Tuesday, 24 June 2014

INDIA, OFTEN A BUMPY RIDE

Our India adventure began January 2013. A year and a half later we are still here. I have learned how some things work. It seems to me, it’s more difficult for expats to live and find happiness here. Layers upon layers of bureaucracy make our lives difficult. I am sometimes ready to throw in the towel and go back to the States.

Ram’s Over Seas Citizen visa is a permanent visa.  It gives him all the rights of an Indian citizen, except the right to vote. Funny, the right to vote opens many doors for Indian citizens that are closed to expats. A voter ID (proof of Indian citizenship) is required to get cooking gas. The cost of cooking gas is subsidized by the government.  Only Indian citizens can buy it. We will never have a voter ID card. The voter ID card is also used for official proof of address. Without proof of address one cannot get a phone, open a bank account, get an Indian credit card or get a driver’s license.  Many vendors do not take American credit cards.  There is an extra fee for those that do.

Things simply do not work well here. Most Indians are unaware of the inconveniences and lack of decent infrastructure.  They have never known anything else unless they have lived overseas.   A Google search does not yield the same results here as it does in the States. There is no such thing as a phone book, at least where we are. This is probably because most of India’s population relies on cell phones. A land line is difficult to get. There is a long wait time for installation. We hear the service is unreliable. Word of mouth is the only reliable way to find a local business, service, domestic help or real estate for rent. Local tea stalls are the best place to find information that would be typically found in the phone book. There has been a time or two when I have found a local business and phone number with an Intranet search.  When I call, they do not answer the phone or they have no information about a product I want.  Power is intermittent. We experience rolling blackouts several times a day, sometimes for a few minutes and sometimes for hours. We have noticed increasing frequent power outages.

I find it very annoying that expats are perceived as being wealthy.  Expats are expected to pay more than Indian citizens. We have actually been told this by a person with an in your face attitude. This same person told us that he was glad to see American companies fail here.  What he does not understand is American companies choose to leave because of the lack of infrastructure and excessive bureaucratic red tape.  Things take a very long time to get anything done unless bribes are given. This has been a way of life since India's independence was won from the British. Older Indians will tell you life was much better under British rule.  We hear the black underground economy actually twice as large as India’s legal economy.

Even so, we have managed thus far. Somehow we have survived the bureaucracy and the inconvenience. We buy cooking gas on the black market. We have, we think managed to scrape enough documents together to prove we have a permanent address. With is documentation Ram will try to get his driver’s license.  With the license we will have proof of residence.  Hopefully more doors will open for us.  Most likely it will take a bribe. It’s expected. 

Why stay? This is a question we are asking ourselves more often. Perhaps now that India has overwhelmingly elected a conservative Prime Minister, things will get better.  Time will tell.  For the next two years we will travel India to see and experience her diverse cultures. I’m especially anxious to visit Rajasthan, home of Ram’s Rajput ancestors.  I do for the most part enjoy my day to day life here.  We have made some good friends.  It will be hard to leave and not easy to stay.