Should NRI’s Return to India? – Shoba Narayan

Should NRI’s ‘return to India?’is the question highlighted by the book, ‘Return to India’ by Shoba Narayan. Before you think that the author has written a book-full of advice, let me tell you that the book only deals with one person’s experience, point of view and dilemma on whether their family should come back from the United States to India.

“The problems for immigrants like me is that we are equally at ease in two disparate cultures and, therefore, fit into neither. We belong to both countries, yet choose neither”

That ‘equally at ease in two disparate cultures’, Indian and American, actually depends on which part of the book you are reading. While reading the first half of the book, we come across the liberal, fun-loving, independence-seeking, anti-Indian (of the pre-liberalized era) and rebellious side of the author.

“I had resolved to fall in love with a stranger and penetrate the intimacies of another culture. Yet here I was, making choices that would take me back home, to the place where I began my journey. It was like a movie that stopped halfway and then started playing in reverse. What had happened to me?”

The second half of the book is quite different from the first half. The reader is  surprised to learn that the protagonist chooses to get married through the traditional ‘arranged marriage’ system. At least, I didn’t expect that! But what’s more startling is how one’s personality can take a U-turn post-marriage and post-child birth. That’s what happens in this book. The protagonist suddenly becomes conservative, pro-Indian and contemplative.

“Most immigrants I knew didn’t want to return to their home countries. While they missed certain things, they had put it behind them and grown roots in America. They had acclimatized and become Americans, both legally and emotionally”

Throughout, the author maintains a balanced perspective. The tone of the book (to the credit of the author) is not biased. The author mentions the advantages and limitations of being an NRI in a foreign land. Yes, America is (partially) viewed as a foreign country by the author, in-spite of having lived there for 17 years, in-spite of having obtained the green-card and in-spite of having become a naturalized citizen.

“My family’s return to India was a dream, and dreams were prettier when they remained just that – blowey, diaphanous and distant”

As you can see, returning to India was not about ‘living happily ever after’. The author does not make such a claim anywhere in the book. And she doesn’t view India as a sleeping elephant, either. She acknowledges that there might be practical advantages in moving back to India.

“In a sense, India was like New York, I mused, only hotter and more crowded. You had to have a sense of humour to live in India, just as you needed one to live in New York.”

What were those practical advantages of moving back to India? Being nearer to parents and being accessible to them when they needed their children, was perhaps the chiefest of them all. Both husband and wife seem to agree to this. Other advantages are highlighted as well, but one main factor that stands out, is the contrasting styles of child-rearing and  the challenges faced in growing them into young, responsible adults.

“I believed that as a mother with young children, I had to choose to be an Indian because I was; because I couldn’t escape it. And if that meant negating the American part of myself, then so be it. That was the price I had to pay in order to preserve my Indian heritage and pass it on to my kids”

But the dilemma of the author is evident. Why scuttle a happy and a settled life in New York for a new and perhaps unpredictable life in India? Will they be as happy and as contended in India, as they were in the United States? Will the professional aspects and the educational aspects of India, live up to the high expectations of NRI’s?

This is the part in the book that has not been dealt with, to the satisfaction of the reader. The maybe/maybe not aspect of the risk they are about to take is evident, but still the author wants to go ahead with it.

“India had become my grand obsession. I wasn’t sure why, perhaps because it seemed so far away, so fabled and unattainable – like America, like my green card. India had become my America. How ironic was that?”

Ha ha. Did you expect to read these lines? Neither did I 🙂 But mind you, what appears as a search of cultural identity, connecting back to the roots, getting back to home is definitely not based on emotional grounds alone. A lot of thinking and a lot of logic has gone into the decision, and the author shares a few of them openly and doesn’t share few others. Perhaps NRI’s with kids might be able to read more than what is written in the book!

The consistent style of writing and sublime humour (employed at appropriate places) makes the reading light, and even enjoyable. Of course, you are reading non-fiction, mind you. So, it’s not racy or anything.

Would this book help NRI’s to come to a decision on whether to come back to India? It might. But beware, it might also add to the dilemma!

I feel that people who are about to leave the Indian shores in search of fairy tales, idealism and perpetual happiness should also read this book. It will help them develop a more balanced attitude, without actually getting discouraged.


You can buy Return to India from Flipkart.com if you live in India.

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12 Replies to “Should NRI’s Return to India? – Shoba Narayan”

  1. Nothing new. NRIs and their emotional issues have been written many times by many authors for more than 20 years now. Want to write more. But will stop here.

  2. I think all depends from person to person. For me, it was more of a personal and family decision to move back to India after 12 yrs in Singapore. For some it would be financial, for some kids, for some their old parents…the lists are endless. So, there is no simple answer for this.

  3. The NRIs face these dilemmas all the time!
    Have seen many friends who keep weighing the pros and cons… Big fat bank balances, high standard of living, great education and job opportunities, better infra structure vs nostalgia, food and festivals, emotional bonds, friends and relatives etc. And there are some who are very clear about their priorities in life!
    Sounds like an interesting book.

  4. Hope the book gives a detail perspective on living here and abroad. Like you said in last line, balance attitude is very important and we can’t come to a certain decision which holds best, but most of the time emotions bring back to home.

  5. I missed out on this book. Reading your review has made it even more clear why I should read it at least once.. I want to see how she has dealt with the dilemna.

    Good review btw 🙂

  6. Looks like an interesting read!

    Some of my relatives think of India all the time when they are in the UK and the US and after coming here for a month’s holiday (they get bored towards the end!), they start thinking of going back. It is very difficult to decide and varies from person to person.

    Your review/opinion is very good, D.I.

  7. Loved reading your review DI!
    This is a very interesting book, it seems. I would love to read it. I don’t mind being anywhere as long as I get to visit India whenever I want (and that can sometimes be a perpetual feeling). But sometimes, to be frank, I just want to be near my loved ones and I feel that’s the only criterion that plays a huge role but is often affected by practicality, ofcourse!

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