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!

The social graph reacts to our move

Back in July, in typical Kuruganti style, I sent an email to the vast majority of my social graph about our planned move to India. It was a rather painstaking process since there’s no easy way to pack all the relevant email addresses into a Bcc field. Using Facebook as the mother lode, I systematically sent batches of email to my social graph over a period of one week.  I would have loved to have met all of you Bay Area (and Portland, New York, and Chicago) folks but last minute logistics prevented that. I hope to meet many of you in Bangalore and the rest of you in Bay Area (when I make a business trip). I was overwhelmed by the heart-warming responses – some of which validated my rationale for starting this blog (see Why the urge to blog now). This post is part-tribute and part “Reply All” to my social graph. Hope you’ll enjoy it. I’ve organized the responses into a few different categories and included responses where appropriate.

A sense of surprise, shock, admiration, and… lots of questions

  • It’s very exciting to hear that you still have the courage to start a new life.
  • Great decision. I admire it.. Good luck for your future endeavors.
  • What a brave decision, I am sure your parents/in-laws are very happy. Tell me more, how did you finally make this call?
  • Wow! I didn’t know you are moving. Are kids the primary driver?
  • Wow!!  This is a big and sudden news to me!  What happened?  Why this move all of a sudden?
  • I am very surprised to hear this. You mentioned you would be staying at Bangalore. So did you land on a position there?
  • Best of luck!  Have you taken an offer in India?
  • Wow! What a change…. are you going back for “long term” (i.e. more than 2 year)?
  • Vishy! Holy cow! Wow-what a big change! Will this be a permanent move?? In any case, please take care and looking forward to reading your blogs of the farewell trip.
    • We are thinking of “long-term” as a sequence of “short-terms” 🙂
  • What happened to Graspr?
  • I wish you all the luck. Are you starting up an office for Graspr?
  • Wow!  i’m dying to go to shasta. Are you moving your start up to India?
    • Graspr is alive and thriving. I decided (in April) to move on to my next adventure in life – which turned out to be this move to India.
  • Are you starting a new business in India?
    • No. I accepted a role with Adobe India to manage their Shockwave/Director business.
  • Vishy, best of luck.  Sounds like just going to be closer to your brother will be worth it.  Stay in touch.  I keep telling myself I need to get to India one day and it would be great to look you up!

Warm Sendoff

  • Congratulations to you and your family, Vishy.  I wish you well.  I’ll be following your blog and can’t wait to read all about your journey. Obviously, I won’t get a chance to look you in the eye to say goodbye, so here’s a hug. You’ll probably be back in the US for a trip before I get out to Bangalore, so please reach out if/when you happen to be here.
    • You bet!
  • We will definitely miss you guys here, I was looking forward to some of those hiking trips now that the kids are handling the walk up the hill 🙂 Seems like you are having/had an interesting time before taking off -a road trip, hmm.. tempting..  I would definitely follow what you guys are up to via the blog and stay in contact.
    • Hey – let’s do a family hike next week we meet (either in Bangalore or in the Bay Area).
  • It’s nice to have worked closely with you again towards the end of your chapter here in the US — It was a great pleasure and honor to back then, and it was truly cool to have collaborated again this year. I know we’ll stay in touch and I hope to see you in India when I come down sometime, so just want to wish you and your family the best during your transition. 🙂
  • Sorry to hear you’ll be leaving here, but congrats on the move and the next steps for you and family!  Sounds like an exciting decision, and the right timing all around.
  • Good luck to you with your endeavors! It’s awesome that you decided to move back to India and good to see you’re leaving in style 🙂 Quite a trip you have planned to get to JFK.
  • Hey dude, sorry it took me so long to get back to you, life is very busy w/ a baby. So, this is good news man!  That farewell tour looks pretty fun! I’ve always wanted to do that.  Do you have time to get together for lunch before you depart?
  • Good luck back in India. Let’s get lunch before you go. BTW, I am leaving Yahoo! soon. Give me a call and let’s catch up.
    • Sorry I ran out of time.
  • Thanks for the update.  What an exciting new chapter for both your family and career!  Best of luck to you in all your endeavors and adventures.
  • Good luck with the move! That’s a big change – hopefully it will bring you closer to your family. I myself am thinking of ways to make the move up to Oregon to be closer to home…On your way through Oregon, make sure you wave to my mom and brother in Eugene – and if you happen to make the detour to Bend, you may try to picture me living there! My sister is already there with her husband – I just got back from visiting yesterday. We’ll miss you and your many talents here in the States! Maybe I’ll be touring parts of India one day soon (vacation – would like to visit northern India) and will be able to wave to you from afar – or better yet, share stories in person over a cup of tea.
    • As it turns out, we did stop in Eugene to have lunch. I could have sworn I saw your twin sister at a Starbucks. Look forward to seeing you in India – now go ahead & plan that trip! 🙂
  • WOW … that’s a big move!! I wonder if there’ll be how-to video on some site somewhere … Your farewell tour sounds like fun. We just came back from a long weekend in Shasta, which was really good fun. Fires are calming down now, but we saw some pretty cool sights like a huge water bomber landing on the lake. And then within an hour, we were up in the mountains, throwing snowballs! Only in California. Anyways, good luck with everything and stay in touch on FB!
  • Call me if you’re in Chicago for more than a few hours – I’d love to say hi!
  • While in NYC, feel free to call me for lunch. America will miss you!
  • Good luck to you and yours, Vishy.  I live in Portland, OR now.  Let me know if you’d like to have lunch or something on your swing through.  Don’t feel obligated though.  I know the scheduling can be tight on this sort of trip.
    • So sorry I couldn’t get to meet with you folks in Chicago, NYC & Portland.
  • Thanks for keeping me updated of your status. It is my privilege to get to know you. I enjoyed our conversations. Enjoy your journey! I will read your blog about the journey. Good luck to your new venture.
  • Best of luck Vishy. Have a wonderful journey and have fun settling in – I hope everything goes smoothly for you. I look forward to hearing about your future success!
  • Wow, life is a journey, enjoy it! I guess this means you’ll miss my mead class in August. 🙂 Keep in touch on linkedin, will ya?

Active/Passive “should-wes”

  • For a definition of “should-wes”, check out The two types of Indian immigrants.
  • This is great.  What are the plans.  I am excited for you.  One day I will join you.
  • Really cool decision. I might probably see you there soon. We are waiting for my husband to finish his MBA before exploring the option of moving to Bangalore. That is my husband’s hometown. Wish you all the best!!!
  • I read your blog. I like it – I appreciate that you are honest about your feelings. I wish you and your family all the best and success. Going back to India after staying here for so long really requires courage. I salute the determination. We tried it twice (that time we didn’t have any kids) but couldn’t do it. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t do it later again. Anyway have a nice trip and keep in touch.

Fellow immigrants who returned home

  • Wow…what a big move…First thing first, I wish you have fun traveling to the mid west before your long flight back and wish your family the best. Well, you know i made a decision removed my family to my home town Hong Kong 2 yrs ago. It was a huge move to my wife and son, and taken us months to pack and unpack stuffs (both mentally and physical stuffs)…2 years gone by, still a little adjustments here and there, but overall we love it.
  • Glad to hear about your move back. I came back in 2002 after spending 13+ yrs in US. We are loving it here, no regrets on the move. If you need any tips on adjusting back, let me know. Too bad you did not consider Chennai, it has the best of several aspects, and a very good quality of living. I visit BLR often, keep in touch.
  • Congratulations on your move! I remember well, how we’ve talked about this issue when we moved in 2002 (gosh it’s already 6 years that we’ve left the US). While for us it took about 2 years to really arrive back in Germany we are now really back home and happy about how things went. We’ve had a wonderful time in the US but it was also the right decision for us to get back to our roots. I am sure that your move back won’t be always easy and it will take time to really settle back home. I wish you, Poonam and the kids all the best. I hope that one day our paths will cross again. Hope to see you guys some day. In any case, if you ever come to Germany please ping me! And one day, I will go to India and I will visit one of the chicken stores (with life stock) in Tamil Nadu that Rani had always talked about. Take care and all the best.
  • Good to hear this and welcome to Bangalore. You may be aware that I have moved back to Bangalore last year and still working with Yahoo. You can reach me at [x]. FYI, I am residing in HSR Layout.
  • I was just in New Dehli and visited the Taj a few weeks ago.  I’ll be in HK for at least another year, if you ever decide to head east, let me know… Good luck on the move, and have fun on your tour of America!
  • Wow what a decision! Thanks for keeping me posted. i am glad that you finally made your choice which seems to be after much thought and debate. An Indian friend once told me all Indians, no matter where they are on the globe, all have one home traced back to india. now that you are heading back to this home of yours, i wish you all the best 🙂

Warm reception from the folks in India

  • Welcome to India. You always wanted to return. All the best. Will see you in Bangalore soon.
  • Welcome home Vishy 🙂 Wishing you & your family a safe & enjoyable journey…
  • Glad to hear that you are coming back to India. Nice journey plan, in fact gr8!!  Wonderful idea to visit all the places before flying back to India :). Let me know, if you are going to Bangalore via  Mumbai.
  • Thank you for the update. Best wishes to your new movement to India. Good thing is that India is close to China, so welcome to visit Beijing! 🙂 Enjoy your farewell tour ahead.
  • Cool man !! Welcome back ! So which co. r u joining here ? Another startup 🙂 Let me know when u r here, we will catch up. my # is [x]. looking forward to meeting u and the additions to ur family 🙂
  • Aha! Certainly Bangalore’s gain!! Hope you have a great ‘farewell’ tour and a smooth relocation to Bangalore.

Looking forward to seeing you folks in Bangalore…

  • Best of luck to you and your family back in India! Hope you have a smooth move, and enjoy it in Bangalore. I will be there myself shortly — maybe we will run into each other.
  • Wow.  That’s pretty cool, Vishy.  Have a great time out there.  Next time I’m in Bangalore I’ll give you a call.
  • Love the blog, excellent writing, keep it going. The very best of luck with your new journey. Bangalore is home for me, so hopefully will meet up when I’m there… Cheerio.
  • Congrats on the move… One of the gigs I am looking at could put me in Bangalore a fair amount.  You will have to show me the ropes….  When are you all arriving NY?  I would love to meet you out for drink/dinner if you have the time.
  • Wow! This is a huge move! Best of luck to you & your family Vishy! Will this get you closer to your wider family? I’ll ping you next time I’m in Bangalore …
  • Good luck – I will catch you in my next visit to Blore. Sorry to see a good friend leave from the bay area! I know you must be very busy, but let me know if you have some bandwidth to sync for maybe 1/2 hr over coffee and catch up before you leave.
  • duuuuuuude! I think this is a good thing? Bad for us.. good for India. I’ve never been to Bangalore, but if I do perhaps I can look you up. Same goes for you if you ever make it to Austin/Texas. Seems like you’re going the ‘northern’ route to NY though.. heh. Man! Well.. best of luck.
  • Wow! Sounds fantastic. Have a safe and enjoyable trip back to India. Do stay in touch. I visit India on business every couple of months and do stop over in Bangalore, so hope to meet you there once you are well settled.
  • Wish you well on the move…what is your plans when you get to bangalore.  I am there every 2-3 weeks. Let’s definitely stay in touch.
  • Good for you. I have heard wonderful stories about folks returning to India and really enjoying the good life and reconnecting with family and culture. Enjoy your US tour and stay in touch. My partner and I are looking to vacation in India next year. Please stay in touch as we might like to stop by and visit you in your new home. Cheers and best wishes on you new endeavor.
  • Wow! Big move. Hope to see you in Bangalore some day.
  • Have a safe, wonderful journey.  Hope the transition back to India is smooth for you.  Perhaps I’ll track you down the next time I’m in Bangalore.
  • All the best to you. I hope my travels will once again bring me to Bangalore, and if so, I will definitely be in contact.  Travel safely and keep well.
  • Wow!! That’s amazing news. I’m really happy for you! I’m also glad to have someone to visit if i’m ever in bangalore again. 🙂 Please keep us all up to date. Good luck!
  • Wow that is big news!!!! Would you happen to have some time before you leave the bay area to meet up for a coffee or something? Would love to connect before you head out to BLR. My in-laws are in BLR and we do visit every time we go back.

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:

 

16 years later…

Pic: courtesy caminodesantiago.me

16 years? Well – to be more precise 15 years, 9 months & 5 days since I came to America from India. Chasing the American Dream I came.. first to the University of Houston to pursue an MS in Computer Science. Two quick years later, fate played a role in whisking me off to Chicago (& not San Francisco Bay Area). I had resolved to drive to SF Bay Area if I didn’t find a job within 30 days of graduating.

Two companies made offers within the first 2 weeks – Dallas-based American Airlines and a little-known consulting firm (SEI Information Technologies) in Chicago. By all accounts, I should have accepted the former offer – who doesn’t want to fly to a new American city every weekend (especially if you are in your 20’s). What excited me about SEI was the group’s focus on the exciting field of in-car navigation systems (this group eventually merged with the sister company Navigation Technologies). Navigation systems, GPS applications, and A* algorithms were a clear draw. The Chicago vs. Dallas factor clinched the decision for me. What I didn’t realize until 2 years later the real reason why I had moved to Chicago — to meet and marry the woman of my dreams – Poonam.

Poonam graduated from Loyola University with a Ph.D in neuroscience, accepted a post-doc position at Stanford University and we moved to the Bay Area in July 1998. Ten great years later we’re approaching the next inflection point in our lives. We are moving back to India – there, I said it!

Coming up next…

  • Why were the last 16 years so incredibly great? Why did we come to America in the first place?
  • Why are we moving to India? And why now?
  • Whither India? Which city are we moving to?
  • ….
  • So much more….