Some Indians Find It Tough to Go Home Again





NEW DELHI — When 7-year-old Shiva Ayyadurai left Mumbai with his family nearly 40 years ago, he promised himself he would return to India someday to help his country.

In June, Mr. Ayyadurai, now 45, moved from Boston to New Delhi hoping to make good on that promise. An entrepreneur and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a fistful of American degrees, he was the first recruit of an ambitious government program to lure talented scientists of the so-called desi diaspora back to their homeland.

“It seemed perfect,” he said recently of the job opportunity.

It wasn’t.

As Mr. Ayyadurai sees it now, his Western business education met India’s notoriously inefficient, opaque government, and things went downhill from there. Within weeks, he and his boss were at loggerheads. Last month, his job offer was withdrawn. Mr. Ayyadurai has moved back to Boston.

In recent years, Mother India has welcomed back tens of thousands of former emigrants and their offspring. When he visited the United States this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally extended an invitation “to all Indian-Americans and nonresident Indians who wish to return home.” But, like Mr. Ayyadurai, many Indians who spent most of their lives in North America and Europe are finding they can’t go home again.

About 100,000 “returnees” will move from the United States to India in the next five years, estimates Vivek Wadhwa, a research associate at Harvard University who has studied the topic. These repats, as they are known, are drawn by India’s booming economic growth, the chance to wrestle with complex problems and the opportunity to learn more about their heritage. They are joining multinational companies, starting new businesses and even becoming part of India’s sleepy government bureaucracy.

But a study by Mr. Wadhwa and other academics found that 34 percent of repats found it difficult to return to India — compared to just 13 percent of Indian immigrants who found it difficult to settle in the United States. The repats complained about traffic, lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy and pollution.

For many returnees the cultural ties and chance to do good that drew them back are overshadowed by workplace cultures that feel unexpectedly foreign, and can be frustrating. Sometimes returnees discover that they share more in their attitudes and perspectives with other Americans or with the British than with other Indians. Some stay just a few months, some return to the West after a few years...


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