New Jersey is still home for returning Non-Resident Indian (NRI) Suresh Ramaswami, a software consultant who cannot easily forget the 15 years he spent in America.

Nearly a year has passed since he sold his suburban home in New Jersey and took his family to India to work as a director for the US-based Cognizant Technology Solutions in their Chennai headquarters.

But Ramaswami, like a growing number of NRIs, is confident the next decade belongs to Asia. 

"I am strongly convinced the next ten years belong to Asia," says Ramaswami at his residence in upmarket Adyar in Chennai. Ramaswami has brought his parents to live with him.

"The climate for NRIs was limited earlier. Indians left in search of better living standards. But now they can get it here."

Ramaswami could have opted for other Indian cities but he chose Chennai.

It's more cost-effective for a company to open offices here than, say, Bangalore today.

"Chennai scores with better infrastructure, cheaper living, a strong talent pool and a better work ethic," says Ramaswami.

Recognising these advantages of Chennai, many IT firms and related operations have chosen the city in the past two years.

NRI Moorthy Srinivasan and his family might not have made the big move if it had not been for his Atlanta-based financial services company's decision to set up their Indian offices in Chennai last year.

He says his Chennai-bred wife Anu Moorthy is busy settling her children into Indian schools, "The first boat landed in Bangalore. It's Chennai's turn now."

Their decision to move after 15 years in Atlanta was "emotional," admits Anu. They were encouraged by a need to be near their elderly parents and to give their children a taste of India.

"In America kids grow up quickly. We wanted to prolong their childhood," says Anu, whose children are 11 and 7.


Ramaswami and his wife also wanted their children - their elder is 13 years - to "live and cope in a disorganised and unstructured environment".

Says Ramaswami, who has retained his American citizenship, "The USA is the world, nothing matters to them. It continues to be a great country but I want to give my kids a choice when they grow up."

Anu observes philosophically, "NRIs have made their money and want more out of life now I guess."

But the move is not free from snags. NRIs miss the order, discipline and the speed with which things get done in the US.

Wives quibble about losing their independence and encountering the in-laws once again.
Retaining the option

As Ranjini Manian, director of Global Adjustments, a Chennai company helping foreign business and their families to relocate in India, puts it: "NRIs love the re-immersion into Indian culture, the affordability of food, household help, the improved quality of life and spending time with near and extended family."

"However, they also find it difficult to ease back totally and bring with them the coconut generation - brown outside but white inside. We see it in their adaptability problems, how to get on to survival shopping, spouse survival, health and education concerns, etc."

"But these drawbacks have not prevented them from coming," she says.
It may not be the much-anticipated homecoming for NRIs.

And they retain the option of heading back to the country they still consider home, perhaps when they have had enough of the Indian flavour.

'India is a reality-check'

Jaya Abraham, an educator, and her husband decided to relocate to India when he lost a government job in Dubai. The escalating rents and living costs helped them make up their minds.

Says Jaya, "The west was not an option. We felt the time was right when he got a good offer from a Kerala-based shipping company."

It was also the right time to introduce a teenage son to India after living in a "glass-case" atmosphere in Dubai.

"India is a reality-check, living amid the chaos and un-professionalism. But we have no regrets so far," says Jaya.

Her son Mathew has happily slid into the "more competitive" Indian school culture.

After living in the Gulf for 15 years she does miss friends and luxuries.

"You do get everything here for a price though. What I love is the communication with people across the board," she says.

The Abrahams chose Chennai because it is cosmopolitan and has better infrastructure and good schools compared to other cities.

If she is anxious about safety or that extended family members tend to be too busy, this Chennai bred Keralite sums it up: "It's nice to be back."

Chennai facts

- Climate: Hot and humid (summer temperatures touch 40-45 degrees, winter is November to February).

- Traffic: Chaotic. 

- Schools: 346 public and private schools (State board, Indian Certificate Secondary Examination, Central Board Secondary Examination (more common) and corporation schools. Montessori, International baccalaureate and American syllabus also available.

- Monthly rents: Two bedroom apartments : Rs12,000 to Rs25,000 (Dh996.5 to Dh2,076).

High-premium apartments in expensive localities can shoot up to Rs65,000 (Dh5,400) for two- or three-bedroom flats.

- Hospitals: A slew of renowned medical facilities - Apollo Hospitals, Sankara Nethralaya eye care centre, MIOT (Madras Institute of Orthopaedic and Trauma), Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Hospital (where an Iraqi boy underwent life-saving heart surgery)

- Malls: Not really a mall city, Chennai boasts just one major mall in the city centre - Spencer Plaza