To Return or Not to Return (to India), That is the Question!

3 years ago, my family moved back home to India after a decade long stay in the U.S. I often hear questions from friends and co-workers about the move and the experience. For some in the U.S., the dilemma can be overbearing — while India is home we long to return, U.S. offers the prospect of a better life. At the end of the day, each one has to find an answer that is right for their context and situation. Having spent a few years in India since moving back, I am sharing what I have learnt on this side of the shore. If you are in a similar dilemma, hopefully, this article takes you a step closer to your decision that’s right for you.

Compare Mangoes with Mangoes, Not with Peaches

At whatever stage of life you may be, the thought of returning to India evokes a comparison. Am I better off now in the U.S. versus what I would be back home if I were to return? This question in itself, however, is a non-starter. If you materially compare your current life in the U.S. with the future life in India, you will never return home. Period. It’s a left-brain decision and there’s nothing wrong with it. But allow me to offer you another perspective for comparison.

Compare the country that India was when you left to the country that you might come back to now.

Are you going to fare better in India now — with the education, the work experience, the culture, and everything else that you picked up during your stay in the U.S. — relative to when you didn’t have these perspectives? If the answer is yes, then you still have a choice to make.

Have You Found the One?

After starting work in India, I went on a lunch with someone who had interviewed me for the role prior to my move. This person had returned back a few years earlier from a longer stint in the U.S. He said something explicitly that in hindsight is the most critical question to answer before you chose to move back. “Life in India can wear you down. Things will not work as expected and it can get frustrating”, he said, followed by,

At the end of the day, what matters is how strongly you are committed to that one reason for which you moved back and that will keep you here in spite of all the chaos.

For my wife and I, that reason was always to raise our child in India. This country challenges you in a way very few environments can. In between all the noise and lack of structure, there are hidden lessons to deal the ambiguity with poise. Limited resources and hard constraints force creative solutions. There is no dearth in the diversity of problems to tackle head-on — you just need to discover what moves you inside. With the right stimulus and like-minded community around you, if you spend the formative years of your life in such an environment, you could choose to move pretty much anywhere else in the world when you are ready.

There is High Cost to Quality

There’s one important practical aspect of life in India that you have to factor in your decision making. Whether you are looking to hire a maid or exploring options for school for your kids in India, the cost increases exponentially for every increment in quality. This is where you will need to sit-down with a pen and paper (or your favorite app for financial planning), extrapolate the lifestyle you seek in India, and match your goals with your income and investments. Depending on what you desire, this can be a sticker shock.

It is quite possible that you may end up spending more in India if you seek the same quality that you are used to experiencing in the U.S. for certain products or services.

Real estate is a prime example. In the city of Bangalore, it is common to find a variance as high as 300% in the land cost in neighboring communities within a mile depending on reliability of water supply, quality of roads, and ease of commute.

But What About the Quality of Life?

It is easy to assume that life in any other country with a better infrastructure will correlate to a better quality of life. This is true, however, only to a certain extent. Having access to economy that fairly values your skill, clean pollution-free environment, a stable infrastructure that can support your children’s generation, and access and means to lead a life you want are all important but they do not guarantee quality of life.

Through experience and learning, I now believe that quality of life is the quality of your consciousness (shout out to Nithya for this insight). You could have all of the above niceties and own the biggest mansion on Beverly Hills but still could make choices leading to a poor quality of life. Or, you could find the exact opposite in between exploding shells and flying bullets while defending your country with such clarity of thought and determined purpose that most of us seldom experience.

In Conclusion…

So, no matter where you live, once you have done enough to reasonably meet the basic needs of your lifestyle, the next jump in the quality of your life is not going to come from external factors. It will depend on what you cultivate inside of you — the quality of your thoughts. I will leave it there since that’s a whole another topic for yet another time and I am still learning the ropes. I hope this offers one more perspective amongst the many you need to make your decision on where on this planet you choose to build an abode for your family! Bon voyage!

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