NRI Ki Jubaani - When a NRI Returns… Observations and Experiences

As I stepped on the tarmac with tired feet and luggage which was growing heavier by the minute….I was hit by muggy and humid air which sat on my body like a wet blanket. Entering the airport terminal, the cacophony of countless voices and the jostling bodies made it all seem surreal. The sour faced policemen were herding all of us like cattle with their baton and looking down at us with disdain as if we were more of ‘dharti pe bojh’ than 'humans’. Hubs looked at me and said ‘Welcome to India’.

The word ‘NRI’ (Non Resident Indian or Non Returning Indian or Non Required Indian)  lost its importance the moment ‘IT’' boom pierced the eardrums of Indians in the year 2004. The frenetic pace at which the ‘IT ‘crowd hauled abroad actually spoiled chances of ‘Non- IT’ people like us, to stand out in the crowd. Now, nearly each house  has someone in ‘pardes’ (foreign land) working for a software firm or doing a Masters in USA, UK or Australia.

With the increasing economic development in India and the growth of opportunities, the tide is turning now and many NRI’s like me are coming home. This decision is met with raised eyebrows and skeptical looks by people who moved abroad many years ago and have now settled down on ‘phoren’ shores. They think it is a bad move to give up the lifestyle one gets used to while living abroad. On the other hand, my Indian brethren are doubtful of my return and are already making it their business to sniff out the real reason. Their assumption being ‘They were not able to make it big  outside India, tch tch..losers, so they have come back’. 

After living for 3 years in Lancaster, UK, hubs and I decided to move back to India. Since this was our first journey back home in 3 years, we were quite excited to meet our family and friends. The image of India we carried in our mind and heart was of an India which we had left 3 years ago. Though we had heard of the rapid economic growth in India, the mall culture and increasing disposable income, the cultural shock that I felt was even larger than what it was when I landed in UK.

My hometown Nagpur, was a laid back place earlier where the cows and street dogs could sleep undisturbed, bang in the middle of a main road during rush hour. Now, the cows and dogs are still there but the pace of life has become faster and flashier, standard of living has increased, wallets have become fatter and people have become very lifestyle conscious.

The steep increase in cost of things right from milk to dining at a restaurant jolted my brain so much that it did a flip inside my skull. I had to unscrew the top of my head  to flip it back in its correct place. Some of these prices can now compete in the European market and even win.

After I landed on Indian soil, I realized that the things which earlier did not bother me much and also some aspects of being an Indian which I took for granted have gotten amplified by many degrees.

On one hand India has some things which are incomparable with any place and which I terribly missed during my stay abroad.
  • The amazing variety of food and super delicious desserts. My taste buds did a tango and jumped with joy the moment they came across exotic flavors they had missed in the past three years.
  • The luxury of having someone helping you clean up dishes and mop up the house. No longer do I have to worry about broken nails and aching back.
  • Family support and love you receive from them, help you to face problems
  • There is never a dull moment because of numerous festivals, marriage functions and birthday parties. Social life is alive and kicking.
  • Shops stay open quite late, unlike Lancaster, where the shops shut at 5 pm and the town wears a deserted look in the evening. No need to plan in advance when I want to go shopping.
  • The colorful festivals, colorful clothes, bollywood movies and Indian culture which attracts many people to India from all over the world. I missed ‘Diwali’ for the past three years. Gone are the days, when I would be wrapped up in warm clothes and trudging across town in freezing weather on Diwali, envious of friends having a great time in India.
  • Have said bye bye to depressing wet and cold weather and have said hello to bucketful of sunshine.

    And on the other hand less said the better :

    • A few days back I was on the road driving my bike behind a shiny Mercedes Benz. Down rolled the car window, a pair of puckered lips peeped out and a splash of red Betel Nut juice colored the road. It was disconcerting to see an educated person being so callous. I feel that the education has been wasted on such people who don’t care about their own country. Not that I did not see people spitting on the street in UK, but these people were very few and far in between.  
    • If you are bored and stressed while driving your vehicle in India, honking the  horn at random frequent intervals even when the stretch of road in front of you is relatively free is the favorite pastime. Better still, when you are the 20th vehicle in a row standing at a traffic signal and the moment the signal turns green, it is your prime responsibility to keep your finger pressed down on your car horn. Because the ‘duffer’ standing first in line is color blind and the 19 vehicles standing behind him will uniformly blast their horns to let him know that the signal has changed to green.
    • The first day I landed in India, all sounds on the road seem to be coming out through super boom amplifiers. It hurt my ears and I realized that the noise pollution is extremely high. On my first bike ride on Nagpur roads there were quite a few times when I jumped out of my skin when a horn blasted close to my ears and my heart shot up through my throat and just about stopped falling on the road but was saved because my mouth was shut.
    • Indians are in a hurry to be ahead of everyone, be it at a traffic signal, standing in a queue or when getting down from a bus, train or plane. Our genes have that special something which makes us ruthless and impolite, if we see someone else getting ahead of us. We will push people, stamp on feet and have a complete disregard  for normal human behavior the moment a train approaches a station or the plane taxies at the airport. These situations trigger a panic reaction and we switch on cell phones even when the sign in the plane says it’s dangerous, we will haul luggage and block the aisle in the train (or Plane) and just not care if we are disturbing other passengers.
    • A simple job of renewing your driving license can cause you so much grief. Bureaucracy and red tape will urge you to seek help from a middleman who will charge a couple of hundred bucks to make your life simple. Thus we get caught in the cycle of corruption.
      Indians are known worldwide for these bad habits and in spite of taking such giant strides towards becoming a super power, the attitude of ‘Sab Chalta Hai’ is the biggest hurdle on our path to success.

      Living on foreign soil means you have  limited rights plus a totally different culture which just does not make you feel at home. The decision to move back to India was prompted by a combination of reasons.  Mainly to be close to family and share our joys and sorrow with them and to explore the booming economy of India. Also, both hubs and I felt the need to belong, a desire to be identified with Indian community and culture. A desire to get back to the social circle and reach out to old friends and not feel isolated. 

      We landed here with such a dream in our minds to find out that our situation has become like a “laundryman’s dog” (Dhobi Ka Kutta) who neither belongs here nor there. We lost touch with friends in India and many others have moved on and we are no longer a part of their tightly knit circle of friends. We had to leave behind the friendships which we made in Lancaster, relations have scattered and language of friendship now needs an interpreter. The bright spot in this changed situation is family, which thankfully has not changed and has welcomed us with open arms.

      I am confident that in a matter of months, we will learn to realign our thoughts and behavior to match with those of people here. Very soon, we will stop cribbing about the dust and the pollution. Very soon we will ask our NRI friends ‘When do you plan to be back home?’ and thus our assimilation would be complete and we would no longer be NRI’s.


      1. Lovely post..can't say how much I agree...Road manners was something that I had previously never gave much attention to, except disdain for the betelnut, pan/gutkha showers. But the basic lack of courtesy and this 'sab jaldi mein hai' attitude is so galling..Hope you adjust back soon. Nagpur is indeed a pretty town, was there last year - one of my last assignments - the General Elections. Orange burfis..yumm..tank up on them for me too...:)

      2. We are in a hurry, aren't we? time to wait coz the early bird gets the worm. It has become dog eat dog here. The noise is unbearable...the autos create most of it and we have too many of them.
        But my heart says we will improve and learn as we grow.
        welcome back again and hope you enjoy the nice things and as you say learn to ignore the not so good ones!

      3. re driving license, perhaps it depends on state. in tamilnadu there is so much help available online. (personal experience), its easy to know the rules. and when we know the rules, we don't get intimidated and there lesser chances for corruption.

        prices have risen and also the gap. earlier it was relatively easier for the middleclass to aspire now, when it comes to professional courses, its almost out of reach for the middle class.

        all the best:)

      4. welcome home :)
        you have it all sorted out!

      5. thats really well penned... today itself I was wondering abt the spitting habit of indians... its totally gross... maybe its because of the chalta hai attitude that India is still not a superpower...

      6. A pan-spitting uncivilized person riding a Merc. All I can say is 'it happens only in India'.
        And do not lose heart Lazy P. This is your country after all where you were born and brought up. Just give it a little time and I'm sure you'll be able re-establish contact with old friends.

      7. Good Post, Vinita, u write from the heart and observe the changes around very well. Like i state, India is a difficult country to inhabit, but once u belong here u jst cannot leave it for anyhting else.Hope u adjust and find ure bearings soon! Love.

      8. So you are back with a bang. But then everything you have experienced after coming back was at the back of your mind cos you wee born and brought up here :). Some things like traffic sense or pan spitting will probably take a generation to cure but once an Indian always an Indian. I think that is why you decided to come back. Focus on the warmth and comforts and let other things fade in the background. I am sure you'll love it soon!

      9. Well 5 years ago roads in Nagpur were far far far better comparable to a European place called Copenhagen ( or so it was said by the then commissioner T. Chandrasekhar) Now, that face lift and charm seems to be gone. The population of this so called laid back city surely has increased to around 3 million people.One thing that hasn't changed is the appalling state of a practically non existent public transport system. But undoubtedly it has become a more happening place. Welcome back.

      10. That was one well written post LP! Loved the lucidity of thought and reactions. Well, India will be India and Indians will be Indians, but it is still our own, isn't it? Let's hope that future generations of Indians have a hand in bringing about a sea change in civic behaviour vis-a-vis western countries.You will fit in place sooner than you realise! :)

      11. Great post as always, Vinita! Now, I know what to expect in the next 6 months. I am sure we will be greeted with similar attitudes adn our friends here cannot believe we are choosing to leave the land of milk adn honey, to move back home!
        Hope you are having loads of fun. I am looking forward to finally meeting you:-))

      12. He he! Knew you would take up this topic LP :-) Agree with almost everything you have said. Esp. the 'need to be first' in everything, and not wanting to wait for our turn :-)

      13. Welcome back! :)
        Nice frank observations these were! Thoroughly enjoyed the post! :)

      14. Didn't really expect such a viewpoint from you. Surely, India hasn't changed that much in three years. we spat then, spit now- only vehicle changed; we honked then and we honk now, only no. and variety of horns changed; we ate more Indian food then and now eat burgers an pizzas, but we always overate. It's the same dear. Welcome home. Its only place where you can return to and find happiness. Anyother place that you remeber as fun isn't same the second time you go there.

      15. wow...I remember the day when I landed to Mumbai Airport and the guy who was sitting there was laughing and asked me what happened dude. Australia dint agree to keep you at their soil :P

        I was like oh yeah, I missed India. Frankly India is far better then Western Countries (My personal exp.)

        Its been almost 9month I am back from Oz life and I am good to be back in my country.

        Note: Not even for single moment I miss Oz. Its all gone :)

        Cheers !!!

      16. How we all wish India / Indians to change (for the better), esp. when it comes to showing some civic sense and congeniality. But funny thing is we need to go to 'phoren' lands to really understand what we're doing to our country.

        Whatever said an done, there's no place like home. Where we truly belong. Let's all hope that someday we'll have a cleaner, less noisier better enjoy all the good things that we have at hand :) Welcome home!

      17. i can think of that dhoobi ka kutta saying, though, it's sad but it's the way NRI's are looked at ....that they aren't Indian.....they may have Indian origin or related to India....but they are still thought of as outsiders.....

      18. Somehow missed this post. I know its a bit different when u return since u now know what it is to have no traffic and have people stand in line and not cut them:-) its just a question of time and I am sure u will settle down into a routine quickly...

      19. Welcome to India and Welcome to Nagpur as well... You must be amazed by looking how much things have changed at the hometown. Now you can explore lot more eating joints and malls... things have changed a lot and face of Nagpur has become brighter... Oh yes pollution has gone up... but then... it is growing at a rapid pace!

        (Just a suggestion: I love reading your posts more than the caption contest... so keep writing more) :)

      20. Very well put Vinita... and I saw you on your bike at the Coffe house square.. enjoying ur ride in between the honkers.. Sad we could not meet though.. :) So hows you doing? Any chances of you visiting bglore... do come to my house..

      21. Well written as usual. And yes my heart also keeps jumping through my throat on a number of occasions...

        And WELCOME BACK!

      22. Moved back to India 8 years ago, after 8 years of studying and working in the US. Had no issues whatsoever moving back and I think it is because the move was a definite one, no second thoughts, no dangling strings to take up again, no option for the move to be any but successful.

        The huge point in your post is the one that is least highlighted - the feeling of being one with your skin, being first citizen, regardless of what that means. Did you know that you can become a citizen of most nations but the Indian citizenship is not something you can get naturalized easily? It is very much a privilege.

        Wish as much space had been given to the pros as to the things-to-be-improved-by-all-of-us section!

      23. hey welcome back! and U r from NGP?? I am from Bhilai..u may have heard of it.


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