Service with a Smile

Pic: courtesy nirmaltv.com

Chauffeurs. Parlourmaids. Cooks. Nannies. Gardeners. These professions were largely in vogue in the eighteenth and nineteenth century England steeped in nobility and aristocracy. During the past century, their numbers have dwindled greatly. Perhaps only the top 1% of the ultra rich in Europe and North America employ a domestic staff  that includes more than three of the aforementioned professions.

Ironically in India (a country ruled by the British Crown for 250 years), the chauffeur, the maid, the cook, the nanny, and the gardener professions are seeing a resurgence like never before. A broad swath of the Indian middle class employ at least two service professionals per household.

The Indian chauffeur is called a driver. In most cases, the driver does just that – drive. A few of my friends have broadened the driver’s responsibilities to include handyman duties, paying utility bills, etc. My friend in Delhi refers to his driver fondly as his Man Friday and my friend in Bangalore refers to his primary driver (he employs a second for his wife’s car) as his Facilities Manager – both equally appropriate monikers for the services they are rendering. If you’ve driven on Indian roads even for a day, you will quickly appreciate the wisdom in outsourcing the driving chore. Vastly reduced stress, more time to snooze, process email on your Blackberry are just some of the benefits of having a driver. Of the 15-odd friends whom I met during my two-week trip, a whopping 80% employed a driver.

The cook is the second most important service professional in the new age Indian household. Of the 15-odd friends whom I met, 90% employed a cook. If you exclude families with stay-at-home-moms, the number shoots up to 100%. The cook either lives in or spends a good chunk of the day in the house. In some cases, the cook also doubles as a maid.

If you are a fan of P.G. Wodehouse (like me), you’ve probably read the exploits of The Inimitable Jeeves. Granted there are no butlers in the Indian household but the cook comes really close. On more than one occasion, the cooks in my friends’ households have shimmered up to me (the shimmering would make Jeeves proud) to enquire whether I’d like a cup of tea. Whether it’s the driver, the cook, the maid, or the facilities manager among my friends’ households, a common trait they displayed was their cheerful and genuine smile. Thus the association with that Wodehouse classic Service with a Smile when I began this post.

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 Bombay Seduction

Pic: courtesy moviegoods.com

Two centuries ago, Mumbai (Bombay) was a small fishing village consisting of seven islands. Its natural harbour held an opportunity for investors, who realized that it could become an important trading center. The British era saw the creation of a bustling seaport that was used as a gateway to transport natural resources to Great Britain, an airport that was considered the best in this part of the world, the birth of trade and commerce in textiles with cotton and bullion dealings at the forefront. People soon migrated to this booming business center from all over India and various parts of the world… and eventually, the small village was transformed into the bustling metropolis that is Mumbai today.

..as described by Niranjan Hiranandani (Managing Director of Hiranandani Group) in an article where he addresses what is available for home buyers looking for a green and healthy lifestyle in (yes) Mumbai. The bustling metropolis boasts a population of 12 million which represents 1% of the Indian population. Approximately 6.5 million of Mumbai’s residents live in slums, according to the 2001 census. This is the shocking dichotomy called Mumbai. The city is the financial capital of India, has a per capita income which is almost three times the Indian average, contributes 25 per cent of industrial output and 70 per cent of capital transactions to India’s economy. For more amazing facts and figures, the Wikipedia entry on Mumbai will not disappoint.

The biggest selling point of Bombay are its people. You won’t find anyone arguing this point. It’s India’s most cosmopolitan city – by a wide margin. It is India’s New York City, its pride and joy, the cricket capital, the cultural capital (not just Bollywood), a populace with an undying spirit and indelible character. Wow! Wouldn’t you want to live in Bombay?

My 2-week India started and ended with Bombay – 2 1/2 days at the outset and two days after covering Gurgaon/Delhi and Bangalore. My flight reached Bombay at 11pm and it was past midnight by the time I got done with the immigration and customs formalities. I walked out to the usual throngs of Mumbaikars holding placards of people they are supposed to be picking up. Soon I spotted the happy face of my friend Dheeraj who had come to pick me up. I had last met Dheeraj three years ago but I’ve known him for 25 years (since my Xaviers Bokaro days). We drove to his flat in Powaii where he graciously hosted me during my Bombay stay. Dheeraj is the co-founder of FinEng (a financial software services startup) that has achieved a lot of success in a short period. He had adjusted his busy business travel schedule in order to accommodate my trip to India – what a friend!

The next two days were a bustle of excitement on the personal and interviewing front. The next morning we drove to Dheeraj’s office in Santa Cruz (East) – my first set of interviews were in the afternoon. As it coincidentally turned out, Dhananjay’s (another classmate from Xaviers Bokaro) office was right next to Dheeraj’s office so he stopped by. The next hour was spent catching up on our respective lives, reminiscing about Bokaro days, and planning a Xaviers Bokaro ‘get-together’. Dhananjay is a top economist honcho at Centrum and had recently moved back to Bombay (from Bangalore) after spending 3+ years at Infosys BPO. His explanation: “Bangalore was not as much fun as Bombay”. Spoken like a true Mumbaikar, my friend. The next evening, Dhananjay, Dheeraj, Saurabh (another Xaviers Bokaro classmate), and I got together at the Orchid – a nice little 5-star hotel alongside the domestic airport. Saurabh works for Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and had recently moved to Bombay from Guwahati. It was a great evening of bonhomie with warm toasts welcoming another Bokaroite to Bombay – heck! I felt we were already moving here.

Meanwhile my interviews with the two Bombay startups had gone very well. One of them made an offer on the 2nd day itself. My meetings with the other startup were also very promising. I was impressed by all the folks I met at the two startups. Considering these were startups, the high energy I saw among the people was not surprising. What was surprising was the number of young people I saw – made me feel old (which I am – only chronologically of course).

I had spent a scant 60 hours in Bombay before I boarded a plane to Delhi but I was feeling that helpless sense of being seduced by Bombay. The warmth exuded by the Bokaro gang, Dheeraj’s hospitality, Dheeraj/my planning the hypothetical joint family vacation to Coorg, the offer from the startup, sights and sounds of Bombay, and Poonam were all adding up. Hitherto, Poonam had maintained a very neutral attitude towards Bombay (even thought she grew up and spent her first 23 years here). Now that Bombay had become a very credible and tangible possibility, she got all excited. “Oh! we’ll live in Bandra. I’ll show you the cool spots of the city, my favorite haunts” and so she gushed. Her excitement rubbed off on me – after all it doesn’t take much to get me excited.

Let’s see what the 3-day weekend in Delhi/Gurgaon has in store for us…

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!

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.

Where in India are we moving to?

Pic: courtesy cwc.nic.in

So we are moving to India but to which city? For better or worse, the list of candidate cities is fairly small.
Before we get into discussing the merits and demerits of each city, let me outline the key V+P criteria (V=Vishy, P=Poonam) in evaluating the candidate Indian cities. In no particular order, here are the criteria:

  • Career prospects
    • Is the city a one-trick pony? or is there a critical mass of hitech and biotech companies? (Biotech because Poonam’s background & experience is in biosciences/neuroscience)
  • Livability
    • Some blend of city infrastructure, traffic, pollution, pollen, schools, non-outrageous housing
  • Character of city
    • City of Djins? Cosmopolitan? old-world or new-world city?
  • Proximity to other cool places
  • Primary spoken language
    • Poonam is Punjabi by lineage but Bombayite by birth and upbringing. I am Andhaite by lineage but have honorary Bihari/Jharkhandi citizenship since I spent most of my growing years in Bokaro, Ranchi and Jamshedpur. Hindi happens to be the Indian language that both Poonam & I are comfortable speaking. Of course, a high proportion of our conversations at home tends to be in English but we fully expect the Hindi/English ratio to significantly increase after we move to India.
  • Quantity of friends already living in city

Now that we’ve squared away the city evaluation criteria, let’s dive into our short list of cities…

New Delhi/NCR

National Capital Region (NCR) encompasses the entire Delhi metropolitan area as well as the neighboring satellite towns of Faridabad and Gurgaon (in Haryana) and NOIDA & Ghaziabad (in Uttar Pradesh). The V+P definition of NCR includes Gurgaon and NOIDA but excludes Faridabad and Ghaziabad.

  • (PLUSes)
    • Relatively speaking, Delhi has the best infrastructure among all the Indian cities.
    • Delhi has a rich and old history worthy of exploration.
    • Reasonably strong hitech action in New Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon.
    • Gurgaon is arguably India’s fastest growing city & most modern city (at least until Nanocity goes live
    • Close to Himalayas and several exciting destinations in Uttaranchal
    • Tons of friends from Bokaro and BIT Mesra days
    • Housing still affordable (esp. compared to Bombay & Bangalore)
    • Excellent food & dining options
    • Hindi is defacto language
  • (MINUSes)
    • Infested with politicians (and all the associated baggage)
    • Delhi-wallah syndrome
    • Punishing summer heat
    • Severe winter for most (not for us since we braved Chicago for 4+ years)

Mumbai/Bombay

  • (PLUSes)
    • Probability of bumping into Preity Zinta or Rani Mukherji high (compared to any other Indian city)
    • Arguably India’s most cosmopolitan city. Entertainment & financial capital of India.
    • City has great & unique character. Energy is palpable all around.
    • Excellent food & dining options.
    • Sizable number of friends from Bokaro days, BIT MESRA days, and Timpany School, Vizag days.
    • Hindi is defacto language
  • (MINUSes)
    • Monsoon season and Bombay don’t play well together
    • Housing almost unaffordable
    • City’s infrastructure roadmap unclear
    • Commute times potentially very high

Bangalore

  • (PLUSes)
    • Silicon Valley of India. Reputed to be cosmopolitan. Hotbed of innovation.
    • Even before hitech hit feverish pitch, Bangalore had a strong tradition of science & engineering institutions.
    • Humongous number of friends from Bokaro days, BIT MESRA days, Jamshedpur days, and Timpany School, Vizag days
  • (MINUSes)
    • Traffic has become horrendous.
    • Double P whammy (Pollution + Pollen). Tough to ignore pollen since it triggers asthma. More on this topic at: Asthma, Bangalore & me
    • Housing costs approaching American and Bombay levels?
    • Need to learn Kannada?