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India Calling: Indian Americans seek promise in land of heritage

BANGALORE (Reuters) - Miki Kapoor’s parents left India nearly 30 years ago for America, a place that promised tremendous opportunities. Fast forward to 2009 and Kapoor has moved to India -- for the very same reason.

People walk near the historic India Gate during the evening in New Delhi in this December 14, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

As India emerges on the world stage, Kapoor and many other second-generation Indian Americans are being drawn to the land of their forefathers, looking not only to tap economic prospects, but also to get in touch with their roots and experience India’s multiculturalism first hand.

From aspiring actors to professionals armed with Ivy League degrees and entrepreneurs, an increasing number of “returnees” have been making this giant leap over the last few years, at times giving up lucrative careers in the process.

“It was the lure of freedom to pursue what you want to pursue on your own terms that brought me here,” said Raj Shroff, a Mumbai-based actor and model.

Shroff, who grew up in Texas, said the decision to move was spurred by his interest in Indian culture, literature, philosophy and music.

“It was just something I felt like I wanted to do and wanted to see first hand, as opposed to just reading about it or seeing it on TV or through a movie. I wanted to live it.”

The unparalleled growth in the Indian economy and the arrival of multinational corporations has afforded the opportunities to move for many of these “returnees.”

And a globalised and modernised India today has made the adjustment process easier.

The availability of familiar comforts like fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, designer labels like Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton, and a buzzing nightlife in the country’s major cities are perks that were unavailable a few years ago.

“This is a really fascinating time to be in India, for a unique time in its history,” said Bangalore-based Nandu Madhava.

For Madhava, a Harvard Business School graduate who runs a start-up, India offered several advantages -- a large family, a sizeable talent pool and a better work-life balance.

But while the allure of India may be too good to pass up, the actual transition is not without hurdles.

Often, the parents of the “returnees” were unhappy with their children’s decision to move to the country they had left years earlier.

“The first six months I moved here my dad would ask me every time I talked to him: ‘So when are you coming back?’” said Meeta Baphna, who moved to India in 2007.


“India is not an easy place to live. It’s not hostile, it’s very hospitable... but it’s not easy,” Goldman Sachs Bangalore Chief Executive Bunty Bohra said.

The work environment in India is different -- the rigid hierarchy, interactions with co-workers and even the infamous concept of Indian Standard Time.

“It’s been interesting to see the difference between work culture here and in the States. Time is a very abstract concept and that took a little bit getting used to,” said entrepreneur Vaman Kamath.

Kamath, who founded a public speaking consultancy, has found his own way to deal with it: “I just show up on time, but what I’ve learned to do is have something (else) to do.”

However, certain aspects of the Indian work culture, such as taking the time to make business relationships more personal, have led to pleasant surprises like wedding invites.

“Once you get over the need for speed, to get everything done, it actually makes it a lot more enjoyable,” said Kapoor, who is in India on a Fulbright scholarship.

India has also taught the “returnees” much more.

“I think I’ve learned a lot about being flexible and being adaptable,” said Kamath.

“India is not about perfection, it is about making the most out of a situation you have been given.”

Editing by Tony Tharakan