Thursday, August 27, 2009

Going Back to India for Good – Tale of Two of My Friends

Most of us who leave India to go to other countries for studies/job will think of going back to India for good sometime later down the road. I have two friends who had identical educational qualifications who left India almost 10 years back to two different countries with plans to come back after earning some quick bucks.

Both my friends D and M completed bachelors in Civil Engineering from Kerala in 1997. D got an admission for MS in structural engineering from a university in US. M meanwhile did MS in structural engineering from a college in India. Now let us see how their life has changed.

Let us take the life of D. My friend D came to the US, the land of opportunities with great hope and dreams. He dreamt of earning and saving in US dollars and using all those savings to settle back in India. Reality struck him as soon as he landed in US for MS. Life as a student was tough – not the one he was expecting. To make life worse he never got any scholarship during the first three semesters of his studies. He completed his studies by Fall 2000 and he was fully submerged in debt. By the time he graduated the US economy was going south and he had to wait for another 6 months before he could land in a job. Now it is time to pay back the debts. It took him almost 18 months to pay the debts he had incurred during his graduate study. By that time he got his H1B visa and the company applied for his green card.

Now his parents started pressurizing him to get married. All his efforts to buy some time were in vain and within three months of paying of all his debts he got engaged and married two months later. To impress his newly wed wife he bought a new luxury car, furnished his apartment with brand new stuff – as typical of American life everything on loan. Again major part of his salary was now going to repay these debts.

In couple of years his wife got pregnant and soon his two bed room apartment was not spacious enough to accommodate the visiting parents. Like any Indian out there he buys a spacious four bed room house. Now two third of his salary goes to paying the mortgage for this house and he has to meet all the other expenses with the remaining salary. Credit card companies get richer as he started using these cards to cover the expenses over and above what his salary can afford.

I talked to him a few days back and we were talking about his initial plan of going back. He was telling me that all he wants now is to pay off all the loans which he knows will take years. He bought the house when the housing market was peaking and he cannot even dream of selling that in the near future without incurring any loss. He is so preoccupied with how to make both ends meet everyday that going back to India is the last thing in his mind.

Now my other friend M – he finished MS around the end of 2000 from India and got a job in Kuwait as a structural engineer in 2001. He got married like my other friend after working for two years but this friend was well settled in life when he got married. Most of the salary he got was savings for him as he never had to pay for his accommodation nor travel to and from the office nor yearly vacation to India. Within the last eight years he had enough savings to build a house for his family in India and now by this year end starting a structural engineering design company in Kerala and moving from Kuwait for good. He was telling me that he had enough savings to survive for another couple of years in India.

If you are in US the story of my friend D may sound very familiar to you. You may be able to see yourself somewhere in the story I was telling, right? So what is the moral of the story? Once you are in US, you are sucked into the system so much that going back to India (of course if you come here with plans to go back for good once) is really tough compared to going back from other countries. If you add children to this equation, going back from US becomes really tough.

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Blogger scorpiogenius said...

not only in the US, this is the case with many western nations. But I think the situation is more complicated in the States.

August 27, 2009 8:42 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Thank you for sharing this story. It is indeed a powerful one. The other moral of the story is to try not to get sucked into majority opinion and to try to live with less. If your friend in US did not overspend with loans and bought a smaller house and adjusted in that space (as many still do in India...) then the debt may not have incurred so quickly to such a high rate. In US it becomes so easy to live beyond our means, this is true for Americans and as you have shown, immigrants [from India] as well. Just because we can get the credit, we should think thrice before understanding how our budget works. Most of the time easier said than done......

August 27, 2009 12:07 PM  
Blogger nisha g said...

Hai is it a real story or a made up one .

August 27, 2009 12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story of Brijesh's friend who came to the US would appear familiar to most people but I think the tone sent out a message based on which Jennifer assumed that D was living beyond his means and at the same time makes M look a lot smarter than he really is. Is D living beyond his means? Most probably not. He would still be saving 20% of his salary, paying the mortgage, paying off his credit cards without fail, sending his kids to school, might even be going on a vacation somewhere every year. We still haven’t even considered the fact if his wife is even working.

D said he wanted to go back to India and if you asked most Indians in the US you would hear the same response. But how many finally goes back? 5%-10% (if you push the numbers a little higher maybe 15% these days). If the answer is a NO, It makes you appear a little un-patriotic for some reason I guess which makes people choose the default YES answer. So does D really want to go back to India, the answer is most likely a big NO because he invested all his money, energy, time here in the US.. Like the saying goes "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Except buying his expensive car what has he done which people normally don’t do? Everything else has been an investment. A family, house. Brijesh also says that he bought an expensive car to “impress” his wife. Smart guy, Mr. D, I would say. He knows where to spent his money. I would say if you ever spent an extra 15 grand to impress anyone it better be your wife. Hey, whats new in that ? The great Roman general Mark Anthony had to lose everything he had to sleep with Cleopatra (who he subsequently married in BC 41 :)).

Coming back to Jennifer’s comment “If your friend in US did not overspend with loans and bought a smaller house and adjusted in that space (as many still do in India...) then the debt may not have incurred so quickly to such a high rate.”. I am sure our friend Mr. D is not complaining that he did all this.. He is not worried about the debt he owns and he knows that as long as he is in the US, living in his house and he still has his job he will just be fine. He was just answering Brijesh’s million $ Qn “Hello Mr. D.. Whatsup with your plans to return to India?” not knowing that he would be the next days topic of discussion on the world wide web. :)..


August 27, 2009 3:10 PM  
Blogger Karthikeyan said...

I believe what the article gets at is 1) life in the US is not as easy 2) you could have a fulfilling successful life in India with the right experience. I would accept that the article goes to show D in a pretty bad light and M as wise, when reality is much more complicated of course. But, i don't think this article is trying to make a judgment of either D or M, but use it to show life in India in a better light, which even i would say is correct to an extent (unless, you become an unsuspecting victim of our corrupt system).

However, Anon@7:10 picks up on the example, and rightfully shows some gaps in Brijesh's argument, also uses arguments which doesn't help his take either. One could say, even Yudhistira bet on his wife to argue for someone's gambling ways. So, notwithstanding the Roman general's lust for Cleopatra, that point doesn't help his argument that one can spend beyond his means, just because its for his wife.

Also, though i would agree they want to go back as a conditioned response, there might be some truth in the fact that they are caught in the debt trap that prevents them from contemplating that option at all. So, i believe the truth lies somewhere between Brijesh's D and Anon's D.

August 27, 2009 7:31 PM  
Blogger Karthikeyan said...

oops...."they" in the last para of last comment meant desis in US.

August 27, 2009 7:38 PM  
Blogger Prasanna said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 27, 2009 9:40 PM  
Blogger Prasanna said...

In my opinion, the article takes two examples and generalizes a lot. I agree that the system here is designed to have easy access to credit card and sometimes makes people survive on debts. But I believe situation in India is not any different(atleast the current scenario), except that we dont feel the pinch primarily because of the cushion we have in terms of financial support- may be from our family, friends etc., It might not just be financial, but the mere presence of family around you does a world of good.

Coming back to your blog, similar to the stories you have, I know a couple of my friends, who were not able to survive/save even in places like Dubai and Kuwait and had to ultimately return to India because their dreams of saving big there were shattered. Should we immediately start blaming the system there as well because of their experiences. Yes here in the US there is a lot more chances of you falling into the debt pit because the number of investment opportunities is very limited even if you have reasonable savings and yes once you start investing in houses, just paying the mortgage takes a lot effort and you will need to curb costs elsewhere. My point is that system alone is not to be blamed and the people involved need to take responsibility of the choices they make.

I would also like to point you to one other aspect of this "going back to India" deal. I did have a couple of friends go back to India after spending an extended period of time in the US. Invariably, I hear complaints from them whenever I talk to them, about how their work life sucks, how long hours they have to work, how much pressure it puts on their social life and more relevantly how little they are able to save after paying the mortgage for their apartments. In general their complaint is also about the system in place there.

Most of us came/still come to the US thinking it's a country with a bed of roses and the reality cannot be farther from it. I am almost certain that as an immigrant to any country this invariably would be the case. Anywhere, we will need to make certain decisions out of necessity and few out of choice, but I guess we will need learn to balance both. Learning that is probably the most difficult part :).

August 27, 2009 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I beleive that all these issues arises when you dont know what you want in life. In other words one is not satisfied with what/how he is.

If you understand life a litter deeper you wouldnt have to struggle with such social issues.

In India even the common man is more peaceful than many of us.
India has taught "Simple Living & High Thinking" and now its changing for the worse.


August 28, 2009 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's increment the count of people going back for good by four (five soon?)

August 28, 2009 4:45 AM  
Blogger Brijesh Nair said...

nisha g

Yes it is real one..

August 28, 2009 8:19 AM  
Anonymous nish said...

I think it all depends on planning. Our friends who went back to India after 10 years - both husband and wife were working in software field, had a child, got green card and lived in an apartment. I am pretty sure they had more than $100,000 in savings when they left for India. If you mean to go back, plan accordingly - minimize debts and make sure you get into a job which you can easily transfer to India and things will work out.

August 28, 2009 3:56 PM  
Blogger bindhu said...

The situation in India is also not much different than that in US or may be in any other country in case of debts. In India also people are using the credit cards and other loan facilities for satisfying the day to day requirements. The priorities are most important and how you adjust your requirements for the priorities will decide your future. That is the difference as you indicated in D and M

September 04, 2009 5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it doesn't matter where u live (in US/DUBAI/INDIA) it matters how healthy and wealthy you live, enjoy things in that age and save something for old point is saving $100k by living in cramped place without basic facilities and going back to india @45 and riding a YAMAHM motorcycle....Whereever u are try to be happy..MONEY cann't buy happiness..Also remember when we landed is US we all came with 2 suitcases..nothing more.. Easy

November 17, 2009 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the original post had was two generlized scenarios, I am not saying anything wrong with it, but, doesn't paint a picture...

My take on moving back to India is - there is a reason you moved out of India in the first place, you were not happy there, now if you say you want to move back because you are not happy here, guess what, you will not be happy back there as well. It's not the country, it is YOU!

April 29, 2010 6:19 AM  
Blogger rohit said...

"It's not the country, it is YOU!"

now the topic goes towards the character of the person..
just think one goes for MS just because he wants to do research in a feild. now how many of you agree that research is supported in colleges in india??,leave iit and some nit, what about the rest ???..

so its not always that people go to us for jobs...
some go for specialization.
now my question is,
even if one gets a 4 lpa job in bhopal,india and getting a 100th rank cllg in us,that means he would be earning abt 50,000 $pa ..then what should a person do.???????
can one please compare the lifestyle,????..??

October 22, 2010 6:31 PM  

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