Why would you leave the West for India?


Rahul is one British Indian who decided to go to India

Rising numbers of people of Indian origin born in the West are moving "back" to the country their parents left decades ago. With India's economy growing faster than America or Britain's, the BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan has been speaking to some of the new wave of "reverse migrants" who are seeking opportunities as well as a cultural connection.

I am more Indian than my parents. Officially, anyway.

To me this is more than an irony. Mum and Dad were born in India, speak the languages, cook the food properly, and know all the customs and cultures.

I, on the other hand, was born in Aylesbury in the UK, raised in Milton Keynes, and spent the best part of a decade living in London. I have a very British sense of humour, can just about tie a sari and have still never managed to roll a decent chappati.

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But in the eyes of the law, I'm now the more "Indian" one.

While my parents gave up their Indian passports many years back, last October I became an "Overseas Citizen of India" - also known as an OCI card holder. Those with one retain their nationality, but are also issued a lifelong visa for India, allowing them to work and live in the country indefinitely.

The scheme, which began in 2005, is open to the grandchildren and children of people born in India as well as former Indian nationals. Since its inception, it has been taken up by more than a million people and is just one sign of a growing reverse trend, where the children of those who left their country decades ago, are moving to India.

Rajiv Khatri is one such example. He moved to the southern city of Bangalore from America. I meet him and his three friends, all OCI card holders from the US, as they tuck into French fries and nachos.

Rajiv Khatri and family Rajiv Khatri now calls India home

When Rajiv packed his bags for India four years ago, his parents were less than impressed.

"They were very stressed out and frustrated at me moving here. Even now, they're still praying that I go back to the US."

Rajiv's father left India in 1972, his mother followed in 1978, building a successful and stable life in the US. That their children, (Rajiv's brother has also moved to India) are chasing opportunity on the other side of the globe, is a fact hard to comprehend.

They're not alone, so many of the generation who left India in the 1960s and 1970s (my parents included) find it hard to understand why their children would give up the so-called American or British dream, in search of the opposite, the Indian dream.

Rajiv says he cannot imagine moving back to America anytime soon. As an entrepreneur, he runs a health and wellness start-up - 360living.in - with two other bright and articulate Indian Americans who moved to India, Rahul Thadani and Raj Chinai.

Rajiv says that he, his wife Sarah and their three children have a better lifestyle than they had Stateside, but the real pull was being able to connect to the India he had heard about, but never really knew.

"I was always seen as different in the US, and I always had cultural and ancestral roots to India - so for me coming back to India is a bit like coming 'home' - in so many ways it's where I come from. I wanted to have a greater impact from where my roots are and I think for a lot of people who are of Indian origin that's one of the driving factors."

Being able to straddle American and Indian sensibilities makes the move far easier for movers of Indian origin, as they're already familiar with customs, traditions and language.

Start Quote

I think every British Indian has it - it's that question of 'where do I come from?'”

End Quote Rahul Bathija

"A lot of non-Indians coming here might not be able to relate to Indians as well, I feel like I'm almost a liaison between the US and India," says Rahul Thadani, who relocated from New York to Bangalore seven years ago.

"The talent and education in the US is very strong and people are bringing those skills and applying them here."

I meet Rajiv and his friends in the Bangalore branch of the Hard Rock Cafe. With soft rock piping from the speakers and David Bowie and Hendrix pictures hanging on the walls, it feels like we could be anywhere in the world.

The increasing Westernisation of India has made it much easier and more comfortable for people to move here. It is a far cry from the India this group of thirty-somethings visited on family holidays in the 1980s.

Valerie moved to India from the US Valerie, 29, from the US. "India is not for the faint-hearted. But the opportunities are so exciting. No market is saturated, and there's a lot of room to innovate."
Rahul also moved over from the US Rahul, 37, from the US. "My parents had anticipated that I'd go back to the States, but five years on, I'm still here."
Elise, 30, from UK Elise, 30, from UK. "India has an exciting arts scene, and I'm working on the kinds of projects that wouldn't be possible back home."
Marco, 25, Mumbai Marco, 25, from Italy. "There is very little globally-focused work in Italy. The economy isn't doing well. Mumbai was very tough to start with but I've acclimatised and I now love it."
Igor, 23, Mumbai Igor, 23, from Brazil. "I wanted to work in another Brics country to broaden my knowledge and take that home with me. Whenever I tell anyone where I'm from, their eyes light up."
Sean and his wife Archana Sean, from the US, and Archana. "For us the Indian dream is the chance to bear witness to the incredible transformation happening in modern India and hopefully nudge it for the better."
Vir and Malika, from the US. Vir, from the US, and Malika, from Canada. "Our dream is to embark upon exciting opportunities and positively impact society. The difference is that in India right now, across many levels, it's possible."

The big change in India came in 1991, when it opened up its economy to the world after years of protectionism and an economic crisis. As governments subsequently slashed tariffs, a middle class emerged and poverty plummeted at the fastest rate in the country's history.

Today's India still has many problems - grinding poverty and malnutrition, corruption, poor infrastructure, inordinate amounts of bureaucracy - but it also has new wealth and opportunity, which is attracting entrepreneurial talent from around the world. The latest figures for the UK, for example, show that a record 30,000 people left Britain to make a life in India in 2010, a figure which is likely to have risen since.

A decade ago, maybe even less, if you told someone you were moving to India, you would be met with a raised eyebrow. One of my university friends told me I'd be "setting my career back" when I once discussed my dream of living in India.

'Money to be made'

For those who moved some time ago, like Rahul Bathija, the shift in attitudes has been apparent.

Born and raised in Birmingham in the English Midlands, Rahul moved to India in 1996, and was one of the few expats in Mumbai, which was then still called Bombay.

"India was a very slow developing economy at that point, and people looked at it and said 'What are you doing in India?'. Whereas now people say, 'Wow, you're in India'.

"Back then, we didn't have the fast food that was here... There weren't a variety of restaurants... Dress codes have changed, the country is less conservative than before and business dealings have become a lot more professional."

Today, Rahul Bathija is an entrepreneur at the helm of a successful mobile phone company, Bling Accessories, which makes cases and screen guards. He saw opportunity in an expanding but nascent mobile phone market in India. But, setting up a company in India is anything but plain sailing, he says stressing that his first few attempts at business in India failed.

American Sid Shah who relocated to Mumbai Sid Shah swapped LA for Mumbai to make money

The rewards for those who can navigate the hurdles and frustrations can be extremely lucrative. India's economy might be growing at a slower pace than previous years, but it still is expanding at a rate around the 5% mark, compared with Western economies which are stagnating. This is becoming a magnet for some of the brightest graduates, looking for lucrative markets. It's what lured Sid Shah, 35, from Los Angeles to Mumbai - Hollywood to Bollywood.

A hip Californian, who went to a prestigious business school in the US, Shah's company The Wild East works with big celebrities to build brands. He was already doing a similar thing in LA, but decided it made better business sense to move operations to India. The Wild East name reflects the untamed nature of the market here.

"The biggest reason I'm here is because of the opportunity plain and simple. That's the only reason you'd leave a relatively very highly paid job in Los Angeles to move to a place that doesn't quite understand what you're doing... and to a place that is also quite uncertain," says Sid.

The equation for him is straightforward: "I'm here because there's 1.2bn people and a lot of ways to service them, and at the end of the day I think there's a lot of money to be made," he says, adding that even a small dent in the vast Indian market has the potential to be larger than the US population.

'Burning question'

There are other reasons why the children of Indian migrants are heading east - a better quality of life, where domestic help means you avoid cooking and cleaning and spend more time with the family, and a lower cost of living are also commonly cited.

File photo: Indian immigrants in Britain Much has changed since the first wave of Indian immigrants arrived in Britain

But there is another which is harder to define, which Rahul Bathija describes as the "burning question".

"I think every British Indian has it - it's that question of 'where do I come from?'

"Being born and brought up in England you have many questions about your culture - I think you can only answer those when you come here and you realise what's happening in India."

For others like Savitha Vij, who moved to Mumbai with her husband Vikas and their children, living in India means no longer being a visible minority. Savitha says she experienced racism while growing up in the UK, and hopes the move will mean her children aren't subjected to the same.

"In the UK I'm second generation, yet I still get asked, 'Where are you from?'. There's always a question mark that you're not from there.

"What I love about being here in India is that we get looked at as one of our own, for me that's something important I can give to the children."

For so many Indians from overseas who move here, however, there's still a sense of not quite belonging in India either. I still have very British sensibilities, and friends of mine have also been told they're "not Indian enough".

What this new trend is creating is in many ways is a new culture - perhaps like the immigrant culture which has helped to change so much of British and American life - where growing numbers of "reverse migrants" are redefining what the phrase "British Indian" or "Indian American" means.

Almost every day my mother asks me when I'm going back to the UK, but like many of the thousands who have moved here, I'm not sure of the answer.

For now, at least, India is just as much my home.

We want to hear from you. You can contact BBC journalists @Rajiniv and @HasitShah on Twitter, where you can also join the conversation and share your thoughts using the hashtag #bbcindiandream.



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  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 92.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    What you journalists have not realized is; the poverty of India is due to the selfishness of its people - one to another. Rather than focus on the selfishness of repatriates who are just out to make money and satisfy their yearning to belong, it would be better to explore if their return has made us Indians less selfish towards each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.


    To put it another way; it was an age of empires. You either had your own or you were incorporated into another.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.


    2 wrongs don't make a right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Jobs and Infrastructure are important , One has to recall no of migrants to Dubai,Europeans and Asians move to Dubai (despite fact you can never get citizenship), if Dubai did not have the money or had the infrastructure of 1900, doubt if anybody would look it up in the map.If India fails to improve its Infrastructure there is a good chance the economic development could go elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I emulate my indian brothers and sister for the courage they have .I hope and wish their african counterparts can do the same weather their countries are in economic boom or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.


    We Brits for sure didn't start the slave trade (it goes back at least the Old Testament which approves of slavery) but we did one hell of a job turning it into an industrialised scale massacre of whole peoples.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.


    Everything we imposed on other peoples had first been imposed on us by others. We were just particularly good at it. Then those pesky lefties took over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I was born in Uganda, came to Canada, as twenty year old Ugandan refugee after Idi Amin kicked out Ugandans of East Indian origin.
    My education was completed at the University of Toronto. I retired as a high school science teacher.
    With land in Goa, I intend to return to pursue an environmently friendly agenda and educating the locals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    @80 - Those people you reference represent the top % of the top % of a nation of over a billion people. Of course they seem amazing, but they hardly represent the average. You'll find the average person from India to be far far more ordinary. You can never judge a contry by a highly technical diaspora.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I read this and feel lonely. A son of Latin American parents, one Colombian and one Venezuelan, I never felt I was accepted in any of the two countries. So now I live in Canada and at least enjoy a better standard of living.

    But the key, is to be an entrepreneur. It seems that if you care enough about making lots of money, all other considerations are ancillary to your sense of well-being.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The so called reverse migration is amongst a few Indians shown here who are from affluent backgrounds from the West and they can actually afford to live like the rich/well-off in India. They are never/rarely bothered by lack of facilities, corruption and social injustice (caste and reservation both) just like the homegrown elites who for decades have never been affected by these problems.

  • Comment number 80.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Correction. The British never started the slave trade, which had been around for over a thousand years before we used it. But, we banned it, & were instrumental in civilised countries banning it.
    Little credit please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    @Sneezle McWeasel : Absolutely, you rational makes complete sense. A few hundred years ago, you guys jumped into ships, went around the world plundering and looting countries, slaughtered thousands, started slave trade, and got immensely rich out of it. And now you want to sit on a pedestal and pass sanctimonious judgement on your previous colonies when they barely have had time to recover. Bravo

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    Comment number 77.

    I couldn't help noticing that the story doesn't address what must be a very noticeable difference for those raised in the West who return to India: corruption. It would have been informative to hear their views or experiences with that aspect of life in India as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    #75 Cougar I agree but Pakistan is debilitated by war at the moment. A real war on one flank and a latent war on the other. But there are people trying to make it work even in the face of these challenges.

    Anna with investment capital, they can have a higher standard of living in India. I'm guessing as with most parents, they don't want to be separated from their children.

  • Comment number 75.

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    Comment number 74.

    Its interesting they want to return to explore their cultural ties.

    I wonder how many of their parents originally intended to return once they made sufficient money.

    Hopefully they can contribute to economic growth in India and help establish ties with the British export market;-)


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