A Brain Drain In Reverse, Back To India Amid the global recession, the Indian economy is still relatively strong, and many Indians living in the United States have decided to head home — for better jobs and lifestyles.
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A Brain Drain In Reverse, Back To India

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A Brain Drain In Reverse, Back To India

A Brain Drain In Reverse, Back To India

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington.


And at out California studios, NPR West, I'm Renee Montagne. The poem on the Statue of Liberty offers a welcome to the world's immigrants: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

INSKEEP: If India had a similar gateway, it might need a poem of its own. Something like give me back my huddled masses. Young people whose families came to America are now taking their skills in the other direction. They're seeking better economic opportunities. Commentator Sandip Roy took a trip to India and spoke with some people who've returned there.

SANDIP ROY: We call it the X+1 syndrome. I'll go back to India after X years in America. Except that X keeps changing: Let's work a couple of years, how about that green card? But it seems if there ever was a time to go home again, it's now. There are even Bollywood films about R-2-I, return to India.

(Soundbite of song)

ROY: It's your motherland, the song says. It's calling out to you.

Now there are R-2-I Web sites with advice on everything from who's hiring in Bangalore to how much gold you can bring home. When I ask Indians why they're heading back, they'll usually give the same answer.

Mr. VIKRAM DASU: I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time with my parents, which I've missed in the past decade or so.

ROY: But the elderly parents have always been there. It's more than mom's home cooking that's pulling Vikram Dasu back after 12 years.

Mr. DASU: And I'm also looking forward to the new India, you know, the opportunities that it offers.

ROY: While most of the world's economies are grappling with the recession, India's GDP still grew seven percent last year.

Mr. MANU ITTINA (Animator): I kept watching India very closely on a weekly basis.

ROY: Manu Ittina worked with a friend of mine at DreamWorks in the Bay Area. He's done films like "Shrek 2" and "Madagascar." At 25 he moved to India to set up Takshaa, his own animation studio in Bangalore.

Mr. ITTINA: Timing. Timing was a big key thing. So I felt the pressure, given my age and that if I didn't do it now, I would miss out on a very huge opportunity.

ROY: One researcher predicts that in the next five years up to 100,000 Indians will leave America. They'll find an India of shiny malls and caramel macchiatos, where motorized rickshaw drivers have cell phones and American accents aren't so special anymore. I met an executive who told me that in his first week back in Bangalore, a young woman told him, At least let go of that American accent when you're not working. She thought he worked at a call center.

But in other ways, India stubbornly remains India. Kitty Singh moved from California to Gurgaon, near New Delhi. Like many returnees, she lives in a gated community with manicured lawns and turquoise swimming pools and servants: a cook, a driver, a maid - maybe two maids.

Ms. KITTY SINGH: Kids whose maids, you know, will bring down their school bags or even if there's a kid going to the swimming pool, the maid will carry their towel behind them. You know, my kids will occasionally be like Didi can clean up my toys. And I'm always, like, no.

And the reverse of what my parents would say to me when I was a kid, which is, no, you can't get your hair cut. No, you can't go to the mall, you're Indian. I find myself saying things like - to my kids, like, you're American. I don't care if your friends' maids pick up their stuff. But that's not how I'm raising my children.

ROY: Kitty says she didn't realize how much of a bubble she was living in until her brother visited from the U.S.

Ms. SINGH: Since both of us were up at 5:00, we took a couple of rounds around the building in our early morning, you know, catching-up walks. And he's like, this is ridiculous. Why are we making circles around the building? And what -after three years what I didn't know was all the pavements outside are full of people who are still asleep, in all these years had no idea that the pavements just outside my door are full of people sleeping at 5:00 in the morning.

ROY: The culture shock is even more profound for a new generation of returnees. Well, you can't really call them that. Sridhar Venkatesh was born in America. His parents were part of the brain drain from India. Now, Sridhar and his family live in a brand new five-bedroom mansion in Chennai on a windswept beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal.

When Sridhar set up his first big meeting with India's largest telecom company, his chief engineer told him he couldn't be there.

Mr. SRIDHAR VENKATESH (Works for Telecom Company): He said, Oh, sorry, I can't come on Tuesday. It was apparently the religious function was going on that day in his house. And I said, you know, we can't - you know, it's not that easy to get a meeting with them. You know, we've got to do it. And he said, No, there's no way I can do it. My parents won't let me. Come on, here, we're working now, you're a grown man, you know. But in the end, we did end up having to move the meeting.

ROY: It shouldn't have surprised Sridhar too much. He knows India. His parents took him and his brother there often so that they wouldn't lose touch with their roots. I guess it worked a little too well.

Mr. VENKATESH: You know, they weren't too happy about the fact that we're moving back and they know that their life is in the U.S. It's in San Diego. All of their immediate family over the years have moved. And my kids are the only grandkids that they have. And so even now when I talk to them, every now and then I'll get a question like, oh, you know, so how long is this? You know, do you think may be next year you'll come back?

ROY: Sridhar and his wife, Deepa, and their three little boys are in no hurry to go back.

Ms. DEEPA VENKATESH: I mean, we just never know where life is going to take us. The education system is excellent. They're little kids, but they have learned so much more than they would have, you know, in the educational system, I think, in the U.S. And I look forward to them going through the system here and maybe possibly going back there for their university education.

ROY: First, Sridhar's parents have to deal with something else. Recently their other son, Mukund, cleaned out his apartment in San Francisco, bought himself a one-way ticket and joined his brother in India.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Sandip Roy is an editor with New America Media and host of New America Now on KALW in San Francisco.

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