My US stay that began in September 1988 ended with my return to India in May 1992. I had quit NYNEX six months ago and spent that period in California working at a company as a precursor to coming back (with a friend) in a possible JV.
My return journey took me via Singapore. That was the most convenient way to come to Mumbai from San Francisco. The transit time in Singapore was about 12 hours. I went to meet a person who ran a big trading business out of Singapore. I still remember meeting him at his office and seeing the huge Singapore port in the window from his office. He talked about Singapore and all that it had accomplished. I was riveted with his success story — after all, I was en route to India to become an entrepreneur.
When I landed in Mumbai, I had a distressing experience. The Customs officers would not pass my PC which I had got on Transfer of Residence. They arbitrarily assessed it at a high value, and wanted money to clear it. The odds were stacked against me given the discretionary powers vested in the officers.
I spent the next 6 hours (my first 6 hours back in India) at the airport going from one counter to another — I was determined that I would not pay them anything that was not official. My mother waited patiently outside. It took inordinately long to get the paperwork done – and I left the airport in the wee hours of the morning without the PC. For that, I had to come back the next day to meet some Assessment Officer, and pay money (by cheque) before I could get the PC out.
The contrast between Singapore and India that encompassed a single day could not have been more stark. And even today, as I look back 18 years ago, even though things have improved in India, I cannot but help think of our lost decades that stunted a generation. Even today, we are still not able to outgrow the wrong turns we took post-Independence.