NRI-Now Returned to India was shortlisted by DNA-Hachette in India for their “Hunt for the Next Bestseller” contest in 2014.
Moving back to India was the last thing on Amol Dixit’s mind when he was leading a carefree life in Chicago. But one day, he found himself sleeping on the streets of Mumbai.
Now, Returned to India is a Back-to-Rags story of a Non Resident Indian (NRI). It is a humorous account of the experiences of Amol Dixit, who relocates to India in haste. In a series of missteps which throw his life in turmoil and cost him the woman he loves, Amol learns the hard way that living in India is no cakewalk. In spite of these challenges, he decides to stay. And just when his life hits rock bottom, GB enters his life.
As the blurb above suggests, it is the story of Amol Dixit returning home after a sizable stay in the dollar land of USA. It is a memoir recounting his trials and tribulations relocating, ‘trying’ to work in India.
I could relate to Amol on many occasions having lived, educated and worked outside India and having relocated a few years ago. For me, it followed a never ending sequence of unlearn – relearn – unlearn – relearn, for the first two years, which was interesting and entertaining in its own way. After all India is the motherland of serious contradictions! Nevertheless, I met some amazing, inspiring human beings, visionaries and women with gumption in the process of my rediscovery that redefined my take on Indians along with reinforcing my faith in humanity. It was almost a 360 degree turn around after I relocated, for sure.
Before we get to the more important issues, let me applaud the author for writing it seamlessly and in a simple yet adequate language. The writing is crisp, fresh and is quite funny. I enjoyed the pun and satire.
This is the story of Amol Dixit migrating back to India after a considerable stay in the USA. His original plan is to stay for a year, work and gain ‘Indian work experience’ and go back to his life in the US after. Will he stay? Will he leave is the question that is answered at the end. His life over the span of a year forms the plot.
The story opens with Amol’s flight back to India and reaching home on a Sunday and for some reason the traffic is uncontrollable and it takes forever for our dear man to get home to Pune, with cab having an accident et. al. He reaches home and starts work the following day – Monday! No one in their right frame of mind would do this (even for a workaholic this is impossible to achieve with jetlag, mothers doting, friends and relatives consuming most of your time in the first few weeks along with you gaining weight faster than fuel prices going up in India).
He works in the construction industry in the capacity of a consultant. His life starts rolling downhill from the very first minute of his ‘work experience’ with his office being shifted to a new location and building, and as expected Amol not intimated of the change. He discovers/locates the place using his commonsense (nuances of living in India) and gets to the office only to be locked out, as the assistant at the front desk hasn’t been informed of a new joining. From here it is a learning curve for Amol that is on a steep rise while his life is escalating down faster than a kid on a water-slide, until he hits rock-bottom (predictable twists and turns with economic crisis looming around the world during 2008 -09 and the entire work force living under constant stress of termination from work). Then, enter Gyani Baba (GB) and things change for Amol.
I knew who GB was from the minute he appeared and knew where the story was heading. No element of surprise. In fact there is no story here – Just a sequence of events that transpired over a year. Also, I knew why he’d make his decision and what influences him being the last straw in his decision making process. Everything read like been-there-seen-that until the last page. Nothing new.
However, I did learn a thing or two about the construction business and thank the author for the learning. I learned how they calculate the number of elevators to be fixed in a mall or in any building. It was interestingly presented and is definitely commendable.
Some of the observations brought a chuckle as they were spot on – The amount of paperwork that goes in, is truly unbelievable and how the Govt. officials behave and interact is brought out very well.
If the writing wasn’t humorous and easy to read, I’d have stopped halfway through. It takes the reader 75 odd pages to meet Nandini, only to find her to be selfish and a confused CBCD (Canadian born confused desi). In other words, no other character has any significance in the plot except Amol. It is all about HIM – his fears, his insecurities, his pompous nature, his arrogance and everything in between. Since it is a memoir, I guess the structure worked out fine.
And, how it all began has no significance to the plot, as we know what happened after the fact and so redundancy of ‘how and why’ at the end is quite evident.
I disliked the character of Amol. He is selfish, arrogant and is a complete self-righteous guy (I restrain from using the word ‘prick’ instead of ‘guy’ as this may well be autobiographical, as it is written in first person). Nevertheless, it does raise a question – Are all NRIs like him?
For more than half the book he is whining about all things Indian while all other NRIs have adjusted comfortably and have taken to life’s dictates in India. How egotistical! Of course there is one exception of a friend who moves back to the la-la land.
Does Amol do anything about the situations around him other than whine? No way, he is an Indian right? So he chooses to ONLY complain instead. Also, he seems to be the man who knows what to do or how to correct an error at all times at work. How real is that? Especially when we know he has never worked in India.
At times Amol’s character reads like a sexist. Ex- “The Zen Estillo was a car in that league. If its shape was an absolute turn off, so was the purple color. Moreover, it was too feminine for any self-respecting man’s taste.”
And at times he reads like he’s spineless. Ex- The email his friend sends to everyone (in Amol’s friend’s circle) accusing him of stealing his girlfriend and brutally assaults his character and our dear man does nothing! I wondered what happened to his self-respect.
He is the only character that does the right thing at all times no matter what the situation or context. That was too much for me to handle. He reads like a 70s Bollywood hero. Thanks but no thanks. And on that note, Amol does not watch movies, when that is the one and only readily available form of entertainment in India?
Nonetheless, from the little I know of her, Aai is my favorite character. She is real, relatable and wise like many mothers in India. However she too reads like a selfish, manipulating woman with her emotional atyachar (blackmail) trying to sway Amol’s decisions. Incidentally, Baba too advices his son to bring his car on the weekends so that he could get a ride to the temple makes him sound selfish as well. The expanse of the entire book is overdone with one emotion – selfishness.
Whining helps reorient one’s life and channel it back on track. At least it did for Amol. He even found his wife in the process. How lovely. I was tired of GB and his lack of wisdom, as not a single quote awed me. I mean after all he helped Amol with his ‘gyan,’ didn’t he? Also, I was unhappy with the image Amol creates on readers (non-Indians) and I am disappointed with what is projected. It is only one side of the story with the flipside conveniently ignored. Every country in the world has good and bad shades to it. It all depends on how we look at it – Glass half full or half empty.
And finally, I have one question to Amol – What did you do to change the situations you were buzzing about? Zilch is the answer and that sums up why India still is in the Neolithic era. We love to complain and do nothing else. And that makes Amol more a desi than an NRI.