Arun Nehru and Lalit Suri

I thought I knew all the major players in the ‘organized’ 1984 Sikh riots.

I was wrong.

Hartosh Singh Bal’s Caravan article uncovered these two gentlemen – one a Gandhi extended family hawk, the other a hotelier.

Gathering feedback on possible ‘war games’ is one thing:

“As one of the few Sikhs in a senior position in the government—even though I was clean-shaven, he wanted to know my views,” Gill said, his back ramrod-straight. “He wanted to know how the community would react. It was not the first time he had spoken to me about Punjab, and he made no bones about his views. I remember him once telling me, with some pride, that he was a hawk. I told him such a move would be a blunder. Given the history of the Sikhs it would result in assassinations, and I remember using the plural.”

Talking coldly about a 3-day sanctioned plan about to be executed is quite another.

The mention of Nehru led Gill to relate his personal experience of the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s death. On 1 November, he went to his office. “Lalit Suri of Lalit Hotels, who used to come and see me often, dropped by. He was the errand boy for Rajiv Gandhi, and since he often needed some work done, he was close to me. He came to me in the ministry and said, ‘Clearance has been given by Arun Nehru for the killings in Delhi and the killings have started. The strategy is to catch Sikh youth, fling a tyre over their heads, douse them with kerosene and set them on fire. This will calm the anger of the Hindus.’”

Suri, Gill continued, “told me that I should be careful even though my name is not on the voters’ list, the Delhi gurdwara voters’ list. ‘They have been provided this list. This will last for three days. It has started today; it will end on the third.’”

 

Aftermath of Delhi gangrape: a set of must-read articles and tweets

Barring onetwo, the rest of the curated articles should appeal to your head rather than your heart.

Added For Anonymous after the girl’s death earlier today.

The Problem is Us

How to go from outrage to action

Till the next rape case

Impact of UPA pardons

On police reforms…

  • Nine demands from Saikat Dutta – storified here
  • Collection of tweets from @pragmatic_d on Supreme Court police reforms ruling

https://twitter.com/pragmatic_d/status/281040115961303040

https://twitter.com/pragmatic_d/status/281040660935622657

https://twitter.com/pragmatic_d/status/281040939877801985

https://twitter.com/pragmatic_d/status/281041220128628737

https://twitter.com/pragmatic_d/status/281041455332593664

https://twitter.com/pragmatic_d/status/281042641725054976

Tweets that made me pause…

https://twitter.com/RupaSubramanya/status/282740637382610944

https://twitter.com/KiranKS/status/282510808200658946

https://twitter.com/KiranKS/status/282510808200658946

https://twitter.com/RupaSubramanya/status/281280234295275520

Crime does not pay – a rebooting manifesto

It’s been over a week since a hapless young medical student was brutally gang-raped and mercilessly beaten to within a micro-inch of her life. In this glorious nation’s capital.. inside a moving private bus with tinted windows that drove past five police checkposts without being stopped for an obvious violation of a law that went into vogue mere months ago. And the Chief Minister appears on a government sympathizer TV channel, sheds crocodile tears at her beloved city being dubbed the ‘rape capital’ yet doesn’t have the humanity to visit the woman battling for her life because she (honorable CM) failed miserably in her job. A job which apparently comes with the unique perk of absorbing all the accolades (however few they might be) and none of the brickbats. A job that apparently does not include law and order. This from a Chief Minister elected to office for the third successive time. And no – I shall not utter some nonsense like “dark side of democracy.”[1]

In the first week, I favorited every tweet that resonated and read every other opinion piece that came through my timeline. (Here’s my curated list.) While my emotional rage quotient ebbed and flowed (but mostly trended down), a nascent desire to act  started. Meanwhile on my daily commutes, I wrote (and rewrote) this blog post… in my head of course.

It’s a Funnel, stupid!

Much like the Anna Hazare movement’s Jan Lokpal Bill was touted as a mythical silver bullet to corruption in high (and low) places, a popular solution being brandished (by Bollywood celebrities, media mavens and social media sundry) is capital punishment for convicted rapists. It was by no means the only one silver bullet solution being proposed – a stupendously vacuous suggestion that came up sometime in my Facebook stream was to legalize prostitution – an added nuance being a ‘career option’ for BPL women. I privately wrote back to one of my friends that the solutions to combat rape lie on the entire gamut of a “funnel” – from the mechanics of penalties (be it capital punishment or life imprisonment without parole) to speedy justice (urgent and significant implementation of police and judicial reforms) to society and cultural changes.

Taking things personally

Recently my wife recalled a comment from one of our Bay Area friends (Z) after we had announced our plans to return to India. “I’m just not confident I’ll be able to protect my wife in India,” he had said. She added the following for good measure “I know you normally don’t think about these issues but I really respect what Z said that day.”

This got me thinking.

It’s not like I don’t love my wife. It’s not like I don’t care for her personal safety. It’s not like we have a risky lifestyle that potentially puts her in harm’s way. But.. am I spending time thinking about what is safe for her and our children? And am I doing anything to make her even feel safe? The answers to both are sadly No and No.

Problem. Big problem.

Demolition Man

One of Sylvester Stallone’s less popular movies was Demolition Man. Set in a futuristic society where crime rate has come down to zero percent… i.e. until a twentieth-century bad-ass villain gets released on parole from a cryogenic state. The villain wreaks havoc on the futuristic city which is ill-equipped to react to homicidal strategies from a distant era. The city’s (untested) crime fighting department comes up with a desperate remedy – unfreeze Stallone from a similar cryogenic state to help catch the new killer in the city. Stallone was a top-cop from the twentieth-century era who had caught that bad-ass villain in the first place (of course) but himself got into trouble leading to his cryogenic imprisonment.

Crime does not pay. This was the the tragic-comic phrase (with a distinct ad jingle-like effect) that keeps getting played in Demolition Man each time a crime took place. Kinda cheesy in the movie but totally appropriate as a rallying cry to fight crime in India.

Crime does not pay –> Crime SHOULD NOT pay

While the nation’s conscience and the protests in Delhi are (rightly) focused on rape, let’s not forget that India’s track record in battling and convicting murder/assault crimes is as deplorable as that for rape crimes. So let’s make Crime does not pay the rallying cry, shall we?

The Manifesto

  • I no longer care how filthy our streets are.
  • I no longer care how pathetic our pot-holed roads are.
  • I no longer care how many new scams are uncovered every month.
  • Just like every company that attempts a successful turnaround/reinvention focuses on ONE priority, I believe India’s priority needs to be Law and Order. Time to bring back the “L” in Law and “O” in Order.
    • I’ve just HAD it with rapes and gang rapes.
    • I’ve just HAD it with police (& society) making rape survivors’ lives miserable and driving them to suicide.
    • I’ve just HAD it with an ill-trained, poorly paid, corrupt and disrespected police force.
  • No more rapists going scot free.
  • No more rape cases dragging on for years.
  • No more murder cases dragging on for years.
  • Time to OCCUPY the police and judicial system and make Crime does not pay a reality.
  • For the next few years, measure and report on law and order metrics at all levels of governance.
  • For the next few years, hold EVERY elected politician and bureaucrat accountable to ONE metric – what are YOU (insert <local><state><central> politician) doing to improve the law and order situation?

Yeah. The vast majority of India’s billion plus population can neither afford a Blackwater-style security blanket nor are they entitled to Z-plus level security so we (the citizens) need to make the system work for us.

What precisely do I intend to do as part of my personal manifesto? For starters spend 1-2 hours every week on one of the aspects of this multi-faceted problem. Time to act has begun.

P.S. Already got feedback that this manifesto is high on theory and low on pragmatic todos. Hopefully that’ll change in the coming weeks.

 

Bengali Mumbaikar takes the long way home

Pic: courtesy ekmarathimanoos.blogspot.com

Soumya Banerjee (my friend from University of Houston days) returned from Boston to India 10 years ago – a period which we can term the “first wave” of reverse brain drain. Very few of my Indian-American friends returned that early so he stands out. It’s thus fitting that he’s the first profile being published in the new R2IProfile category. Here we go with the email interview…

Q: How long & where did you live in US? When did you return to India?
A: 10 years. Lived in Houston (Grad school + 1.5 years) and Boston

Q: Why did you return?
A: The company I worked with (Sapient) was setting up an office in India. Had a casual conversation and took a flight over. Wife (Priti Dhall) stayed back in the US for a year and then she also moved. Meeting in London stops being romantic after a few months.

So clinically speaking it was the job. Also important is the fact that we always thought we would move back some day. (America was never our country)

Q: Which Indian city did you move to and why?
A: Delhi, since 3 of the 4 guys setting up the office were from Delhi 🙂 Moved to Mumbai after 7 years in Delhi.

Q: Apartment, villa or independent home? How did you arrive at this decision? Did you move all/part of your household belongings?
A: Apartment (one floor of a 3 floor house). Only two of us, did not need a HOUSE. Also at that time Gurgaon was not developed and did not have that many apartments. We moved with six suitcases of stuff. Rest we left behind.

Q: How do you rate your return to India on a scale of 1-10? [10=love the place/should have moved earlier, 1=hate it here / plotting my return back to USA)
A: 10

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely love about India since you returned?
A: In no particular order…

  • Career growth
  • Ability to travel and see the country
  • Family being close by

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely detest about being in India?
A: In no particular order…

  • Roads in cities
  • Chalta hai attitude
  • Encounters with corruption

Q: What are the 3 things you miss most about America?
A: See below:

  • Food 🙂
  • Silence
  • Not being involved in every family decision/trip

Editor’s Note: Soumya is currently working on an online education startup (Attano) targeting Indian students. If you meet Soumya in person, you’ll find that, far from the brevity of his email responses, he’s a voluble and engaging communicator with an insatiable wanderlust. For evidence of his wanderlust, I present you Exhibit A – Genesis (photo blog of his travels in India). Soumya’s dear wife (Priti) meanwhile is accruing karma points for several generations of Banerjees and Dhalls through her dedicated work on CanKids India (a support group for children with cancer and their families).

R2I Profiles – Launching a New Category

My WordPress dashboard stats tell me that a lot of organic traffic comes from folks searching for “nris returning to india” or “indians returning to bangalore”. When I started this blog in 2008, this was the primary target group I had in mind. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that we moved to Bangalore from SF Bay Area when our kids were 5 and 2.5 and that our kids are attending school at NPS Koramangala (a CBSE board school, not an International/IB school). You may have also noticed that most of my posts in the second year are categorized under Settling Down instead of Returning to India.

Sure – I’ve written about how we picked schools for our kids, our escapades with the drivers and of becoming one with the Bangalore traffic. But that’s merely one perspective. What if you are considering Hyderabad or Delhi/NCR because you have family there? What if your older kid is 10 years and you are wondering if you’ve waited too long? When to keep a cook and driver? and when not to? When does it make sense to send your kids to a CBSE school vs. an international school? Answers to these questions can only come from the hordes (yes “hordes”) of Indians with heterogenous profiles who have returned before and after us.

Without further ado, I present to you R2I Profiles (short for Returned-To-India Profiles) – a new category that shall feature interview-style posts with other folks who have made the bold (or foolish) move back to the motherland. Stay tuned! (Hopefully not for too long)

….

And the posts have started to come in…

The Three Bubbles Revisited

When I wrote The Three Bubbles back in Oct 2008, the perspective was biased around cushioning the India landing. Clearly the 3 bubbles represent a fairly minimalistic view of life. If one were to just shuttle from the “living bubble” to the “working bubble” via the “commuting bubble”, there’s a strong likelihood of slowly going mad… unless you are one of the workaholic types who’s all-consumed by work. For the rest of us, a fourth bubble is what the the joie de vivre doctor ordered.

The fourth bubble is an activity you do at least once a week, usually on weekends, and is something that delivers large doses of joy, pleasure, and exhilaration. Physical pain may be a side effect sometimes but..(heck) it would have been worth it. Lest the hyperactive imagination of my readers go off in strange directions, let me cut to the chase and elaborate on what I’m talking about 🙂

Pranshu Gupta (buddy and ex-colleague from Yahoo who returned to Delhi in 2002) spends weekends offroading his custom-fitted Jeep up-and-down steep ravines and sloshing through muddy swamps on the outskirts of Gurgaon. For company, he has 8-10 other folks vying with each for bragging rights on offroading adventures, jeep modifications and towing equipment. For a taste of what these guys do with whinnying machines, check out Offroading in Behrampur/Gurgaon.

Soumya Banerjee (who returned to Delhi from Boston in 2001 to start Sapient’s India operation and is now working on a startup in Mumbai) is a thoroughbred wanderlust who doesn’t let a single weekend go by without exploring yet another picturesque part of India. After experiencing the best of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh (during his Delhi days), he’s now busy exploring Maharashtra and the southern states. For photographic evidence, check out his travel blog at Soumya.org – be warned! the travel bug might bite you.

Manjula Sridhar (a budding entrepreneur and endurance athlete who returned to Bangalore from Silicon Valley) has a menu of endurance activities to choose from every weekend – from running to cycling to “Lost-style” adventure competitions. I kid you not! This gal chalks up cycling and running miles like…well… I don’t know what to compare her with. As though this were not enough, she’s also a trained martial artist and she teaches karate. Clearly she has conquered time.

Sridhar Ranganathan (serial entrepreneur and good friend who moved to Bangalore ~ 7 years ago) does not miss his Sunday morning round of golf at the KGA links for anything! His golf handicap is steadily getting better I’m told but I strongly suspect he’s sneaking in an odd round during the week as well (there! that’s how rumors are started).

Ajay (my colleague who moved from San Diego to Bangalore 3 years ago) gets his weekly dose of adrenalin by playing several games of squash at his apartment club house.

When we moved to Bangalore ~ 2yrs ago, I had grim forebodings that my dormant asthma might flare up (see Asthma, Bangalore and me) so I had to choose a physical activity wisely. My choices narrowed down to squash (which I absolutely LOVED) or running (which I kinda sorta liked in a bursty irregular way). Running eventually won out because there were no squash courts within reasonable driving distance. Boy! Did I get lucky or what? I was introduced to a rabid Koramangala/HSR running gang and before I knew it, had run ~ 1200 km in 2009 – completing my second and third marathons (see Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010) were merely a side effect.

The Three Bubbles will keep you nice and cozy during your initial year (a ‘necessary’ condition in The Art of Returning to India) but I now believe that it’s the fourth bubble that’s the high-order bit (‘sufficient’ condition) in staying-put for the long haul.

The first week in Bangalore

“I want to go to Bangalore, Mommy”, declared Sanat three days after we reached Bangalore. He knew, of course, that we had reached Bangalore but what he was trying to say is that while he really enjoyed the last month of traveling, he was ready to settle into our new place. “Soon, beta“, we reassured him. The Adobe guest house is a very well-furnished 4-bedroom flat – we were alloted 2 bedrooms which is making for comfortable living. The first (larger) room became the family bedroom and the second room doubled as our study and the kids’ playroom. Suraj, caretaker and awesome cook, has been churning out a steady stream of culinary goodness – bless him!

Among the first things we noticed about Bangalore was the traffic decibels. I scratched my head. Why did it seem like drivers were honking more than usual? It should sound just like any other Indian metro, right? I then recalled seeing the following road sign in Delhi – “Do not honk. Violators will be fined.” At that time, I thought it was one of millions of Indian laws & signs that were routinely ignored. Apparently, it has worked at least partially because I could tell the difference in traffic volumes between Delhi and Bangalore. A web search for delhi honking ban yielded the following top article (dated 2002): Honking ban for Delhi drivers.

A funny thing happened on Monday morning (August 17). The folks at Adobe were expecting me to join that morning while I thought my join date was a week away (Aug 24). So I strolled in wearing my Birkenstocks to say HI to my HR contacts. Adobe was fine with me joining on Aug 24 but the HR manager suggested that if I joined on Aug 17 and worked reduced hours, I might get a lot of great leads and advice from my new colleagues. Totally made sense. I’m glad I listened to him because that’s exactly what happened the entire week. Between schools, apartments, and which cars to buy, I was getting a ton of leads from my colleagues – in the hallways, cafeteria, and in between business meetings.

The first four days whizzed away pretty quickly with a rhythm. I’d go to work for 2-3 hours in the morning, return home to lunch with the family. The kids would take their afternoon nap and my afternoon session was 3-4 hours. I’d return around 4:30pm and the family would clamber aboard an auto to zip over to that evening’s destination. One of the apartment communities we liked a lot is Raheja Residency in Koramangala. Turns out we know 4 different folks who live there. On Friday, I took the day off to hit the school pavements in the morning, and a whirlwind apartment community tour in the afternoon (organized by a broker whom we enlisted). What an eventful day that was. Stay tuned for the following posts:

(Oct 17: Updated with link to The curious case of the ‘traveling’ chairman)

First 3 days in India (Delhi & Bangalore)

Missed the Independence Day celebrations at the capital -- by 10 hours

Aug 15

The prodigal son returns to India on Independence Day exactly 16 years after he had left for America. Left on a Lufthansa flight and returned on an Air India nonstop flight.  We had the closest thing to a red carpet welcome. Our very dear friends had arranged for ‘Man Friday’ (no less) and two vehicles to whisk us away to a comfy guest house in a neato Delhi neighbourhood. It was 10pm by the time we reached, nobody was hungry but we played safe anyway and ordered some takeout. At 3am, the kids woke us up and we realized everyone was hungry and non-sleepy. We finished the food in no time and spent the next 3 hours trying to persuade the kids to go back to sleep. You can guess who won that round. Almost forgot to mention that we were VERY impressed by the service on Air India. Seriously!

Aug 16

Went hunting for soymilk in the morning. Thanks to the ubiquity of Silk, the hunt was successful. After breakfast, spoke to the Avtars (dear friends of ours who had moved to Ghaziabad/Indirapuram from SF Bay Area 2 years ago) by phone. Started calling a bunch of friends from Bokaro days and struck pay dirt. Amitabh came over to the guest house – we had lunch together and had a great time catching up. Later in the afternoon, called another old classmate Rahul who promptly invited us over for dinner. Amrit’s first auto-ride in India – he enjoyed it, The kids became friends with Rahul’s son (and his toys) in no time. Excellent chinese food (“Indian Chinese” variety) and catching up on our last 20 years made for a great evening.

Aug 17

The Jet Airways flight to Bangalore was in the morning. Man Friday was again instrumental in making our airport experience very very smooth. The good vibes must have rubbed off on the Jet Airways because they waived the 12 lbs excess baggage fee. The special treatment from Jet personnel didn’t end there. We were the last people that disembarked from the plane in Bangalore and what do I see when I reach the baggage claim? A pleasant and attractive lady from Jet Airways greets me by name and asks me to confirm whether the 6 suitcases and 2 boxes stashed on 3 carts were ours. Cool! Then an entourage of 3 Jet baggage attendants escort us all to the way to our transport. Double cool!

Flash update: In the midst of our Farewell USA tour (Cedar Falls to be precise), I had accepted an offer to join Adobe Bangalore. It’s a very exciting role and I’ll elaborate in a separate post – sequel to Searching for a forcing function.

The nice people from Adobe had sent a Toyota Innova (the Indian minivan) with a luggage rack. I needn’t have worried about the luggage not fitting. The drive from the new Bangalore International Airport to the Adobe guest house on Bannerghatta Road took one hour. Our driver pointed out all the neighbourhoods along the way – our education and settling down in Bangalore had begun.

P.S. Has anyone noticed that I’m gradually switching from American to British spelling (colour instead of color)? Strange thing is that this happened subconsciously.

Searching for a forcing function

When I planned the 2-week trip to India, the objectives were simple. First and foremost, interview with as many companies (big & small). Secondly, meet as many people as possible to assess the overall liveability of the city in question. And finally, spend time soaking in the city in order to get a first-hand perspective of living in the city.

Regarding soaking in the city, my experience has been as much literal as it was metaphorical :). I’ve traveled in chauffeur-driven cars and SUVs (most of my friends have one of these), traveled heavily in auto-rickshaws (fondly known as autos),  and a regular (read “non-airconditioned”) cab from Delhi airport to Gurgaon (not a very pleasant experience in June I’ve gotta admit).

As discussed in Where in India are we moving to, we had short-listed 4 cities – Bangalore, Delhi/Gurgaon, Bombay and Pune. Poonam and I reasoned that, all things roughly equal on the city front, we would use the job opportunity as the forcing function. In other words, if I landed multiple job offers, the overall best offer would drive our decision to move to city X.

After spending 9 days hopping from Bombay to Delhi to Bangalore, I’m learning that the forcing function needs modification. I believe it should be 50% based on career opportunities and 50% based on liveability. Let’s examine both criteria.

Note that the first criterion is career opportunities, not job offer. This is a crucial difference. You might get a great job offer from company X in city Y. In the best of circumstances, you might have a very fruitful and rewarding stint at the company for 3+ years. In the worst of circumstances, you might find the environment too intense or simply not a good match (for any number of reasons) in the first year itself. In either case, your next step would be the same – to look for a new job. In short, you want to be in a city where there are ample opportunities in your industry vertical hence the plural (career opportunities).

Now let’s examine the livability criterion. There are five key components to livability – friends, schools, housing, good playing spaces for kids, and traffic/pollution. The first component (friends) is an essential and obvious prerequisite. If you have spent the better part of your adult life in America, most of your friends are currently in America (very likely in the precise geographic area you are just contemplating leaving). Having a sufficient number of great friends in the destination city cannot be overemphasized – after all, what’s life without friends? From our original short list of cities, Pune is looking bleak because we haven’t located any of our Pune-dwelling friends yet. The remaining four criteria warrant separate posts – stay tuned!