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Returning Home to India

July 25th, 2004 · 1 Comment

The New York Times writes:

Drawn by a booming economy, in which outsourcing is playing a crucial role, and the money to buy the lifestyle they had in America, Indians are returning in large numbers, many to this high-technology hub.

What began as a trickle in the late 1990’s is now substantial enough to be talked about as a “reverse brain drain.” By one estimate, there are 35,000 “returned nonresident Indians” in Bangalore, with many more scattered across India.

For this still developing country, the implications of the reverse migration are potentially vast.

For decades, it has watched many of its best-educated move abroad, never to come back. Now a small portion of that talent is returning, their influence amplified beyond their numbers by their high-level skills and education, new cultural perspective and, in many cases, ample wealth. They are both staffing and starting companies, 110 of which set up shop in Bangalore in just the year that ended in March.

In some cases, they are seeking to refashion India implicitly in America’s image. It takes leaving and returning, said Arjun Kalyanpur, a radiologist who returned in 1999, to ask, “Why should my country be any less than the country I was in?”

This impulse is not universally welcomed by some Indians who never left and who see a globalized elite – many of whom now carry American passports, not Indian – importing a Western culture as distorting in its way as British colonialism.

Still, returned reformers are already sparking change. Srikanth Nadhamuni, who helped design the Intel Pentium chip, is now applying his formidable skills to designing a software platform that could revolutionize the administration of India’s local governments.

Lathika Pai, one of the few women in India’s high-technology sector, is trying to bring America’s best practices for working mothers to the B2K Corporation, her business-process outsourcing company. Others are trying to encourage schools to teach critical thinking, or force government to be more responsive to citizens.

S. Nagarajan, an entrepreneur, calls it “brain gain.” “They have not come back just as they went there,” he said.

The returnees describe identities in flux, riddled with continuing questions about what to cook, what holidays to celebrate, what languages to speak, and how to interact with a country that sometimes seems as foreign as the United States once did.

Tags: Emerging Markets

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