Return to India decision – in ONE tweet

Pic: courtesy pecksandbushels.blogspot.com

Yeah – Twitter is an addictive time-sink but it does offer a few redeeming moments. The tweet below is one such moment.

The one tweet answer to… Should I stay or should I return?

If you are an Indian living outside India (especially if you are a lay-down-rooter), you might want to check out the South Asian Parent.

 

Kargil Vijay Diwas 2012: 13 Years Later

Pic: courtesy indiatimes.com

Two years ago, I created this commemorative photo blog on Kargil Vijay Diwas, featuring the brave officers who won the war for India. This year, I decided to share links to recent stories (and some from the archives) about Kargil’s heroes. Rediff interview with Yogendra Singh Yadav – hero of Tiger Hill.

  • 437 total awards from Kargil War (162 posthumous) – Full list of awardees
    • 4 Param Vir Chakras
    • 10 Maha Vir Chakras
    • 5 Uttam Yudh Seva Medals
    • 70 Vir Chakras
    • 15 Yudh Seva Medals
    • 1 Bar to Sena Medal (Gallantry)
    • 83 Sena Medals (Gallantry)
    • 1 Sarvottam Yuddh Seva Medal
    • 106 Sena Medal (Gallantry)
    • 16 Sena Medal (Distinguished)
    • 126 Mention-in-Despatches
  • Colonel (then Major) Prasad Mijar on fighting the battle of Tiger Hill and returning victorious
  • Captain Saurabh Kalia’s parents continue to persevere. What do ex-Presidents Narayanan, Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil have in common? All have sent a standard reply  — Your letter has been received and would be forwarded for necessary action and have taken no subsequent action — to Captain Kalia’s parents, on their campaign to highlight the Pakistani Army’s brutalities committed on the prisoners of war.
  • On Dr. Rajesh Anand treating the soldiers’ injuries in the treacherous peaks of Mushkow and Tololing.
  • From the Indian Army website : Kargil War Heroes (officers only)
  • From the Wayback machine – 533 Indian casualties
  • And let’s definitely NOT forget the corrupt politicians and military leaders from Adarsh scam who almost got away with cheating the Kargil heroes
  • And the Defense Ministry is making ‘comfortable progress’ in the war memorial for Kargil

Update (Aug 15, 2012): Added link to interview with Hero of Tiger Hill (Yogendra Singh Yadav).

 

Taking the pressure off your R2I decision

Pic: courtesy robert.foo.my

Problem with starting your morning with Twitter (or Facebook) is that you might exceed your “daily dose” by 9am itself. On the bright side (especially if you are a blogger), you might read something that makes you go “Aha! I know JUST the post I need to write today.” This works great when you’ve been agonizing between the post that you were supposed to write and the one that you wanted to write. Since the winning post came out of the blue, there’s no residual guilt either. Sweet.

From my Twitter timeline this morning:

The conversation reminded me of our Return2India decision. Why we were returning was easily answered. If you are new to  this blog, you’ll find different answers here, here and here.

The second popular question was “Are you moving for good?” Good as in permanent / final / will not ever return.

Depending on who asked the question, our answers ranged from “Yes, for good.” to “Well. We’d like it to be permanent.” to “Well. If things don’t work out, we can always come back.”

None of the answers were false – together they represented our continuum of intent. In hind sight, the smartest thing we did was not putting too much pressure on ourselves. Sure – we both really REALLY wanted the move to work out. But we told each other that if the move didn’t agree with either of us, the option of returning to US was always there.

“Don’t tie yourself up in knots.”

This advice, from a friend and mentor, when I was contemplating a stay-or-walk professional decision is relevant to the R2I decision as well. By not getting too attached to the desired outcome, strange as it may sound, you give yourself an opportunity to be surprised… in unexpected ways.

Main baat hai ki tension nahin lena ka!

(Translation: main thing is to not get worked up.)

 

 

Leaving Hotel California

The Sirens trying to tempt Ulysses’ sailors (Pic: courtesy giovanino.deviantart.com)

It’s been a little over four years since I wrote Why are we moving back to India now? I thought of our R2I decision this morning as I read Tim Kreider’s brilliantly insightful and wonderfully written The ‘Busy’ Trap on New York Times.

The following two passages caught my attention.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Kreider is writing about America in the 21st century. Nowhere is this more true than in Silicon Valley. I recalled something my wife said to me (probably in 2007) – “You were more fun in Chicago. You were interested in things other than startups!” Guilty as charged – just take a quick look at my Chicago memories.

Six months after we moved to Silicon Valley, I had quit the ‘big’ company (Navteq) and joined a hot mobile startup – Online Anywhere. (Yeah – mobile was hot even back in 1999 though we thought the inflection point was just a few years away.) After Online Anywhere was acquired by Yahoo, I stayed at the ‘large’ Internet company for almost eight years. It might seem like a long time but Yahoo was an exciting place in those days and it felt like a startup on most days. In 2007, I quit Yahoo to co-found a startup in the video social learning space (Graspr).

So when I quit Graspr, why did I not join (or co-found) yet another Silicon Valley startup?

Just dumb luck I suppose. As I wrote in the Why now post, Poonam’s and my desire to move to India ebbed and flowed like two sine curves with a phase lag.  And then came April 2008, when the planets, moons and Saturn’s rings all aligned in such a way that both Poonam and I got simultaneously primed and jazzed about moving to India.

And boy, did we move out of Silicon Valley in style?

So… why did Kreider’s article resonate with me today? I was reminded of the fact that it actually took a certain planetary constellation to make us move. If any of the myriad preceding events hadn’t quite occurred just that way, Newton’s First Law might well have prevailed. Maybe we still would have moved a year or two later but my gut tells me that it would have required a special performance – think Ulysses and the Sirens.

Thus ends my brief flashback to four years ago, in the process, peeling another layer from our R2I story.

*******

If the Internet-induced ADD has prevented you from fully reading Kreider’s article, I’ve pasted my favorite bits below. Have I mentioned that you MUST read it?

She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”

This next bit appeals to the writer trapped inside me:

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day.

The next gem reminded me of a quote from A. Parthasarathy’s Vedanta Treatise – “You must practice Vedanta in the din and roar of the marketplace.” [Nailed the theory, failing the practical.]

It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.

For those who need a *reason* to be lazy or idle, here’s the checkmate argument:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

And this final extract is not very different from the vision that Khan Academy’s Sal is pursuing for a learning laboratory physical school he’ll be setting up soon:

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites.

 

Second batch of friends arrived a few months ago

Bringing 15 boxes of friends home – the post that started it all off. This post recounts the voyage of our second batch of friends, henceforth dubbed as Part 2 of the series.

Pic: courtesy Amazon.com

In Dec 2011, my brother-in-law brought the second batch of books — to Chennai. So far so good. Since his parents were going to returning to US with him, I had a time window of two weeks to collect the books. Sathish, an ex-colleague and friend, (who has a home in Chennai) picked up the books. Two months later, he brought them to Bangalore. I finally picked them up in Mar 2012. A grand total of 9 boxes but they are all hardbound so quite heavy. I present the list below along with my commentary. As I accumulated these books over the years, I’ve been pretty religious about annotating when (and sometimes ‘where’) I bought the book.

  • Tintin in the new world
    • Bought at the Stanford Bookstore on Jul 27, 1998 (this would have to a week after moving to the SF Bay Area from Chicago – heady times!)
  • Ambassador’s Journal: John Kenneth Gailbraith
    • The paperback cover on Amazon is NOT the one I own. Mine has a green cover and it’s a hardbound. I’m currently reading this humorous and insightful account and transcribing my favorite bits – JK Galbraith has his very own Galbraith category on my blog.
  • Primal Leadership
    • Bought in Dec 2005. Seems interesting enough but still remains unread. Found a bookmark from The Lenox Hill Bookstore, NY though it doesn’t prove that this book was purchased there. For the longest time, I was incapable of walking out of a bookstore without  purchasing at least one book.
  • Mastering the Rockefeller Habits (by Verne Harnish)
    • 12 pages of testimonials, ghost writer
  • Hard facts, dangerous half-truths & total nonsense (by Stanford U Professors Robert Sutton & Jeffrey Pfeffer)
    • Professor Sutton was visiting Yahoo campus (2004/5) for a talk on “The Ambidextrous Organization” — this was a freebie book from the event. It’s a promising read.
  • The complete works of O. Henry
    • Bought in April ’95 (during my Chicago years) – this is arguably my first/only bibliophile book and warrants a separate post for one other reason – suspense!
  • All things bright and beautiful (by James Herriot)
    • Bought second-hand (undated).
  • The new industrial state (by John Kenneth Galbraith)
    • Bought in Mar 2000.
  • Bhagavad Gita (in Hindi)
    • Bought in Dec 2004 from the Birla Temple, Hyderabad. Went to Sunnyvale, CA – then a few years in a San Jose attic, a year in a Cupertino garage, a few months in Chennai and finally to our Bangalore apartment. Yes – a well-travelled hardbound indeed.

There’s more good news for the rest of our book friends in my sister’s garage. Another ex-colleague and friend (Ajay) is on a business trip to the Bay Area and has agreed to bring back a ‘significant number’ of books. How significant? I won’t answer that lest it jinxes things. Stay tuned… part 3 in this series is not too far away.

Bringing 15 boxes of friends home

Pic: courtesy tetonlibraryproject.wordpress.com

It’s not what you think. I’m referring to 15 boxes of our book collection that we stashed away in my cousin’s attic in San Jose four years ago. When we returned to India after 16 years in US (this post gets into the “But why?” question) many of our friends in US and India thought we were nuts. When they heard we’d be accompanied only with six suitcases, a Power Mac G4 and a MacBook, they shook their heads.

We left behind a formidable wake.. a wake of garages with assortments of things stuffed into boxes and spillover suitcases (this post talks about it). A procession of kind friends and cousins transported our remaining suitcases to Bangalore between 2008 and 2009. All that remained were 15 boxes of books.

In the first few years after our move, every time I heard of a friend or acquaintance moving from Silicon Valley, the following conversation snippet would repeat (in Click… Whirr fashion) in the Kuruganti household:

Me: “Hey, so and so is moving to Bangalore. Shall we move our books along with their big move?”

She: “And where are we going to keep them?”

Me: “Err… umm… hmm…” (trailing decrescendo of unintelligible sounds)

My books and I had handled the prolonged separation quite stoically, especially since my reading had plummeted in the same time period. However, it was clear that I did want my books back in our Bangalore apartment (sans the urgency). Finally last year a slow-boat-to-China idea struck me – why not move the books in batches of 10 or 15? Ferried by kind legions of friends, cousins, sisters, and.. (yeah) more friends.

The first proof that this whacky idea could work came in last August when my dear sister brought the first batch of books – a whopping 21 at that! The excitement of getting a new pair of running shoes was overshadowed by the landmark event of our book library being re-seeded in Bangalore. It was a bonus to learn that there were at least 10 unread books. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you… the first 21 of my long-long friends.. many of whom were picked up from public library yearend sales and used book sales.

 

Attracting diaspora to address India’s higher education faculty gap

Pic: courtesy hebrewhistory.info

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on my other blog (TechSangam) – republishing here since it’s clearly relevant to the Return to India meme. Earlier this year, academic collaborators from Rutgers University, Penn State University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences published an insightful study that quantified the severe gap in higher education faculty in India and, after surveying nearly 1,000 Indians who are either pursuing or have completed graduate study in the U.S, came up with results that are surprising and encouraging for Indian universities. In Part 1, we looked at key trends around higher education in India. In this post, we’ll present key trends around the willingness of Indian graduates to return to India.]

Why They Left for US in the First Place?

A combination of factors – high-quality teaching, cutting-edge research, professionalism and post-graduation options – were all deemed to be very important in attracting young people to study in the US. High quality teaching was the single most important factor for half of the respondents, but a number of factors were rated as “important” or “most important” by roughly four-fifths of all those taking the survey. A surprisingly low percentage (8%) reported that the desire to find a job and settle in the US after graduation was the most important factor in their decision to study abroad.

What if Indian Universities had US Faculty?

To try to retain some the more than $4 billion that Indian students are now spending on education abroad, and to increase domestic capacity to offer high-quality Higher Education (HE) to a greater number of Indian students, the government has proposed reforms to allow foreign universities to offer degrees in India. The IITs have also petitioned the HRD Ministry to allow them to hire permanent foreign faculty to help fill the estimated 40% shortfall in qualified professors needed to achieve the ambitious growth targets they have been set. With these reforms in mind, we asked respondents whether they would have preferred to study in India if they could have done so with US faculty: 21% indicated they would, while 35% preferred to go to the US, with the highest percentage (44) choosing “maybe”.

Desire to Return to India (Hint: money chart #1)

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (74%) plan to return to India eventually or had already done so (categories 1, 3, 4 & 6 in pie chart above). In contrast, only 8% of respondents said either that they preferred not to return; with half of these indicating they’d take any job they could to avoid returning.

Interest in Types of Careers in India

Three-quarters or more of respondents are interested in corporate jobs or entrepreneurship opportunities in India, and HE opportunities that offer the chance to do research are also very attractive. In contrast, teaching-only positions, which historically have constituted most of India’s HE sector, are not as attractive to the majority of respondents. While Master’s students are attracted to private-sector jobs in India, the vast majority of PhDs and Post Docs are most interested in pursuing positions that combine teaching and research in an Indian university (79% and 81% respectively) or research-only careers (64% and 76%).

The other encouraging finding for Indian policymakers is that 84% of those who have decided to return to India are potentially interested in HE careers. When asked which specific types of institutions they would find most attractive, not surprisingly the IIT/IIMs/and NITs topped the list, along with the National Institutes. Centrally funded universities were attractive to about half of all those interested in HE careers.

Key Factors Affecting Decision to Return

The most significant reasons individuals cited for wanting to return to India are family and a desire to give back to the motherland, while corruption, red tape, and the academic work environment were the strongest deterrents to returning, and instead remaining in the US. The study authors conducted a factor analysis to determine the underlying structure of individuals’ preferences on what is most or least important to them when deciding where to live and work. This analysis yielded natural grouping of 11 of the 18 items into four factors, eliminating the other seven that overlapped among 2 or more of the factors. These factors are shown in the table below (money chart #2):

Just one of these four factors – the desire to give back – is strongly associated with a desire to return to India. Quality of life and career factors are more mixed, but tend to be seen as more positive in the US, while “red tape” and “corruption” are what we label the major “hurdles” that need to be removed or at least addressed if institutions are to succeed in attracting the most able academics back to India.

The study authors also asked respondents to write in the most important factors that would lead them to go back to India. Confirming the results of the items on the -2 to +2 scale, nearly three-quarters indicated that family and giving back to the motherland were the key reasons they would return to India, while nearly half were keen to help build India’s HE system. These results shouldn’t surprise us. One proof point comes from Seer Akademi’s Srikanth Jadcherla (whom I interviewed a few months ago for this post). The winning argument for recruiting & retaining Seer Akademi’s US-based faculty (and have them conduct 4-6 hour interactive webex sessions with students in India) is simple – Do it for India!

(Closing note: The authors of the study also had some specific credible suggestions for reform of the Indian higher education system. My copy editor (err..that would be “me”) pruned that section from this post. It might well make it as a separate post in the future. If you are the impatient type, here’s the PDF link – if you enjoy statistics, regression and the like, the report has a ton of those details as well.)

The sandwiched generation. The best generation!

Cucumber-Mint - the tastiest sandwich in the world!

[Editor’s Note: The author of this post, Rajat Mukherjee, lives in Silicon Valley and works for Google. This post originally appeared on his Silicon Thoughts blog and is reproduced here with his permission. Rajat is a classic lay-down-rooter, a term I defined in this post.]

Last week, we were at the Bellarmine Speech and Debate team banquet, where we heard a great student speech, in which Mr. Rogers (of the TV show) asks each member of his audience to take a few silent moments to remember who made them the special (imperfect, but unique) person they are.

I remembered my parents, who are responsible for who I am and where I am today.

Being in Silicon Valley during the most vibrant technology era in humanity offers us absolutely unique perspectives and opportunities, while also throwing challenges our way as first generation immigrants from a distant place.

Being a first generation immigrant, we’re caught in a middle ground between who we are and who we (really) are. Or who we were and who we are. Or who we are and who we’re going to be. I’ve just crossed over in terms of spending more of my life in the US than in India. India still means a lot to me, but in day-to-day happenings, e.g., elections, business changes, etc., I’m not impacted – it’s not personal any more. My roots are there, my life is here, my parents there, my children here, my heart wanders there, my mind stays here. My citizenship has flipped, but my accent hasn’t. Proud of India’s accomplishments, derisive of the system, politics and corruption, yet hopeful of what India will become.

We’re bound by old traditions, but liberated by free thinking and the worlds we’ve been exposed to, starting with a liberal upbringing. Actually, it is not my son who is the American Born Confused Desi (ABCD) – I am the  Indian Born Confused Indian-American!! The kids are actually reasonably clear in that their ties are just to us, not to a faraway country they were born in. I have half-baked ties to my relatives, even to those I was reasonably close with during my childhood. The kids have just a few clear relationships, and they seem pretty matter-of-fact about them.

My identity is like that blurred face in the airport scan. I feel like I’m on the Berlin wall, while someone’s pounding on both sides to bring it down – I don’t even know which side I’m going to land on. Maybe I don’t really care.

I’m the spicy mint chutney in a sandwich with wheat bread on one side and white on the other.

For my children, the extended family just got an order of magnitude smaller. They don’t enjoy the relationships that we’d have otherwise nurtured – their grandparents are not a strong force in their lives. Our family is so small out here! I have to PLAN to be with my parents!! That’s sad!

Now, for the good part!

There’s nothing like living in a sunny part of the world with the best technology minds in the world (yes – most of them are indeed working on making you click more on ads :-)). Technology is moving so fast that I’m almost obsolete before I write my next blog post! We’re not just consumers in this new connected world, we’re the ones creating it!! That makes us a special generation!

The best part – I can enjoy gooseberries and mangoes as much as I do crunchy persimmons, and salt-rimmed margaritas and caipirinhas just as much as a masala-chai (at different times :-)), crepes as much as masala-dosas, kababs as much as sushi. That makes me a special generation.(I still don’t get sauerkraut and tripe!!) I no longer need to stare at someone because he or she is from a different place – I stare at myself in the mirror and wonder where I’m from.

I’ve taken salsa lessons, been a soccer coach to kids from all parts of the world, watch football and basketball (and the Sharks choke every year on ice in crystal clear HD). I can watch Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in concert, followed by U2 in a few weeks. I can appreciate ghazals and the magic of Bollywood music, while also tuning in to classic rock and rap and Lady Gaga and … Friday (that’s talent!) I can choose to ski or go the beach this weekend (or watch TV!). You can do some of these things, but not all of them unless you are in the right place, like Silicon Valley.

I can appreciate a variety of things, because of where I am, and the generation I belong to. The next generation will never understand the magic of Kishore Kumar or Jagjit Singh. My kids have lost the ability to relate to good Bangla folk music, or even western music from the 80s and 90s (Michael Jackson?). I don’t believe this is just a generational thing, it is a timing issue – we’re the right generation. The next generation will not appreciate the automatic respect we have for the earlier generation – the appreciation of hard work and experience and integrity and loyalty. Ask yourself how long you’ll work for a single company!

Yes, each of us brings a uniqueness to the world, to the neighbo(u)rhood, as stated by Mr. Rogers. But our generation, and our first-generation status in the sunniest part of the world brings a certain uniqueness to our lives.

Am I a citizen of India? A citizen of the US? A citizen of Silicon Valley?

I am a citizen of the world!

Boiling the social enterprise ocean

[Editor’s Note: A few months ago, I started a new blog (Techsangam.com) focusing on social enterprises in India. This post was published on TechSangam a few days ago and am reposting it here to introduce you to my new blog. I intend to still blog in this space though the frequency is a bit non-deterministic at this point.]

Two months into my new gig, my view into the world of social enterprises is getting a little crisper. While it’s still a vast ocean, my method to navigate the waters has become more deterministic. There’s no danger of boiling the ocean anytime soon but  initial trends of focus have emerged and I’d like to describe them in this post.

The Great Migration: There are anywhere between 300 to 400 million Indians who will be migrating from villages to cities in 25-40 years. And let’s not forget that there are already 100 million Indians today who are in a partial state of migration – partial because they work 90% of the year in urban India as cooks, drivers, construction workers, etc. to support their impoverished families in rural India, whom they visit a few times a year. In spite of contributing to India’s economic growth in a non-trivial way (excess of $500 million of remittances by Bihari and Oriya migrants alone in 2006-07), migrants are sadly the missing link in India’s Development. Notwithstanding innovative rurbanization initiatives from states like Gujarat (see Rurbanization in Gujarat – early signs of success), much of the globalization trends point to increased urbanization world-wide, not just in India, whether current city-dwellers like it or not.

A fresh look at the migration narrative takes a closer look at this trend. While nearly everyone still keeps repeating “70% of India lives in its villages“, few have bothered to look at the latest numbers. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Gujarat (states with the highest urbanization percentages) are already at 46%, 45%, and 43% respectively.

Rural Development: Even after accounting for the most aggressive migration forecasts, a very sizable percentage of India will continue living in its villages. The largest economically disadvantaged group is the impoverished small-scale Indian farmer. Improving the livelihood metrics of this group is the only sure way of bucking the migration trend. A key learning from this Duke University poverty alleviation study is that income diversification is the top correlating variable for households escaping poverty. The leading reasons for households descending into poverty are related to critical health expenses and high-interest private debt.

Much as the ruling Congress government would have us believe that the MNREGA scheme is a rousing success, the reality is far from that. There’s even growing evidence that far from improving the economic condition of India’s villagers, the scheme is contributing to inflation. This is not to say that all government schemes are missing the mark. The Ministry of Labour & Employment’s RSBY (Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana) program, rolled out in April 2008, provides a free health insurance card (including hospitalization costs upto Rs. 30,000) for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. 23 million families are already benefiting from this program and the best part is that it has created a demand for healthcare services in areas traditionally considered unprofitable. This demand is creating an environment for a slew of private hospitals to compete with public hospitals in providing healthcare services to BPL families.

You can read the rest of this post here on TechSangam.

East or West, Is Home Really the Best?

[Editor’s Note: For the 5th voice in this series, I bring you a guest post from Roona Ballachanda who describes herself on her India Repat blog as thus: “After seven years in the United States, I returned home to India in 2010, only to feel myself a stranger in my own country. Living an expat life in the US was an expectedly unique experience, however being an India Repat is something that I am yet unable to define or describe and so this blog…” She’s Class of 2010, still settling down – I found her story to be honest, authentic and more.]

Shivranjani – Satellite in Ahmedabad (Pic: courtesy rojnuamdavad.wordpress)

One night in August 2003, I boarded a flight heading out to the USA from Bangalore, India. Most of us here know the amount of preparation it takes to get into an American University and get a Student Visa as well, so here I was frozen with shock, thinking, “I am actually moving out of my country” and exhaustion after months of intensive work that culminated in this moment. Little did I realize to what extent this decision would influence my life in the ensuing years!

I spent two years in Illinois pursuing my master’s degree in social work and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio where I worked as a mental health social worker for five years. I visited India in 2006 to get married, my husband too worked in Cleveland and at that time, it appeared as if Cleveland would be our home for a considerable number of years, if not until the age of retirement!

My husband works for a manufacturing company and in 2009; they decided to open up Indian markets for their product. Once they decided upon this project, things happened so fast that he moved here in May of 2009 and I followed in May 2010.

After exploring different places to figure out the best place to conduct his business from, we decided on the city of Ahmedabad.

Although it was a relatively easy decision for my husband, it was a not easy for me to reconcile to this move. I felt that this would be a huge disruption in my life and career and would have preferred to wait until I had reached a certain turning point in my life before moving back. Due to this reason, even to this day, as I continue to struggle with settling down here, I cannot draw a definite line between issues related to countries and my own personal issues. As we do not have any children yet, we had one less thing to worry about while planning our repatriation.

I also think, initially, choosing Ahmedabad as the place to move back to made it very uncomfortable as well. I was born and raised in Coorg, Karnataka, lived in Mysore for a few years while attending College and then moved to the United States. Simply moving from Coorg/Mysore to Ahmedabad would have been culture shock enough without factoring in the United States as well! As for the month, I chose to move, the less said the better! I had just gotten through a particularly harsh winter in Cleveland, at the fag end of which, when there were signs of Spring in the air, in May, I moved to Ahmedabad where the hottest summer in a decade had begun and people, birds and animals were falling dead every other day unable to tolerate the heat. All I could see and feel was the unbelievably glaring sunlight, the scorching heat, the immense amount of dust, the soot and grime-covered buildings, the conservative culture and of course, the lack of boozing kens to drown our sorrows in as this is a dry state! To make things worse we were living in an almost empty apartment throughout the torrid summer as we had shipped our furniture and other household goods from Cleveland and it reached us only in November. There was no question of appreciating any of the nicer things except the air-conditioned shopping malls. Eventually this changed and I began to develop a liking to the place but when I first moved, I refused to believe that I would even be reconciled to this city one day, let alone like it!

When I try to think of what feels good about living in India, proximity to family tops the list(in our case proximity simply means living in the same country again!) along with the abundant sunshine and easy availability of garden fresh produce, meat and poultry, which makes it a relief not to have to rely mostly on supermarket crap. On the other hand, I still cannot tolerate the dust, the crazy traffic sense and the uncaring attitude most of our fellow country people have towards keeping our surroundings clean outside of our own homes and gardens.

There are certain things that I continue to miss about living in the US, I miss going out on road trips by myself, something I got used to during the year I lived alone in the States and exploring wine racks in the local stores, finally picking what I would like to try on any given day. I also miss the feeling of freedom where people respect personal decisions and individuality as a matter of course unlike India where we have no compunction about intruding into others’ space. However, what I miss most of all is the youthful optimism and cheer, the almost eerie feeling that you get of forgetting your mortality in the abundance and near perfection of life as it is lived in the United States.

If you ask me to rate my return to India on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the happiest, I would say that today I stand at a four. This is partly because, so far, I am too engrossed with simply surviving this move to focus on building a life here but there is another more significant reason. India and the US are two hugely different entities and as I whole-heartedly loved the American way of life, it is taking me longer than I anticipated in working it out of my system and feeling at home in India again. I am not unhopeful of one day feeling content here but as of now, I still have days when I seriously contemplate moving back.

The one significant thing I realized from my moving back to India experience is that “how” we move matters a lot more than “why”. We can give ourselves umpteen number of reasons why coming back to India is a good idea but none of that will satisfy if the time, place and circumstances do not come together to make the move as seamless as possible and you have a decent closure for your life abroad before you come back home.