Nehru’s pride, Indo-American relationship and the Indo-China war

Pic courtesy ibnlive.in.com

Gurcharan Das, in his book India Unbound, makes a pithy statement. When individuals make blunders, it’s sad but when leaders make blunders, it’s a tragedy. He was referring to Indira Gandhi but the statement applies equally to her father too. Nehru’s socialist leanings are well-known. What’s less known is that he was more attached to his personal ideology than the national interest. This letter from John Kenneth Galbraith (to JFK), in Ambassador’s Journal, illustrates that clash.. in the midst of the Indo-China war when India fervently requested (and the US obliged) with timely military aid. Nehru’s reluctance to publicly acknowledge America’s/JFK’s help is shocking and tragic.. especially when there was absolutely no anti-Americanism on the ‘Indian street’.

New Delhi, India

November 13, 1962

Dear Mr. President,

I have been waiting for the past ten days to give you a more detailed and intimate account of our affairs here. I have been sending rather full dispatches to the Department, some of which you have doubtless seen. But as you will have discovered, few Ambassadors have ever been completely candid in such reports. There is truth and there is also what one must have believed. I merely try to minimize the difference.

These past three weeks have brought great change here – no doubt the greatest change in public attitudes since World War II. The most treasured of preconceptions have been shattered. The disillusion with the Chinese is of course total. So, save at the top, is that with the Soviets. And the other unaligneds are not very popular. Nehru remains an exception. Even he is now hoping only for friendly neutrality from the Soviets rather than actual support. But with him there is another factor. All his life he has sought to avoid being dependent upon the United States and the United Kingdom – most of his personal reluctance to ask (or thank) for aid has been based on this pride. Now nothing is so important to him, more personally than politically, than to maintain the semblance of this independence. His age no longer allows of readjustment. To a point we can, I feel, be generous on this. …[Footnote#1]

One thing much on my mind these last days has been the American press. We have had a great influx of correspondents plus a large itinerant delegation covering the arms lift. … Were they bottled up here, the Indians would  get a bad press and so, inter alia, would we. I have now pretty well broken through on this, though I had to go to the Prime Minister himself. There will be many stories on the infirm character of his leadership, but that is not our business. I think Nehru is still playing down our role to protect the sensitivities of the Soviets and perhaps, more especially, to protect his own feelings. I have told him this was something we couldn’t take and have pictured the repercussions in the American press. We cannot decently help someone who is afraid to be seen in our company. There will be some damage along these lines, I fear.

…..

long paragraphs on what China intends to accomplish with the war, followed by paragraphs on opportunism showed by Pakistan/Ayub.. Ends with comments on America’s Kashmir policy.

…..

[Footnote #1]: There followed a long discussion of Indian political personalities which, along with some later references, I have deleted for reasons of taste. Another change has been made in this letter. In the private language of the State Department, the Pakistanis are sometimes referred to as “the Paks.” It is not, I think, an agreeable usage.

 

When Bokaro Steel Plant and America almost had a date…

Bokaro Steel Plant main gate (Pic: courtesy sail.co.in)

In Ambassador’s Journal, John Kenneth Galbraith writes about many interesting things during his tenure as US Ambassador to India. The snippets on Bokaro Steel City (where I was born) caught my attention. All Bokaro residents are aware of the Russian collaboration and the ‘many things Russian’ about Bokaro (stations inside City Park, Russian Colony, etc.) What will be news to most is that, during the Kennedy years, American aid and collaboration — for Bokaro Steel Plant — was a distinct possibility.  Below are relevant extracts from Galbraith’s various journal entries.

April 21, 1961 – New Delhi

I had my first press conference yesterday morning.

Then we did get into economics. I put the fourth government-owned steel plant at Bokaro within the range of American aid. I had no instructions but one should use what freedom he has, for it is evidently a rare blessing.

(Within the footnote, Galbraith adds the following) This became a highly controversial matter. My position — that public sector plants could be financed by the United States and that this one was eligible in principle — was strongly supported by President Kennedy, strongly opposed by Republicans and a source of great nervousness in the US bureaucracy which, at one time, reversed the President’s approval on the grounds that he was running undue political risk. This is discussed on several later occasions.

May 26, 1961 – New Delhi

Later we saw Swaran Singh, the Steel, Mines and Fuel Minister. I had indicated our possible willingness to finance the new Bokaro steel plant in the public sector. The Indians, as I have told, had then laid down a variety of conditions under which we might be allowed to do so — technical direction by Americans and management of projects by Indians and other interesting dualities. This is a hangover from the day when we seemed so anxious to help that we agreed to anything. I made clear that if we were providing the money — if we do — we must be able to ensure that a good job is being done. Today at the meeting we got a paper indicating agreement on this point. Diplomacy is easier from a strong bargaining position. The harder test would have been to make these arrangements if we were not the prospective source of the money.

Inside look at Bokaro Steel Plant (Pic: courtesy indianetzone.com)

Sep 13, 1961 – Washington

From lunch, I went to see Frank Coffin (Former Congressman from Maine. Then Deputy Administrator of AID and the Managing Director of the Department of State’s Development Loan Fund. Now a Federal Judge.) to weigh in on Bokaro – evidently they thought I was getting too far ahead. I urged its importance; the unwisdom of letting the Russians get the jump  on us; and the diffused and anonymous nature of our aid in the absence of such projects. I believe I made an impression.
I forgot to say that I had tea with B.K. Nehru last evening. He showed me a letter describing the Nehru-Khrushchev talks. Nehru asked Khrushchev if he would guarantee our access to Berlin.; K. said he would. He was agreeable about Kennedy, thought he had been handicapped by his small majority and attacked Adenauer.

Sep 23, 1961 – New Delhi

By a combination of persuasion, threats, blackmail, promises to resort to higher authority, appeals to patriotism and promises of what the Soviets will do, I seem to have a provisional approval of our financing of the fourth steel mill at Bokaro. Now we must find a way of building it with competence and distinction.
This project is very important. It is needed, useful and symbolic. Many of the things we are doing are rather anonymous — we provide copper and other nonferrous metals which are needed and useful but not very dramatic. And our past help to private-sector plants, such as Tata’s, has evoked the comment, “The Americans help the Tatas and Birlas who are already rich. By contrast, the Soviets or British build plants that belong to the people.” Now we are in the same league — provided that we can perform.
Oct 24, 1961 – New Delhi
Ty Wood has returned from Washington with a proposal for getting U.S. Steel in on the Bokaro mill as a private enterprise operation. Of the $500 million required, $100 million would be subscribed in common stock and the rest as a loan, possibly guaranteed, from the U.S. and India. One-third of the $100 million of common stock would be held by each of U.S. Steel, private Indian capitalists and the Indian Government. Half of U.S. Steel’s investment would be cash, the rest in technology and “know-how.” This means they would get control of a $500 million firm for ten years — their control is guaranteed for that time — for an investment of $16.7 million. A real bargain.
Jun 23, 1962 – New Delhi
Yesterday I met with the U.S. Steel team which is investigating the Bokaro steel mill and had them to lunch. Their appearance here is a ritual. (In the footnote, Galbraith later mentions “This was not so. Their work proved valuable.”). One or two good men could have gone over the engineering and clerical data and passed upon the plausibility and need for the mill in a couple of weeks.
Oct 8, 1962 – Chandrapura-Raipur
At six this morning we stopped at Chandrapura and picked up a covey of Damodar Valley Corporation and Hindustan Steel (what came to be known as “SAIL”) officials, the latter headed by J.M. Shrinagesh, the Chairman and one of the distinguished tribe hitherto encountered which functions in various parts of Indian life with additional members in the United States and Germany. The train then proceeded to the proposed site of the Bokaro steel plant, a half-hour distant, where we disembarked. The air was fresh and almost cool and the countryside, which is gently rolling, was a bright lush green. After an introduction to the various young engineers who are being assembled for the project and a lecture on plant layout, sources of raw material and the like, I went with Shrinagesh to a flight strip whence we took off for a half-hour trip over the site and the Damodar Valley. The Valley is underlain with coal and scarred by open cast pits, tipples and piles of waste but nonetheless rather attractive at this time of year. We circled an adjacent mountain about 5,000 feet high, the back and saddle of which are spotted with tiny white temples.
Oct 20 – Nov 20, 1962: Sino-Indian war
(Dates inserted here only for completeness. I haven’t read Galbraith’s account of the war yet. Don’t believe this war had any bearing on the Bokaro American aid decision.)
Feb 7, 1963 – New Delhi
General Clay is heading a committee to review the AID program. He has decided that there must be no assistance to Bokaro as long as it is in the public sector. In other words, for blatant ideological reasons, he is going back to the policies of the Eisenhower Administration. These were a grievous failure. Nothing substantial was done to advance private investment; and they talked about it enough to cause everyone to suppose our concern was to sustain capitalism rather than help the Indians. I have shifted to a purely pragmatic policy of whatever works. This even relaxes the tension on private enterprise.
I have written a careful rebuttal to Clay making it clear that he would lose sadly in any effort to carry his case to the public. I sent the message unclassified so that he won’t be in any doubt as to my willingness to do so. He has just joined Lehman Brothers in New York and will not want to start his banking career there with a public brawl. As for me, I would welcome it.
Feb 20, 1963 – New Delhi
The last three days have been intensely busy, much of the time with superficialities. I got off a long airgram to the Department putting General Clay right on Bokaro which I again sent unclassified so that it would have the greatest possible readership with every possible threat of leakage. I noted again that the previous administration had talked about supporting private enterprise while financing the public sector. They thus got the worst of both worlds. We were stopping the talk, cooling the debate over private and public enterprise, and had done very much better as a result.
Apr 15, 1963 – Ahmedabad-Baroda-Veraval-New Delhi
My life is currently divided between Kashmir and Bokaro, two problems inherited and on my hands for nearly all of these last two years. Today or tomorrow I’m seeing Nehru for the climactic session on Kashmir. I have prepared the way in every possible fashion, and I have some hopes of a fairly generous and forthcoming proposal for the Valley.
On Bokaro, my problem is Lucius Clay. He has come out against aid to publicly owned enterprises. So over the weekend I issued a statement to the American press that there was no such commitment and that the issue should be decided on its merits. I left no doubt what I believed these to be.
I have written a long memo on the subject which I would also like to have Washington release. Their hope, as always, is that the controversy will blow away. I can’t see why people are so afraid of a little fight. It does wonders for my disposition.
May 10, 1963 – New Delhi

The other occurrence of the week was much more pleasant. The President came out strongly on the side of helping the Indians build the Bokaro steel plant and he said it should be supported in the public sector. It was a marvelous no-nonsense statement. For weeks, the AID people have been worrying about Congressional reaction. Characteristically they have been seeking to protect the President on matters where he doesn’t need or, one gathers, especially want protection. Now he has moved in and settled matters. He made the statement in a press conference. I followed it up here with a brief press conference in which I drew attention to the President’s answers. I also noted that the Congress still had to act and there were many technical and administrative details to be worked out. The papers this morning are full of it.

For the last few days, Blitz, Link and the left generally have been busy assuring India that the U.S. is seeking to undermine Indian socialism. The President’s action is an unfair blow to these constructive thoughts

*******************************
The previous (May 10, 1963) entry is the last Bokaro-specific journal entry in Galbraith’s memoir. Galbraith’s term ended on Jul 12, 1963 and the new ambassador’s (Chester Bowles) term started on Jul 19, 1963. I’ve tried to cobble together a few other article links relevant to this story.
Jun 28, 1963
Time article on American aid: Foreign Aid: The Bokaro Issue
Nov 22, 1963: Assassination of JF Kennedy
May 27, 1964:- Death of Jawaharlal Nehru
Aug 13, 1965
Time article (one of 3 articles that match “Bokaro” search query – requires TIME subscription)  India: Pride & Reality
From this SAIL web page, the Soviet collaboration seems to have been announced sometime in 1965. It will be interesting to fill the gaps in the Bokaro-America/Soviet narrative from 1963 to 1965.

When something’s not easy to do, you are doing it wrong

Pic: courtesy Bing Images

It was early days for me at the University of Houston campus in the Fall of 1992. One of my initial starry-eyed memories was that of purchasing my first Coke can from a vending machine on my way back to the Cambridge Oaks apartment. This was my first-ever encounter with a Coke can (for that matter any soft drink can). I examined it as one would a hard-earned trophy. It was chilled to the perfect temperature, the bright red Coke colors and the calligraphic lettering epitomized to me excellence, beauty and perfection — all things I associated with the American Dream that I was here to pursue. And I had just bought it for 60 cents. It was thrilling.

At this point, most normal people would have pushed the tab open and started glugging away. For some odd reason (daftness perhaps?), I decided that one had to twist/rotate the tab (step #1) and then pull the tab (step #2). Not surprisingly, after I had executed step #2, I was left holding a detached tab and a (still unopened) Coke can and feeling rather silly. I hurried my way back back to the apartment with a mixture of how_could_I_be_so_dumb and a steely resolve to make amends. Later in the kitchen, a few deliberate pokes with a screwdriver yielded results and I was soon slaking my Coke thirst. This was incident #1.

Incident #2 involved the American matchbook – which is quite different from its Indian counterpart (which we call “match box” or “matches”). For the benefit of my Indian readers, let me describe the American matchbook – 2 rows of soft matchsticks are fused inside a thin cardboard flap, there’s only striking surface which is on the outer side of the flap. In case you are wondering, I’ve been a smoker for a grand total of 3 1/2 years – the latter 2 years were during my 1992-94 Houston stint. My roommate (another smoker from India) and I used the matchbook like an Indian matchbox – i.e. tear off the soft stick, and strike it against the striking surface. After a few days of low hit-rate match-strikes, we concluded that the Americans didn’t know how to manufacture matchbooks. Along comes Beaumont-Srini (a senior in Business school) who  showed us the correct way of using the American matchbook — twist the flap around to almost touch the striking surface and simply pull out the match between the striking surface and the flap. Voila! (Friction + chemistry = fire).

As I reflected on these 2 incidents, our mutual good friend, philosopher, guide and senior – Soumya (of Soumya.org fame) had this pithy summary about life in America: when something’s  not easy to do, you are doing it wrong. Over the years, this served as a reliable guiding litmus test. When I found myself waiting for hours at the DMV, turns out I could have called a toll free number to book an appointment instead. Years later, when I kept getting placed on hold on that toll free DMV number, turns out I could have booked my appointment (via the web) in less than a minute.

Now let’s look at India. The same pithy litmus test can be applied here – you just have to flip it on its head: when something’s looking very easy, you are probably doing it the wrong way. If you got your driver’s license in a single afternoon, chances are you bribed the RTO officer or utilized the services of a driving school agent. If you bought the latest video game or the newest Bollywood release from a footpath vendor as you were lounging down Indiranagar’s 100-feet road or Koramangala’s 80-feet road, they were definitely pirated (and you knew it!). If it’s taking you fifteen visits to the Corporation office to register your recently purchased property and you still don’t know when it will finally be registered, you (my friend) are doing it the right way!

If you found my description of the American matchbook to be inadequate, here are some visuals via Google Images: click here

Soft Landing Anyone?

Soft landing. Two words used most often by friends and acquaintances when I revealed my India plans. “You want a soft landing”, the wise men said. Moving to India would be hard overall so taking up a less stressful job would go a long way towards softening the landing. Great! But what kind of jobs would be soft landing?

First, let’s classify the consumer web job market into three distinct types:

  • A) Large Internet companies
  • B) Post Series A startups
  • C) Pre Series A startups
Off the bat, I ruled out Type C companies. After an intense all-consuming year at Graspr, it would be downright stupid to sustain that kind of pace in the midst of moving to India, right? When I first started writing this post, I was pretty sure the answer was yes. Three weeks later, I’m not so sure – time will tell.
What about Type A companies? There were only a handful of them and I planned to talk to them all. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a sizable number of Type B companies in Bangalore and Gurgaon, some even in Bombay. Intuitively, Type A firms would be better soft landing targets than Type B companies, right? To a large extent, yes! especially from a stability perspective. In terms of pace and intensity, there may not be a big difference. The Bangalore work ethic and culture (both in small and large companies) resembles the Bay Area companies to a great extent. The ideal soft landing would be if you were already working in a large technology company in America and were moving to an appropriately senior role in that company’s India operation in Bangalore, Delhi, or Hyderabad. Hmm…why didn’t I move to India during my Yahoo days? I blew my chance, didn’t I? 🙂
Jokes apart, the soft landing message can be expressed as not raising the ante. In other words, do not complicate or intensify your job any more than it already is. If you are working for a large software firm with a deterministic pace, seek a role at a similar size firm (if not the same firm you are already working for). If you are working for a medium size company that is establishing an India presence, seriously consider taking up a key role in building out the India organization. If you are at an early stage startup and are seeking a similar role and company in India, chances are good that you’ll find it in Bangalore, Gurgaon or Pune but.. seriously consider putting your startup aspirations on pause.. not for long (maybe just a few years). Of course time will tell whether I’ll follow my own advice.
Soft landings aren’t just for the breadwinners in the family – It extends to kids as well. One of my friend’s friend gave me a crash course on Bangalore schools and talked about the differences between the State Board schools, CBSE, ICSE and International schools (topics for future posts once we reach Bangalore). When he moved to Bangalore, he enrolled his younger daughter into an international school for the first two years before eventually moving her to a CBSE board school. The international school curriculum and teaching style was similar to the American schools and made for a soft landing before the traditional Indian school’s academic rigor kicked in.

Brother or Best Friend?

My two-week whirlwind India trip was not touching Hyderabad. This was a bummer because my brother lives there. Since I had a 6-day continuous stay in Bangalore, he planned a 2-day trip to Bangalore to spend some quality time with me.

I was really looking forward to it. My brother is older than me and I spent my first 20-something years hero-worshipping him. He was one of those brothers who shared a lot of his life experiences with me so that I could learn from his mistakes. I was one of those brothers who soaked all this up like a sponge. I’m also one of those chaps who go through life self-appointing one guru after another. My brother was my first guru.

Coming back to the Bangalore meeting with my brother – we spent all of 30 hours together but we had a blast. During my America years, the frequency of our communications had reduced significantly but not the quality. Somehow, magically, we could just pick up where we had left off, whether it was one week or four months since our last conversation. So here we were in a really nice 13th floor rooftop restaurant in Bangalore chatting away when… after a lull, he remarked “Listening to you talk this evening, you sound more like my best friend than my brother.” Man! If I needed any more reasons for why I was returning to India (not that I did), here was one more. Looking forward to spending more moments like these in the coming years.

The two types of Indian immigrants

Home is wherever you can lay down some roots (Pic: courtesy fineartamerica.com)

“When an Indian professional becomes a ‘Non-Resident Indian’ in the United States , he soon starts suffering from a strange disease. The symptoms are a fixture of restlessness,anxiety, hope and nostalgia. The virus is a deep inner need to get back home. Like Shakespeare said, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” The medical world has not coined a word for this malady. Strange as it is, it could go by a stranger name, the “X + 1″ syndrome.”

“In other words if ‘X’ is the current year, then the objective is to return in the ‘X + 1’ year. Since ‘X’ is a changing variable, the objective is never reached. Unable to truly melt in the ‘Great Melting Pot’, chained to his cultural moorings and haunted by an abject fear of giving up an accustomed standard of living, the Non-Resident Indian vacillates and oscillates between two worlds in a twilight zone. Strangely, this malady appears to affect only the Indians – all of our Asian brethren from Japan, Korea and even Pakistan – seem immune to it.”

This is how R. K. Narayan (among my top 5 favorite novelists) described the Indian immigrant in a seminal essay he penned in the 1990’s. He was talking about a previous generation of Indian Americans of course. As I reflect upon my own immigrant experience (and those of my cohort) in America in the past 16 years, I have my own theory about two distinct types of Indian immigrants – one of them described perfectly by R. K. Narayan. The first type rapidly assimilates into the American social milieu and decisively lays down roots within the first 5 years – I call this group the laydown-rooter. I call the second type should-we for the simple reason that they are constantly (or periodically) asking the question “Should we return to India?” It is my hypothesis that the should-we group outnumbers the laydown-rooter by a huge factor.

The should-we haven’t internalized whether or not to settle down in America – that’s the reason why they are the more interesting group. Some profess to return after [x] years or based on some financial goal. Others want to ‘successfully do’ a startup (definition of success varies from person to person). Still others impose upon themselves a deadline tied to an older child completing a crucial age of 5, 6 or 7 years – in order to minimize the school transition and adjustment angst.

The should-we are further segmented into active should-we and passive should-we. Some of the active should-we take the drastic step of not buying a house for fear that they might be tied. In general, the active should-we are proactively looking for the right career opportunity in India. They also make regular trips to India which largely serve to maintain their fervor of returning to India.

The passive should-we are driven by inertia and have a romantic notion to return to India but they haven’t set a timeline yet. They don’t proactively look for career opportunities but are very curious about the doings of their active should-we brethren. The passive should-we also make regular trips to India but invariably find enough reasons for why it is still not a good idea to move to India. Thus the status quo continues and the quest to move to India remains unresolved for the passive should-we.

However, the future for the passive should-we group is not as bleak  as R. K. Narayan depicts. Every year, an ever increasing trickle of the active should-we group is moving to India – providing social proof that the move can work – if done for the right reasons. Moreover, returning to India is no longer a career debilitating move as it used to be a decade or two ago. In fact, the move to India can also be a boost to one’s career. And finally, the move to India has become reversible – i.e. if it doesn’t work out (for whatever reasons), one can always return to America without losing traction on the career or life fronts. These are the reasons why active should-we are returning to India and passive should-we are becoming active should-we in increasing numbers.

Update (Jun 30): R.K. Narayan’s essay “India and America” from A Writer’s Nightmare: Selected Essays 1958-1988 has a more optimistic ending…

“The Indian in America who is not able to live wholeheartedly on this basis finds himself in a halfway house; he is unable to overcome his conflicts while physically flourishing on the American soil. One may hope that the next generation of Indians (American-grown) will do better by accepting the American climate spontaneously; or, alternatively, return to India to lead a different life.”

Why did the Kurugantis immigrate to America?

Pic: courtesy indianamerica.wordpress.com

Sometime in my 2nd year of engineering at BIT Mesra, I first dreamed of coming to America, getting trained as a computer scientist, doing cutting-edge research and becoming wildly famous – you know, the usual dreams that 2nd year engineering students have. 🙂 With a single-minded focus, I threw myself into the application process for graduate studies – acing the GRE, writing Statement of Purposes, obtaining recommendation letters, etc. Four years later, on Aug 15, 1992, I boarded a Lufthansa flight to Houston to start my MS program at University of Houston. At this point, I was neither thinking of settling down in America nor did I have a definitive plan to return to India – my operating philosophy was simply to wait and see how my career progressed.

Two weeks prior to my arrival in Houston, an intelligent and attractive young woman from Bombay took a different flight to Chicago. She was headed to Loyola University to pursue her Ph.D in neuroscience. Her motivations were far more idealistic, focused and driven. After watching her mother battle Multiple Sclerosis (a disease neither well-understood nor well-researched in India) for years, she vowed to join the thousands of worldwide researchers in the quest for a cure to MS. Unlike my wait and see approach, she resolved to return to India after completing her Ph.D. Our paths crossed in Jun 1996 and inevitably changed both our lives. After a year-long romance (short by American standards, long by Indian standards), we got married.

I’ve thought long and hard about why I dreamed of America in the first place. I’ve come up with two plausible reasons.

  1. Books are where dreams begin. I was a serious bookworm during my school years. It is not an exaggeration to say that I devoured 5-6 books a week (when school was in session). My earliest images of America were of the Wild West which was fueled by a heavy diet of Louis L’Amour, Oliver Strange’s Sudden, and Zane Gray. My reading then moved to adventure, intrigue, and science fiction where I encountered the likes of Alistair MacLean, Clive Cussler, and Isaac Asimov. Somewhere in the zillion mentions and portrayals of America (wild west, MIT, and CalTech), I became fascinated and wanted to see and visit America. By the time I reached college, the resolve became stronger and turned into professional hunger.
  2. By the time I reached BIT Mesra (my undergraduate alma mater), I had heard of many many folks (especially engineering graduates) who had immigrated to America to pursue graduate study. One of my friend’s brothers (who was already a professor at University of Pennsylvania) had won the prestigious Presidential Young Scientist award. All these social proof points added to my determination to pursue the (Indian) American Dream.

Why are we moving back to India now?

Pic: courtesy newswala.com

This is the first question our friends and acquaintances ask when they learn about our India plans. The first part of the answer lies in understanding why we immigrated to America in the first place.

The next lies in understanding the Kurugantis’ position on the two types of Indian immigrants. Poonam and I were always in the should-we camp. Barring my first six years in America (when I was unambiguously a passive should-we), I have vacillated between the active should-we and passive should-we camps. About 3-4 years, Poonam and I both crossed over to the active should-we camp but an interesting/cyclical thing played out. After nearly moving to Bangalore in early 2005 (more on this in a subsequent post), Poonam and my desire to move to India ebbed and flowed like two sine curves with a phase lag. In 2006, my sine curve had hit a local maxima while Poonam’s curve had reached a local minima. In mid-2007, our roles had reversed – she was ready, I wasn’t. 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. How did this come about? I had recently decided to leave Graspr – the startup where I had slaved for a year. Sometime earlier, Poonam had left her previous gig with a medical communications firm in order to find a better opportunity. So here we were… discussing our respective future plans in our living room after getting the kids to bed when… it suddenly flashed upon us (not unlike the Halley’s Comet) – our time had come. The time was indeed very opportunistic – in other respects too. Our older son was about to turn 5 and the younger one had recently turned 2. If we didn’t act now, it would be criminal.

So I’ve answered the “now” part of the question “Why are we moving back to India now?” What about the rest? My philosopher wife has a very succinct answer. According to her, there are four aspects to life – mind, body, heart, and soul. Our minds and bodies have been nourished extremely well (oh! so well indeed) in America for the past 16 years. But there is a yearning on the heart and soul fronts and we fervently believe that moving back to India would satisfy it.

Poonam’s right of course and I could have ended the post right here. But I want to peel another layer of the onion and provide some color on this ‘yearning’ that I talked about. Lest you think that we’ve had a miserable time in America, let me elaborate. The last 10 years in the SF Bay Area have been awesome. Both Poonam and I made strides and thoroughly enjoyed working in our respective fields. Having a group of 25+ classmates from BIT Mesra whom I’ve known for 20 years created a home away from home. Between our respective workplaces and involvement with various non-profit organizations, we made new friends – many of whom we’ll cherish for years to come. The confidence one accumulates, as a byproduct of pursuing the American dream, is hard to acquire anywhere else in the world. I feel privileged indeed.

The essential difference between the laydown-rooter and the should-we has less to do with the proverbial melting pot and more to do with how they reconcile with their Indian roots. Mathematically speaking,

Indian roots = immediate family (parents & siblings) + larger Indian community

The laydown-rooter‘s emotional (read “Indian root”) needs are satisfied with the annual/biannual trips he makes to India. The occasional visit of his immediate family to America is an added bonus. The should-we craves for more interactions with the immediate family and wants to engage more with the Indian community. Let’s bring this discussion back to my personal perspective – of an active should-we.

On the family front, my parents have visited us in America exactly twice – their second visit was in 2004. Considering that my dad is in his early 70’s, suffered a minor illness during his last visit to America, and has been fighting a low-intensity duel with asthma for several decades now, he cannot be expected to do any heavy international travel. It was completely reasonable when he announced last year that he won’t be traveling to America (or any other country for that matter) anymore (of course I was shocked initially). My second son (who was born in Jan 2006) hasn’t seen his grandparents yet. There’s something wrong with this picture.

Coming to the second half of the Indian roots equation – larger Indian community. My heart (and Poonam’s) has always bled for the disenfranchised. Over the years, we have donated money and time to several different non-profit organizations – touching causes in America (Yahoo! Employee Foundation, MS Society, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, March of Dimes, Build.org, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Organization for Autism Research) and India (Asha for Education, Rejuvenate India Movement, Indians for Collective Action, India Literacy Program). But I have to confess that our hearts resonate more with India-related causes compared to any other causes. Moreover, Poonam and I want to do more than just fundraising for India related causes. This is only possible in India.

I left India 16 years with a 100% Indian composition. I return to India with a composition that is 60% Indian and 40% American. I salute my two favorite melting pots in the world – India and America.

Posts related to this decision:

 

Why the urge to blog *now* ?

Pic: courtesy noracaron.com

The itch to blog has been there for several years. But I’m more of a generalist than a specialist. I believe it’s much easier for specialists to blog regularly than generalists. Audiences are interested in  reading and subscribing to blogs that have a certain theme, focus, and some level of predictability. The operative word is focus.

As my close friends will attest to, I’m an extremely curious individual with diverse interests. One of my friends once remarked that I’m the most curious person he knows. I’ve decided to use Twitter as the outlet for my (unfocused) stream of consciousness. If you are curious, you may check out twitter.com/ulaar (primary life + work tweets) and twitter.com/dataholic (twitter-size data factoids that I’ve found interesting).

I created my WordPress account sometime in Jan 2008, wrote my first post on Feb 7, 2008 (largely inspired by the excitement I felt about Qik) but it was only in early-May that I started posting regularly. Why? The answer may be that I’ve found my muse (Shhh! don’t tell anyone just yet. Don’t want the muse to get upset and run away). The long-sought focus for my blog is our family decision to move back to India.

After spending the most recent 40% of my life in America, the decision to move back to India is a pivotal and life-altering event for us. One of the reasons to blog about this experience is simply to “think aloud” and use this medium as a reflective online diary. The other, more compelling reason, is my fond hope that other Indian-Americans (and perhaps even the larger Indian diaspora) would find my account useful if they are contemplating a similar move themselves. In the past 3 years, I requested every friend and acquaintance (and there were several) who moved back to India to blog about their experience. To date, no one has obliged. I’m determined to break the jinx/laziness/whatever… 🙂

Who knows how long it will take us to re-assimilate ourselves into the Indian social milieu. Estimates from friends, relatives, and moved-back-to-India veterans have ranged from 1 to 2 years. All in all, there should be ample material to write about during the next 1-2 years – me thinks. Of course, you (the reader) will decide whether it’s worth reading or not. 🙂

In the coming weeks and months, I shall strive to post as detailed an account as possible. Will endeavor to cover a wide range of issues – everything from finding a job in India to deciding on which city to live to housing decisions to kids schools to finding a suitable driver to who knows what else.

In just a few hours, I’ll be getting on a plane to fly to India – Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore are the three cities I’ll be covering in a span of two weeks. The trip agenda is part-interviewing and part-scouting. On the interviewing-end, talking to both large and small software companies – the common theme I’m hearing is a heightened sense of excitement that India is no longer just the back office operation for the Western world.