’ll note that the new blog title is The Art of Returning to India…and Staying PutStaying Put is an important suffix because if you’ve returned to India for say, 2 years, and then gone back to America/Canada/wherever, the return didn’t fully happen, right? A different way of decomposing the blog title is to state that returning to India is a two-step process:

  • Step 1: Acquire terminal velocity to make the move (inertia is a powerful thing)
  • Step 2: Retain sufficient positive momentum (if the positives continue to outweigh the negatives for you, you’ll stay)

18 months after our move, after talking to numerous folks who did similar moves and hearing about others who have since returned to America, it struck me that this returning to India business is more an art rather than a science.

Let’s start with some definitions. The related tag cloud for science would look something like this: research, planning, rational, repeatable, deterministic, technique, predictable. The corresponding tag cloud for art would look like this: beauty, random, feeling, impulsive, emotions, unpredictable, affairs of the heart, maverick, irrational, impractical. Do you see where I’m going with this?

If you are an active-should-we or a passive-should-we (defined here –  Two Types of Immigrants), you might have different ways to slice and dice the return to India decision. Shalin Shah (a passive-should-we at MoneyVidya) captured a comprehensive list of pros and cons of moving to India. As I’ve noted earlier, it’s a handful of reasons (no more than 2 or 3) that usually tip the tide and make most of the cons fade away into the background. Based on the sample of population of folks who’ve returned, the top three reasons that have inspired them are: 1) Strong sense of wanting to be close to their aging parents, 2) Higher comfort with India (instead of their adopted country) as their home land, and 3) Career growth. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people.

Except for reason #3 (career growth), the other two reasons require a leap of faith to pull yourself from the clutches of inertia into a terminal velocity. There’s rarely such a thing as perfect timing (at least in foresight) nor can one feed all the variables into a mathematical model and expect a magical answer. Hence my growing belief that it is the art (not science) of returning to India. This applies also to the staying put part of the equation. Compared to US, Canada or Europe, there are few environmental variables that are within your control in India. The weather and your destination city’s pollution and/or pollen counts might conspire to make the family’s health miserable. Or you might find out that the dream job which you accepted isn’t as dreamy or strategic as you had expected (and your destination city doesn’t have too many companies matching your industry vertical). You could get lucky too – if you are an outdoors person, might discover that your destination city offers a ton of outdoor activity options. In short, there’s a fair bit of randomness which finally determines whether you end up staying put in India.

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