Returning to our roots: Emigrating to India

Photographed by Monica Sarkar. Some rights reserved – see below.

INDIANS HAVE FLED in their millions in pursuit of the greener side of the globe. In 2006, an estimated 25 million people of Indian origin lived overseas.

So it’s not surprising to find more than a few raised eyebrows when this trend started to shift and there is an increased number of UK residents packing up their lives and settling in India.

The BBC reported that there were 32,000 Britons living in India in 2006. And an estimated 35,000 overseas Indians had moved to the high-tech capital of Bangalore.

As a potential future superpower, research has indicated that the fast-growing economy is an essential ‘pull’ factor to this vibrant country, that is also the world’s largest democracy. The BBC described it as ‘..a twist of migration history between the two countries’.

For many of us British-born Indians, our parents did all they could to flee to the West to improve the living prospects for themselves and their new families. But the shift in migration isn’t undoing the hard work of our elders. It’s a sign of encouraging growth, from aspiring duckling into self-assured swan, of the country that ultimately holds our roots.

With particular focus on the media industry, Ruth Maclean and Rachel Richard Straus are two journalists who wrote about the experiences of young British journalists in India. According to their 2009 article, increased job losses and cuts in the UK created a bleak outlook for this field of work.

However, some eager reporters fled to India and managed to find themselves exciting adventure and opportunities. Senior reporter for the Barney Henderson moved to India to work on the Hindustan Times and said:

“This morning I joined the press rabble outside a hospital where a Bollywood star had been taken ill. Reporters and photographers were so keen to get their stories that there were fistfights among photographers and serious injuries were only narrowly avoided. Then I went to interview one of India’s most powerful politicians, Raj Thackerey, interviewed a 96-year-old woman living in a slum and topped it off by covering an award ceremony at the five-star Taj Hotel. I would not be getting this range of experiences if I was reporting in England.”

Therefore, the country that was once far behind hope is now gaining hopeful followers. Mr Gurucharan, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, described the unexpected shift: “In the sixties when people left India the buzz words was ‘brain-drain’. We see it now as ‘brain-gain’.”

Filling the gap

Personally speaking, I would love to settle in India at some point. Throughout my life growing up in London, I have always felt that something is missing, but have never been able to explain what it is. But whenever I have spent extended periods of time in India, this gap becomes filled. As soon as I land in India and step off the plane, I feel a strong sense of belonging that is unfamiliar to me when I’m living in London.

As a child, I didn’t know who I was for a while. The British would look at my olive skin, thick black hair and almost-black eyes  and see someone unfamiliar. And when I visited India, my western accent and mannerisms told them I wasn’t native. So I felt as though I didn’t know which country I could call my own or where was home.

As I looked more deeply into it, I realised that I have the best of both worlds. I can have my rich Indian heritage and also relish the cosmopolitan culture of London. I could speak in Bengali with family whilst being in the best place to perfect my English. I could basically learn to love two countries at the same time.

I came to the understanding that if others look at me like an alien from out of space, that was their problem, not mine. Korn lead singer Jonathan Davis once said: “You laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.”

However, India has always felt more like home. My connection with a country also depends on my connection with its people. In general, Londoners tend to keep to themselves and value their personal space. But the community spirit in India always makes me feel that I am part of a society that is a bonded family.

Apparently a satellite image of India on Diwali night

Open invitation

This is also exemplified in the celebration of key religious festivals. Christmas in the UK is celebrated privately among families, inside the comfort of their own homes. On the contrary, Diwali, the biggest religious celebration in India, is rejoiced on the streets, which are adorned with lights, brightly coloured decorations and effigies of the Gods. And almost everyone opens up their inviting homes. Although it has its downfalls, I could go on about what makes India so special.

But actually living and working in a country can create a completely different perception to visiting a country and knowing you will be returning home, so my views could change once I experience living in India. But similar to an inspiring encounter with someone you’ve just met, sometimes a connection is worth exploring further.

Don’t get me wrong, London is a fantastic city. But despite the ordered and high calibre society we live in, quality of life can amount to more than just clean air and a strong currency (for the time being!). It seems as though quite a few Britons have caught on to the fact that all that glistens isn’t gold.

India’s surface may appear a little rough in places, but if you put an ear to the ground you’ll hear the heartbeat of life.

– Monica Sarkar

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3 thoughts on “Returning to our roots: Emigrating to India

  1. hanros says:

    My god I can’t believe there are other British Indians who feel the same. I can totally relate to the feeling when you get off the plane. you feel completely at ease. I grew up in the UK but spent a year and a half in Bangalore,India as an 8 year old. It was the best time in my life. the sun shone and you could feel yourself glow inside. I could play cricket outside at any time and go to cheap restaurants with friends just a bit older than me, without parents. There was never any fear. I spent a lot of time with my extended family and enjoyed the company of soo many cousins. Schooling was great as well, the kids shared the same enthusiasm for hard work and good grades, you had termly exams and a ranking system lol. Coming back to the UK, you had homework every two weeks and kids thought of you as being uncool for taking it seriously.

    As an 18 year old now, i have visited India many times in between and it is still where my heart lies. I understand I’m probably looking back with rose tinted glasses, when the reality of living there is very difficult with corruption and the lower standard of living. But for me it is somewhere I will always belong. I fully support the notion of integration of minorities in the UK with the wider public, and as I hold on to my identity and culture as an Indian so strongly I think it’s best for me to relocate to India, the place i call home.

    • Hi Hanros, thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, I can totally relate to what you are saying; there’s an inexplicable connection with the country that just keeps us going back – and maybe one day, it’ll be for good. Very glad to hear you enjoy your time there as much as I do 🙂

  2. reshmi seerparsad says:

    Hi… im a s outh african indian n truly love india, in fact i wish daily that i was born there , so that i could automatically live there. I have been there 4 times and my only aspiration in life now is yo settle there permanently.But like Hanros im aware that daily life there can be challenging… so for now im hanging onto my well settled life here…. but fully planning an early retirement there 😊😊👍💞

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