NRI Watch: Settling back in India – Good Bad or Ugly

We have now spent 200 days in India and the most recurring question asked to me, during this time, has been “How has been the transformation?”. The curiosity is obvious, as the decision to settle back in India, for most, is often forced upon them. Very rarely does a person return to ‘poor, dirty, crowded India’ by choice. Ditto was my case, I was forced to return back to India. So listed below is our ‘ghar wapsi’ experience.

I will start with the obvious ones first.

1. Dust, pollution, hygiene

Yes pollution levels and dust is higher in India than in any developed country. However I will rate this as bad and not ugly as what we envisage (the worst) of India sitting overseas is not same as the exact colony you are staying in. Plus with Swachh Bharat Mission taking off, the places are relatively cleaner. For example in the last 200 days I haven’t found anyone peeing openly in any of the four cities or the highways we visited – do note we are travel addicts. The regular stench when crossing some city walls has reduced and public toilets are relatively better – but still not fit for any decent woman to use. In my housing society while I have found odd ‘paan’ stains, there has been no littering… in fact in many overseas countries, one can find coke cans thrown around. For an NRI level person, who we are assuming will take a decent house in a good locality in India (same as they have rented or owned overseas), who is expected to sit in an AC car  and drive from his clean housing society to visit malls, offices, markets and back, the impact of dust, pollution, dirt is lesser than assumed.

Overall Rating – BAD

2. People’s professionalism

For a nation that has high “employability” overseas and top of line service in the hospitality sector, the professionalism of people is very bad in India. In quality countries, like singapore, if you send an instruction one time, you don’t need to follow up or keep rechecking whether the person has understood the specifics. The person there will arrive on time and deliver what she/he has committed. In India, you need to do the follow up and explaining, multiple times. The plumber who is due to come at 3pm or driver who is due to come at 5am or the school who are due to send the form – one needs to keep checking multiple times if it’s coming at fixed time or if he/she has understood the requirements clearly or why he/she hasn’t replied on receiving payment etc. Indians are naturally stressed as too much energy is wasted on repeated communications and constantly chasing if ‘kaam ho gaya’ ki nahi?

Overall Rating – UGLY

Navi Mumbai.. yes that GAP is fast reducing!

3. Bureaucracy and clarity of rules

When my shipment was arriving, I got few surprises which were not informed beforehand (refer to the professionalism point above). My five year old television, ten year old digital photo frame, DVD player and I-Pad combined attracted Rs 15,000 customs duty. I wish I had thrown them and not carried home, but for the importance of nostalgia and staying connected with some elements of the past. I don’t see any reason why a family of four can’t have one each of TV, DVD player, I-pad. Rather than paying the amount, I wanted to gift them to customs but for fact that they would then need to open the boxes. Hence I accepted this as an official donation I made to the Government of India. Then, my passport was collected and kept by the Movers and Packers team for a week, during the customs process. I wasn’t aware nor ever communicated that I will be without a passport for a week…and for an Non Resident Indian (NRI) entering India that could be the only ID proof. Once you return, you need to have proper ID proof – Aadhar card is the key here – and till you get your Aadhar card, supporting documents and addresses sorted out, it is pain in opening bank accounts, verification in mobile payments and app based taxi etc. Then if randomly you get a wrong electricity bill or tax deducted, the complaint raising and follow up processes are still weak and painful for a common man.

Overall Rating – BAD

4. Government documentation

India is superior in government documentation processes than presumed. In singapore, one has to carry a truck load of documents for making an Identity proof (Permanent Resident or Citizenship etc) and sit for three hours at the office, despite having online appointment. Often this meant taking a half day off from office. Applying for Aadhar is a breeze process online and if you reach your appointment time slot in time, it takes an average of 15-30mins at the very maximum. For us it took an average of 15mins, both times. There is no physical card, you are given an electronic identity card which you need to laminate and carry as a card. Changing of address in aadhar or ordering gas cylinder or raising an electrical bill related complaints or passport applications are all online. In singapore, change of address meant visiting the local police station.

Overall Rating – GOOD

5. Outsourcing work

While professionalism is low (Point #2), in India you can outsource a lot of your work. In our case, we brought a new apartment and straightaway gave the keys to a good, known and cost effective interior designer. So while we were wrapping up our last four months overseas, the interior team worked day and night, making our house into a tiny dream home we always wished. There is no doubt while we stayed at one of the best condominiums at singapore with unmatched facilities, in terms of home, we got our ideal home in India. Back to the topic of  help, back in India you have the luxury of cheap labour – so a maid, cook, nurse, washer man/ironing guy doing home delivery, milkman at your doorstep and the local grocer happily swinging his bag while delivering your stuff and asking ‘bhabhiji aur kuch chahiye to boliyega’.. is all normal!

Overall Rating – GOOD

Balcony view from our housing society!

6. House

The inherent problem is an NRI always assumes India is dot the way he left his hometown many many years ago. India is rapidly progressing year on year. The point here is when an NRI is returning, he/she is NOT likely to be returning to his/her hometown, but most likely settling in a metro city. The metros have exponentially progressed. In 1990s, 2000s there was hardly any concept of affordable interior design homes; that is no more the case. As told in Point #5, while our house is a dream one (touchwood), the campus is not at par with campuses overseas..yet it is very beautiful and not something which most Indians saw or lived in 2000s. Modern campuses (including ours) have movie theatre rooms, multiple club houses, sewage treatment plants, filtered water coming direct on kitchen tap, mobile app to confirm a visitor’s entry at society’s gate, intercom, cctv on lifts, spacious walking space, basketball court, badminton court, kids play area etc…modern housing condominiums have it all here.

Overall Rating – GOOD

7. Availability of stuff

NRIs would have realized, that over the years, it is a pain to bring gifts for Indians back home. This is because everything, and literally everything, is available in India these days. If you are thinking of carrying Toblerone or Lindt chocolates for relatives back home or that exotic Sri Lankan coffee or even minor goodies like fancy towels or toothbrush holders etc…don’t bother.. India has more MINI SOs than you can imagine sitting there. Everything is available in India. The reasons for which highly qualified and smart NRIs left home for overseas, that gap has massively reduced over the years. To top it all, most NRIs when they visit India, prefer to shop in bulk and pack Indian medicines, masalas, clothes, undergarments, creams, pickles and many other stuff to take them back overseas. So Indian products have increased in value over the years and almost all popular overseas brands are  all available here – from high end clothing to shoes et all.

Overall Rating – GOOD

8. Airports & Malls (Leisure Places)

This is not even a point worth debating. India has six world class airports in World’s Top 20, when most other countries have just 1-2 quality airports to boast of. NRIs who arrive at these airports and misbehave, shout at staff or sneer at things here, mainly due to the feeling of entitlement and superiority complexes, will one day realize that India has much better airports and malls than even the best in Europe or America. It’s good to continue boosting your self-ego, but that gap which you assume, isn’t that big anymore. Now for this point, please don’t compare your Nagpur mall or Ranchi airport to Changi or Munich airport… keep it fair.. compare them to Delhi or Hyderabad or Mumbai or Bengaluru airports or malls in either of these cities.. where you are likely to settle.

Overall Rating – GOOD

9. Public transportation

Traffic is bad in most happening cities of the world, so it sort of evens out. When I say happening, I mean cities with good employment opportunities. Public transportation is in very much nascent stage in India for an NRI coming back. Overseas you have the luxury of quality public transportation as well as owning cars. But here is the catch, everyone in India, at that level, has a car. If not owning a car, like me, worry, not the Ubers and Olas are always at your doorstep. For a retired person like me, two app based taxi rides per week to the malls or theatres come easier than driving the car through the maddening traffic and scurrying for parking space. It’s less stress. However it may not be possible to get app based taxi or auto rickshaws always during peak rainy seasons, so for me I would say I am at a bit of a disadvantage. Also quality public transportation means lower pollution, more safety, good toilets at stations etc. India is some way off from that point. That said, app based taxis will continue to be on the rise as personal cars will decline. A car is the only expensive asset that lies idle 95% of the time and whose value drops by 50% within a minute of purchasing it. So world dynamics suggest that future is only in public transport and app based vehicles.

Overall Rating – BAD

10. Disabled and Aged

India isn’t a very friendly country for the disabled and the aged. On the plus side you can afford a personal nurse to take care and also have your own car or Ola, Uber to take them around. But that dependency on a person or a vehicle stays. Individually, the aged or the disabled will find it extremely tough to manoeuvre here. There are no roads which have smooth pavements for wheelchairs or ones with blind sticks to move on. On top, the masses don’t respect or care much for the disabled or the aged. If they have to push them away to make their way, there is a chance they would. A mentally handicap or physically challenged girl or boy will definitely feel very unsafe and find lack of sensitivity in India.

Overall Rating – UGLY

11. Living costs

It’s tough to judge if India is cheap or expensive. It’s a function of your lifestyle. For a basic lifestyle, India is super cheap. You get branded top of the line smart phones for as low as Rs7000/- ie less than 100 USD.  My monthly television, internet, phone, gas, electricity, water bills, society maintenance for a family of four is approx Rs 10000/- ie roughly 130 USD. The equivalent for this in singapore was 600 USD. Add maid costs, washerman/dhobi costs, grocery bills, taxi trips and all standard monthly costs, a family of four can live in India comfortably within Rs 40000/- ie 530 USD per month. Note, this includes non vegetarian diet, an odd restaurant meal home delivered,  your expensive junk food diet purchases, entire bouquet of sports channels on TV, multiple web content like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Zee5 to whatever you want to include. This bill, 530 USD per month, really, isn’t comparable to your overseas living bills for a family of four. You add kids school fees and rent, the gap in costs exponentially increase. Do note, during the corona virus lockdown months, this 530USD per month amount dipped by another 20%!

Overall Rating – GOOD

12. Lifestyle costs

The catch though is that lifestyle costs are very expensive here in India, to the point of being ridiculous. A weekend outing with a food-court snack meal for four, a movie,  some apparels / decoratives / gifts shopping and dinner at a mid range (say Pizza Hut type) restaurant will easily make you poorer by Rs 8000/- ie 110 USD. A four star hotel stay in an Indian metro is more expensive than its equivalent in Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, the world’s hottest tourist spots. In terms of five star stay, Indian hotels cost at par with its costly Asian counterparts. A food court meal in India is much more expensive than its counterparts overseas. For a country rich in the garments and textile industry, the locals get no benefit when shopping in mid range branded stores like Shoppers Stop. In terms of lifestyle costs, India is as expensive as any country in the world.

Overall Rating – BAD

13. Salaries

Back in years when an NRI likely left for overseas, the salaries till around the year 2001 were low. That, though, is not the case today. The guy getting 5000 USD in hand (post tax) overseas will be getting minimum Rs 1,50,000/- in hand per month ie 2000 USD here in India. The higher in ranks you go, the difference between these two numbers keep reducing. Salaries of white collar jobs are very good in India now. Any deserving NRI, and that is the cream of the country’s talent pool with rich experience we are talking about, will land with a good salary package here.

Overall Rating – GOOD

13. Earning Opportunities

While ease of starting a business or a start-up isn’t that easy in India, there is a rapidly growing culture of self employment. During my last one year at singapore, and unemployed, I had a plethora of offers from my friends (and social media contacts) in India who urged me to join their business. The ideas ranged from organic farming, to a teen offering me technical roles in his film production unit, to someone urging me to join his financial literacy programme, one who asked me to market his social media management business to one who offered to take me in his insurance for lower income class start-up. It was and is obvious that India’s population, money in the pockets of urban class and sheer volumes, ensure, the chances of any business to survive here, are high. During the Covid lockdown there were farners (vegetable and fruit sellers) in our campus every alternate day – and there were no repeat visitors. Which means, every time a new farmer was around to sell his own produce. Even at a housewife level, there are bakers, tuition teachers, cloth alteration tailors, small time caterers, multi-level marketers, ecommerce sellers and more. As long as one has the intent, the options are aplentyFixed Deposit interest rates here range between 6%-9% and from the mutual funds market people can safely make between 8%-12% annually over time. Simply put, India is a country where your passive money can grow at a significantly higher rate than rate of inflation. Something, which cannot be said about most countries where people get frustrated staring at their passive balances, that almost look stagnant.

Overall Rating – GOOD

14. Schools

The general fear that school admission is tough in India, is more due to the fact that parents are extremely choosy about which schools to admit their kids into. That is not the case when you are overseas, as options are limited. We were not choosy about a school and opted for the first school that was eager to onboard both my kids. It is a leading branded Indian international school with indoor swimming pool, all classes air-conditioned, having maximum capacity of only 26 students per class and it took me all of one sitting of four hours to complete the admission process. But before I could complete my victory lap, came the icing on the cake. The counsellor told me, instead of opting for CBSE board for my kids, I should opt for ISCE board as the latter offers choice of subjects from Class IX onwards. The lady had noted (during our discussions) that Hindi, Physics, Chemistry and Maths were not my girl’s favourite subjects. She offered me, to instead get my girl to take French, Economics, Physical Education and Commercial Studies and drop Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Hindi forever. It was more than relief for my over joyous girl; and for me to see this flexibility in the system. The singapore education system is draconian and forces kids to sit in sections basis marks (best students sit in Section A and worst students say in Section G) and lower marks in high school students are deprived of any chance to go for any degree courses, amongst other flaws. India is very very flexible in this matter. Also, while the craze overseas is to put kids into American and Australian international schools, let’s not forget that Indians have a very high ’employability’ in foreign countries, and hence the education in India, has to be good, at the minimum.

Overall Rating – GOOD

15. Kids social life

This is not even comparable. Back at singapore, my kids would often spend evenings staring at the smartphone or at Netflix! Physical games was limited to an odd swimming or a gymnasium day in the condominium. Meeting with friends was limited to sitting at a KFC outlet, in a mall, taking selfies and discussing about mobile apps. Yes singapore was safer so my daughter could travel alone in bus, but social life was really locked inside a smartphone. Here in India, everyday 7pm, they have neighbour kids on our door knocking to come downstairs to play. They play all 1980s games that involve a lot of physical movement…from kho-kho to kabaddi to hide and seek to running catching and more..they play average three hours on weekdays. On weekends they play till midnight! (All these numbers are pre-Covid) Within three months into a new society, my kids had a gang of dozen odd friends. Often doing picnics or visiting each other’s houses etc. Over eleven years, at singapore, my kids played Holi just twice and attended an Eid invitation just once. Here in four months, they played Holi thrice during the festival week and attended four Eid invitations in a day…all within same society. I have a gut feel if and when we leave this society to shift houses, there will be moist eyes.

Overall Rating – GOOD

16. Adults social life

Almost ditto for adults, as explained above for kids. Even during the tough covid lock down days, there has been a lot of togetherness unseen in overseas countries – from bulk shopping to helping each other, taking light walks and treks everyday downstairs to relax. I now have a group of ten friends here….and we are newbies! Every other day a neighbour sends over to share a special dish they made at home. Every other week a neighbour calls over for a light snack. This is like an extended family. I don’t have a vehicle and during lockdown all mobile based taxi services were closed down, yet I didn’t have any issue. Friends with vehicles have been around for any help. It is a different feeling when you know that you have immediate neighbours who care for you and can be at your doorstep, at press of a button. The other aspect of India is that an adult has many outlets to expression their pent up feelings..In India everyone is fine and eager to talk..so you can talk about weather with the milkman, about cricket with the liftman, about a neighbour with the security guard, about politics with the auto driver etc etc. You can never get bored or isolated in India. Amidst the chaos, something or other will keep you mentally busy.

Overall Rating – GOOD

17. Food

There is no doubt we miss the Malaysian, Thai, Sichuan, local seafood, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisines we devoured at singapore. However it’s unfair to club Indian cuisine as just one cuisine.. after all, the population of Thailand or Malaysia is lesser than say the population of Kerala or Punjab…and each of their cuisines are to die for. Here there is such a large range of local cuisines to select – Bengali, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Keralite, Andhra, Tamil, Gujarat, Chinese – that you are never devoid of choices. Plus the normal pasta, pizza, burger, Thai, Italian and Mexican cuisines anyways exist, albeit a bit costly.

Overall Rating – GOOD

18. Healthy intake

My wife and daughter both have lost weight in three months (prior to Covid) despite increased intake in junk food! While healthcare theories come out every day and contradict everyday too, I would give credit to the availability of actual, organic, fresh from village farms, vegetables, fruits and livestock. In most developed countries vegetables are often imported, hybrid and stored in frozen warehouses. Not much in India. The colour of tomatoes are more red, the raw ladyfinger or carrot tastes a lot juicier, ginger and garlic are more pungent etc. Add to that original condiments like cardamom, clove, turmeric or mill pressed wheat etc and your intake quality is far superior. Overseas, organic vegetables are more expensive and look extremely perfect sized. That is a hoax. Pumpkins or carrots or capsicums which you grow in your garden will never be perfect sized..they will be odd sized and far more tastier. You do get that in India.

Overall Rating – GOOD

19. Healthcare

For an NRI who settles back in India, the healthcare facilities are good to great. The best hospitals here are as good as the best in the world, and your local clinic or hospital is competent enough. The few other good things about India is you get a lot of over the counter medicines that helps in light illness or injury issues; Also doctors don’t like to prescribe hard medicines as a practice here and one has equally top facilities in alternate medicine category too – Ayurvedic & Homeopathic. At singapore, even for the most basic of cold and cough issues, people rush to clinic, spend a 100USD bill and end up swallowing hard medicines. Then there is the cost angle… most Indians overseas will take the first flight back if they can delay a major operation and prefer getting operated in a hospital in India. NRIs often load tonnes of local medicines before they board their first flight back to their overseas resident country.

Overall Rating – GOOD

20. E-Connected

You will struggle to find me a country which is as e-connected as the big cities of India are now. Everyone here has multiple payment wallet apps and there is an app for everything. The local washer man, the street vendor, the mobile vegetable seller to the maid…everyone prefers e-payments in either PayTM, Google Pay, Phone Pe, BHIM UPI like applications. The visits to ATMs and use of currency is getting very limited here. Most of your government documentation work is there on the web. From booking a gas cylinder to electrical bills to milk supplies.. everything is electronic in the land which exports the maximum information technology professionals to the world. During Covid, so far in three months, I have visited the ATM, just twice.

Overall Rating – GOOD

Our locality as viewed from atop the mountain next door!

21. Mental Engagement (incl Bollywood)

The mental engagement quotient in India has to be amongst the highest in the world. The likelihood of you getting bored or saturated with life is minimal and opportunities for speaking your mind out is maximum. On top there is something or other happening everyday at national news and local new level. Whether a violent incident or a cricket win or a big sale or a price rise or a political statement or natural problem or a school problem or a big movie release etc etc. In most countries, specially developed ones, nothing much delta is happening on a daily basis. I recall in singapore, the taxi drivers loved to talk to passengers; but not many passengers wanted to talk beyond the weather and rising costs. In fact there when you make a new interaction with a neighbour you often end up answering the same five questions – Are you on rent or brought this house? For how much? Are you a permanent resident or a citizen or a foreigner? Do you own a car? A maid? For the eleven years we stayed there, the first interaction with almost every new person started with this. Then there are countries where you struggle to find people to talk to – be it Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe or USA (mainly because of spacing of houses). There is that other bit also that most foreigners don’t keep Indians in their top priority of people to be friends with and nor are there much cultural similarities. An Indian is a loud mouth opinionated big eater at a restaurant; another nationality person maybe the opposite etc. Plus India has its own multiple (languages) movie and music industries which many countries lack. Most countries are dependent on Hollywood for movies but in India, Bollywood is one of many. The movie, music, theatres scene is massive here, unthinkable.

Overall Rating – GOOD

22. Things Going Wrong

The other part of the ‘mental engagement’ reason is that things often unexpectedly go wrong in India. The school bus driver didn’t reach on time, the shop you drove 10kms is found closed (and Google says its open), the delivery guy didn’t contact you and left your parcel at the main gate instead of your building lobby, the water supply abruptly got cut with no information, the TV subscription cut an extra Rs 100/- etc … each of which would need you to call you multiple people, shout a bit (or plead a bit, depending on your personality) and then it gets fixed. It gets fixed .. but has eaten a part of your day. If you have a personality that feels stressed often, these things wear you more. If you are a calm person, you take this as a new event to participate. For a corporate retired person like me, most of these things come as a new challenge, but for an average person it could be a pain also. In most developed countries nothing, absolutely nothing, goes wrong unexpectedly.

Overall Rating – UGLY

23. Law System

The law system is weak, implementation is poor and justice is often delayed and then denied. The flipside to this is that, at an NRI level, you can pay or wriggle yourself out of problems with a smart lawyer. The problem is if you are on the wrong side of the court (up against a richer person) and don’t have the means to wriggle out of the system. Then you are bound to be hard changed. Random laws/charges can be slapped and you could be in real trouble fighting for years. However this part of the problem isn’t exclusive to India. Even at singapore I lost my job and became unemployable for no reason – no written law was broken and the closest law brushed meant I could at max be charged SGD 1000. They didn’t charge me that, as there was no law broken, but a richer powerful opponent (Government of singapore and dbs bank) overpowered with whatever they pleased… so even a developed country laws favour the richer opponent. Even a country and government can bend rules to suit the powerful or even appease the racist troller. These things get worse in middle east countries.

Overall Rating – BAD

24. Safety

As the law can be twisted and disrespected, the threat to your safety is often from known sources. As an NRI living in a condominium, travelling in cars and living in a metro the chances of basic crime – snatching, pickpocket, theft, burglary, physical attack – is almost zero in most cities of India. Your safety is more at risk against a neighbour, friend, driver or a relative eyeing your daughter or planning to steal something from you. Hence if your guards are always up, you can see the problem from afar or at least indicate to your perpetrator that you are alert. The main reason why people face issues here is due to lack of commonsense and keeping guards down. So a part of the ‘mental engagement’ is the need to keep yourself absolutely alert all the time, which I think is an excellent habit to have. Too often in overseas countries, because things are so mundane, predictable and boring, people lose that level of alertness and in fact take things for granted. As for online fraud, that happens everywhere in the world in equal measure.

Overall Rating – BAD

25. Weather & Holidaying options

Most Indian cities get four seasons, although not really the metro cities. Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad are hot or humid or both, most of the year. The impact of winter is minimal in these three cities. Delhi has extreme heat and chill which leaves us with Bengaluru and Pune as the two best weather cities. That said, this isn’t comparable with what you get overseas. European, USA, New Zealand and Canadian cities suffer from many months of gloomy, cloudy, chilly (and at times snowy weather). Dubai has extreme heat, and the south Asian cities near the equator ie Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and singapore are just as hot and humid as a Mumbai. If in case you choose to stay at alternate locations like Mangalore, Cochin, Coimbatore – the upcoming hubs – weather gets better, costs cheaper than metros and many other parameters improvise around safety. In terms of tourism, most Indians haven’t covered even 20% of India, so there are loads of holidaying options, most of which pristine and non commercial, to cover in India. On top, amongst the ten most visited cities of the world – Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, singapore and Dubai are all 3-5hr flight distances from India. Then you have options like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan; which are even nearer and not yet much explored by Indians. Flight to Europe is direct and just 10 hours away. Simply put, in India, you have plenty of travel options, national and international, low budget or luxury.

Overall Rating – GOOD

26. Currency Power & Taxation

The currency is very weak and the taxation is very high, not only compared to the facilities/social security provided, but also as an overall sum game. At NRI levels (expectedly, the highest tax bracket) for every Rs 100 one earns, Rs 75 approx makes to his or her wallet. Then at the time of expenditure, another approx 20% is paid in GST, cess etc… roughly leaving the person getting goods and services value of worth Rs 60 only. Further more if you take that money to any developed country, it’s value falls even more. Hence while you worked for Rs 100 (approx cost of three big loaves of bread in India), when you spend the actual money at hand ie Rs 60 in, say, U.S.A, you will just be getting one big loaf of bread. That’s a big drop is value.

Overall Rating – UGLY

27. Racism

I hate to say it, being a victim of racism in developed singapore, but racism in India is bad. People here have strong opinions about communities, caste, professions, genders and nationalities. Africans are looked down upon here. People from North East India or East India are looked down upon by rest of the country; South Indians have strong views about North Indians and vice versa. However we need to factor that this is a 1.3 billion populated country. Countries with minor fraction of population have just as much strong views and dislikes about others, so you can expect that in India too. A very developed singapore, heavily dependent on expats for their progress has housing ads ‘no Indians and Malays please’. They hardly have an African origin population. Blacks and Muslims, anyways, are often targeted all over Europe and America. Simply put, humans by nature only know to divide and subdivide. If India has racism holding 16% of the world population, being a secular country, with 1000+ languages spoken, some thirty plus states and union territories all of whom have different diet and cultural habits; compared to all this, the racism is far lesser than what we see in other developed countries housing barely 1/100th or 1/200th of India’s population. If these countries had the numbers and density of India, they would be worse.

Overall Rating – BAD

28. Festivals / Celebration of Humanity

Having mentioned the diverse and secular fabric of India in the above point, it’s understandable that India is a land of festival and celebrations – of all cultures almost, globally. Even the Spanish Tomatina is celebrated here at select places; Christmas is as massive here as anywhere in the world; weddings here see 500+ guests invited (in developed countries a 100 guest gathering is above par; in singapore chinese weddings the culture is very different and people can attend a wedding only if they pay for the food and table … hence a 50 guests gathering is considered par for the course) and we haven’t even spoken of the mega festivals of India. Holi, Diwali, Eid, Lord Ganesh Puja, Maa Durga Puja, Dussehra, Sankranti ..the list is endless…sees millions of people on the streets. India is a land of festivals, colours, religion and culture. This is unparalleled. Even amongst westerners, you will see them wear Indian dresses very proudly. But you will seldom find them wearing a Chinese, Japanese, Australian, African or Russian dresses etc much. In terms of strength of culture and celebration of humanity, India is just a planet ahead.

Overall Rating – GOOD

29. Deals

Sale in malls is there almost on 12 months a year, but the buck doesn’t stop there. The neighbour will tell you that sale in malls is a farce, come to the neighbourhood market and you will get better and cheaper stuff. Then another neighbour will tell you that she has contacts with the farmer or textile manufacturer who she will invite to come inside your housing society and you can get even cheaper stuff. During Covid lockdown, we often had farmers from the village come over and setup vegetable and fruits shops in our compound. The resultant is that we brought the famous Alphonso mangoes much fresher, organic and cheaper than the market. Ditto with a turmeric wholesaler and many others. This isn’t all. The other day I purchased few movie tickets and ended up getting five discount vouchers – one for a food delivery app, two for a departmental store, one with a restaurant and the last one for future movie tickets. India has the volumes, the numbers and the competition. You will be tired of getting deals and vouchers and one spends a lot of time en-cashing them. Another reason for high ‘mental engagement’.

Overall Rating – GOOD

30. Connectivity to roots

When an NRI returns home, he/she returns to the roots – closer to the city of birth, growth, parents and relatives. Once we returned India, our parents saw more dependency on us, than when we were overseas. An overseas country invites you as they don’t have a local skilled labour to fit in the role. You just go in there like a contracted person, getting more money in return and more comforts. This is dot like the 1980s-90s when Indians living in cities could not find trustworthy, hardworking servants and would often call someone from the village to come and stay with them for better food, comforts. The servant would slowly become part of the family. However in overseas jobs, the resident country has no sympathy or love for you and its takes nothing to fire you from a job and leave you stranded with an uncertain future. Even if you can survive economically, an overseas country will only retain your citizenship only for racial balancing or if their population is dwindling.. they have no other reasons to retain you. Middle East countries for example seldom give permanent citizenship irrespective of your years of service with them. Back at home, you have all your relatives and friends around you at drop of a hat. They may have flaws, they may not be as polished, they may seem uncouth…but when the lights go out, they would be the only ones willing to sit and talk with you and listen to your overseas stories for hours.

Overall Rating – GOOD

Final Report Card out of 30: UGLY- 4, BAD – 7, GOOD – 19

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