Delhi-based marriage broker Gopal Suri is all smiles: the global recession has been good for his business. With a large number of Indians coming back to settle in India since the last three years, the number of marriages for NRIs returning home that Suri arranged this year was three times the number he did in 2010. "Eighty percent of the boys born between 1975-80 had shifted in the 90s to countries like the US to study and work. For the girls in the same bracket, the ratio became like 1:15. Now the same lot is returning to marry and settle here," he says.
The reverse trend began with the slowdown in 2008 explains Chennai-based Murugavel Janakiraman, founder of a popular marriage portal. "The fall in demand for NRI grooms was at its peak in 2008-09 when we noticed a 20% dip." This was also the time when issues like job insecurity and economic downturn were at their worst. Reports indicate that up to three lakh NRIs may return and settle in India by 2015. While that seems too optimistic, he says 20,000-30,000 are expected to return home.
In the last 10 years, there has been tremendous change in India in terms of lifestyle, salaries and growth opportunities. According to a 2010 Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry report, the Indian economy will create nearly 90 million new jobs by 2015. Geeta Khanna, who started her marriage consultancy three years ago, says there is a section of NRI men who want to marry Indian women with the intention of moving back. "India emerging as a financial powerhouse, the economic crunch in the western economies and a higher redundancy rate is responsible for the reverse migration," she says. The migration is largely in families that have large businesses or financial interests in India. Rekha Vaid, marriage counsellor with a marriage bureau in Delhi, says nearly half of their clients are NRIs who want partners from India. "With travel becoming easy, economies opening up, they feel that settling in India is better."
With the rising level of affluence and job opportunities, successful women today have more choices within India and their own cities, when it comes to choosing a life partner. "They feel professionals in India are as smart, qualified and well-paid as their NRI counterparts," says Janakiraman. Many successful women are not keen on quitting high-paying jobs in their cities and moving to the West, where it may take years to get working visas or jobs. "They are no longer looking to marry Indian men who live and work overseas, even though they may be professionals themselves. This is because there is greater physical comfort living in India which they don't wish to compromise on. This is a reverse in thinking of the Indian woman, who earlier thought living in the US or UK was what dreams were made of," says Khanna.
Not just Indians, expats too are settling with Indian partners. "Some foreigners in India are marrying Indian women they meet on their postings," says Khanna. Vaid says they've been getting 3-5 cases a year of foreigners looking for Indian brides. "We recently had an Australian family looking for an Indian girl. According to them, Indian girls are traditional and cultured."
'Our friends kept saying 'see you in Delhi soon''
Chirantan & Elizabeth Guharoy - Moved to Delhi from America to live with parents. More hopeful in his second attempt to settle down in India due to the boom in the economy.
Chirantan Guharoy, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, met his wife, Elizabeth, 32, when they were each pursuing their MBA in Boston University in 2005. A few days after graduation, they were engaged, and the next year they were married. They even held a ceremony in India. Initially, they were constantly on the move and lived all along the east coast of America - New York, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas - but eventually they decided to settle in Delhi where they now live in a three-storey house in Chittaranjan Park with Chirantan's parents. Their daughter, Ella, turns one on Christmas day.
The Guharoys made the big move in August last year owing both to Chirantan's father being ill and greater business avenues in India. Elizabeth's parents weren't entirely happy about the decision, but "they understood the reasons behind it," says Chirantan. Elizabeth, who had never been to India before, stayed in America long enough to give birth to her daughter in California, and then she too came to Delhi in March. Her parents have even visited them thrice since they moved.
The couple has never looked back. Even though Elizabeth struggles with the little Bengali and Hindi that she has picked up, the two, or rather three, are happy with the life they have made for themselves. Chirantan looks at it as his second attempt in India, admitting that he returned for a year-and-a-half after the 9/11 World Trade Centre terrorist attack, but "things didn't pick up so well back then." Now, with the global balance tipping away from the West, he says that broad trends would have brought him to India regardless. "Our friends kept saying 'we'll see you in Delhi soon anyway,'" he says.
Moving back has given him many opportunities which he didn't have in the United States. He simultaneously works on multiple projects - including setting up an online webstore for apparel and fashion accessories - and now has branched out into cross-border endeavours like real estate and venture capitalism. Elizabeth has no cause for complain either as her job as an IT business analyst with a top American consultancy firm allows her to work from home on New York hours, and still spend enough time with her daughter. "I can manage to keep my fingers in the pot or toes in the water. What was that saying?" she muses. They are also glad that Delhi has an expat-baby circle where they have met other couples like themselves, and have found a place where Ella can play with other children her age, as well as participate in plays and musical performances.
Would they have moved to India twenty years ago? "No chance!" says Chirantan. "Even in 2002, things were vastly different" he says. But now he looks at the US as a middle-aged family with a quiet life where you play golf on the weekends. "India is an adolescent young man full of energy, speed and testosterone, not to mention insanity. There are lots of challenges - infrastructure, development, etc - but hopefully India will go a long way."
- Samar Khurshid
'I never thought I would not return to California'
Edward Sonnenblick, Sonal Mehta - Chef-turned-actor, Edward Sonnenblick doesn't rule out the possibility of restarting his career as a chef in Mumbai.
Chef-turned-actor, Edward Sonnenblick, from California met his Mumbai-based wife Sonal Mehta, a freelance creative director, in 2008. Sonnenblick, who does meditation, had earlier visited India in 2005 for a two-week course at the Vipassana Centre in Igatpuri. But in 2008, his purpose of visit was entirely different. He saw Lagaan and started reading books by Indian authors. He also began to learn Hindi. "I loved Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 1972 Hindi movie Bawarchi," says the forty-one-year-old, who first met Mehta as a model for an ad film audition. "I had been a chef for 17 years. I had reached a stage where I wanted to snap out of my complacency and challenge myself in newer ways," says Sonnenblick. But, why Bollywood? "I was watching too many Hindi movies at that time and I had visited India before, so I just thought of giving it a shot," he says. "But I never thought that I would find my wife here and will never return to California."
Mehta, on her part was shocked to hear a "gora" (white) humming Hindi songs on the first day of the shoot. "He was this non-fussy, chilled out model," says Mehta who had first considered replacing Sonnenblick because he didn't look the part, that of an old bossy expat. After dating for a year and a half, they got married in June 2009. "My parents' first concern was that I would move to USA after marrying an American," says Mehta. Sonnenblick chips in, "I don't think we need to. We are both in the creative field. Plus, there are enough economic prospects to explore in India now."
- Humaira Ansari
'We have pretty much the same emotional needs'
Alex Dias, Kirthi Kishore - Alex, a Cuban-American dancer is engaged to Kirthi, also a dance professional
Alex Diaz is a first-generation Cuban-American. He grew up in New Jersey, USA, where he also received his formal education. About seven years ago, prior to switching careers to becoming a full-time salsa dancer, he was an IT professional. Today, he has settled in Kormangala area of Bangalore and runs a salsa dance school. He is now engaged to Kirthi Kishore, a Bangalorean, also a professional dance instructor.
Alex, one of three siblings, came to India for the first time in December of 2006. Initially, his intention was to come for a short visit, conduct workshops and then return. However, he decided to stay and pursue his career in India.
He met Kirthi in early 2007 through mutual friends.
It wasn't until about mid 2010 that they began dating and in August of 2011 they got engaged.
Talking of what made him fall in love with his Indian wife-to-be, Alex says, "She is the perfect life partner for me. She accepts and loves me irrespective of my many flaws. She laughs at my jokes. We share the same profession, so our career interests are alike." He feels that though the Indian lifestyle is different from the American one in many ways, it has common grounds. "We have pretty much the same emotional needs," he says.
His future plans are to nurture a wonderful and loving family. "I plan to continue promoting salsa and other dance forms at our academy," he adds.
- Naveen Ammembalala
'India has old traditional ways of doing things, I like it here'
John Fennecy, Swetha - John met Swetha in 2003 while he was studying in Auroville. He was interning on an organic farm there, and she was interning as an architect.
John Fennecy first came to India in 2003 as a student studying environment, community and spirituality in Auroville, near Pondicherry.
This US-national was drawn to India out of curiosity to experience a culture that has an ancient history, and to see the world from a different perspective. He met Swetha in 2003 while he was studying in Auroville.
He was interning on an organic farm there, and she was interning as an architect.
They fell in love and came to Sarjapur on the outskirts of Bangalore and settled there since 2008. She has been working in an IT company and they now have a six-and-a-half month-old baby girl.
"The Indian way of living is very different from the American way. For someone who is concerned about the environment and sustainable living, I find India to be a better place for this lifestyle because there is that old traditional knowledge here of doing things without machines. People here are very resourceful. There seems to be much less waste generated by this society than by the people in the USA," says 32-year-old John.
John is a violinist and his mother is a violin teacher. His family is back there in the US, but they often come and visit, while John and his wife go there almost every other year.
He admits that some of his friends like being settled in India as well. He says, "We have quite a few friends around Auroville near Pondicherry who are foreigners married to Indians. We are leading a happy and calm life here in India. I love this nation and people."
- Naveen Ammembalala
'She is Indian enough, she bargains with the vegetable seller'
Smarajit & Ludmilla Chakraborty - Left Russia to set up home in India
It seems like a complete role reversal. Smarajit Chakraborty points out the problems in the way the country is being run while his wife Ludmilla quietly points out that it is not 'all that bad'.
"I am much more accepting of India's faults," says the Russia-born artist who migrated to India after getting married. It was a move that went against the trend 18 years back when Indians stayed in the country of their spouse - but for the couple there wasn't a choice.
"I had to come back. I could never imagine staying in any other country," Smarajit says. "He is too Indian to stay anywhere else," Ludmilla explains.
The two met in 1993 when Smarajit went to Tver, Russia, for higher training after completing his studies at the Maulana Azad Medical College, Delhi. At that time, cultural exchanges and student exchange programmes between the two countries were common.
"I knew quite a bit about India culture because of these exchanges and I liked what I saw," Ludmilla says. The two got married in 1995 and shifted base to India soon after.
"It was, no doubt, a big move for me. I had never thought of living anywhere other than Russia before that but after getting married, everything changed," Ludmilla says.
Ludmilla's parents were worried when the couple took the decision to move to India. "It took some convincing, but they knew I would be alright with Smarajit," she adds.
Once in India, Ludmilla found that the country fed her art. She found inspiration in the painting schools and researched the ethnic culture. "When I came to India, I found many things that attracted me. I met many people who were interesting and also interested. It made the transition much easier," Ludmilla says.
She has, in fact, become more and more Indian over the years. "She is Indian enough to be able to bargain with the vegetable seller," says her husband.
But would the couple have decided to come back to India had they got married in 1980s?
"There are two kinds of people who go abroad. Those who leave for good and those who will come back. I always belonged to the second category," Smarajit says.
- Mallica Joshi