A year in Bangalore – the unwritten blog posts

Pic: courtesy elbo.ws

We hit our ‘one year anniversary in India’ on India’s Independence Day – Aug 15, 2009. A few months ago, we toyed with the idea of throwing a party and invite all our friends (old and new). The unrelenting pressures of work and the weekly ‘rhythm of the kids’ school and after-school activities meant we would alter our plans. ’twas all for the good anyway. It was more appropriate to celebrate the anniversary as a quiet Thanksgiving-style dinner with family than a raucous party.

I did tweet about it though (and gave ourselves a B+ grade) – and our global social graph responded enthusiastically. There’s much to write about our experience but here are a few top reasons why we are rating our ‘move to India’ a solid B+ (knock-on wood for each bullet point):

  • Fortunate enough that none of us (especially the kids) have fallen seriously ill
  • Children getting sensitized to the global issues of haves and have-nots
  • Adapted to the local environment and enjoying the spectrum of people and experiences
  • Kids are well-settled at their new school – NPS Koramangala
  • My job at Adobe has been every bit as exciting and rewarding as I had hoped a year ago
  • We met my parents thrice and my brother five times in the past year, not to mention the increased ‘calling-to-Vijayawada’ frequency thanks to the same timezone
  • Met and made friends with many wonderful folks at Raheja Residency
  • Asthma hasn’t reared its ugly head so far.. (Read Asthma, Bangalore and me for background)
  • Becoming a regular part of the Cubbon Park Irregulars (a rabid group of enthusiastic group of long distance runners) has meant that I ran my first half-marathon in Jan 2009 and very likely will run my second marathon next weekend at Kaveri Trail Marathon
  • Graduated from a chauffeur-driven car to self-driven car at the 7-month mark

The challenge a part-time blogger always faces is time – rather the lack thereof. The list of unwritten blogs continues to balloon every month. Partly to reduce my guilt at disappointing my small but loyal base of readers and partly to get feedback on which topics might be of more interest, here’s the complete list (in no particular order):

  • Bangalore Calling: This was meant to be the sequel to The Bombay Seduction and Gurgaon Growling but this post was threatening to eternally remain in the “Draft” folder. As a stop-gap, I pasted a relevant conversation with a New Jersey-based Indian-American contemplating a return
  • The Indian Woman’s Dilemna: Someday this post will be written by my wife. The thesis is that an Indian woman has a LOT more freedom in America than in her own native country. How then does she reconcile the pros and cons in her head in order to arrive at the decision to return to India?
  • Raheja ‘Monkey-Haven’ Residency: When I informed my Bangalore-native classmate & friend (who lives in the Bay Area) about our new coordinates in Koramangala, he remarked, in a disappointed tone I might add, “But that’s a fairly mainstream choice” (He’d have approved if we had taken residence at the Adarsh Palm Meadows.) Anyway, the demographic profile of Raheja, its vibrant community and its killer location made it an easy choice for us. One of the many fringe benefits of living in Raheja: hardly a week goes by without sighting a pack of monkeys scaling the walls of the buildings foraging for food.
  • Of high rises and balconies: You may not realize it but high rise apartment buildings and their numerous balconies are perilous to kids (and to parents with weak hearts). Our own apartment hunt had to rebooted after our 3 year old demonstrated that the 5th floor balcony is eminently climbable (we still shudder thinking back to that scene).
  • Vishnu’s Best Devotee: This has nothing to do with our move but I had an epiphany on work-life balance as I recollected one of Narada’s tales.
  • Crowd-sourcing the traffic light: I could possibly write 3-4 different posts on Indian road traffic but this is the one I really want to. The unmanned Indian traffic intersection is a fascinating and efficient system. Unmanned intersection and efficient? (you snort) In much the same way that the Mumbai dabbawalas have demonstrated their world-class efficiency, crowd-sourcing the traffic light (which is how I’ve dubbed the unmanned traffic intersection) is simply brilliant for Indian traffic conditions.
  • The Staring Gene: Why do Indians stare so much? I’m not talking about Indian kids nor am I talking about Indians gawking at foreign tourists or celebrities – these are somewhat understandable. I’m talking about Indians staring at Indians…
  • Midnight Marathon to Kaveri Trail Marathon: This is a tribute post to my Runners for Life and Cubbon Park Irregulars friends who’re transforming me from a hobbyist occasionally-goal-directed runner to a semi-pro obsessive runner.
  • Do not urinate here: Saw this painted on a wall in Warangal (or was it Hyderabad?) The location doesn’t really matter because there are very few walls that are sacred in India (even those that are close to temples). Why is that we are not seeing the number of Sulabh Shauchalays increase in India? Why are restrooms an afterthought in most commercial buildings? When they do exist, why are soaps noticeable by their absence? Is it a wonder that infectious diseases continue to have a field day in India?
  • Excellent products, Poor Services: The former are driven by market economy, the latter due to unchanged mindset? My wife and I slightly disagree on the latter. I hold the hope that the market can drive higher level of service and competitors would be forced to catch-up but my wife thinks the attitudes are too deep-seated.
  • Living in the Present: [essay from wife]
  • Well-rounded education: [essay from wife]
  • The Three Bubbles Revisited: An expansion on the original The Three Bubbles post – whether it’s my friend Pranshu (who goes offroading every weekend in Gurgaon) or the guy in Mumbai (who goes mountain-biking) or me reconnecting with my inner-running-self and looking-forward to resuming my squash routine, there are additional ways of enriching the ‘living bubble’.
  • What I miss about California
  • Close encounters of the bribing kind: Two encounters so far and I passed with flying colors.
  • What I don’t like about India: inspired by a recent Starbucks chat with a friend who mildly accused me of  writing only positive things about our move. Not true my friend. You should read my tweets more carefully 🙂
  • (No) Thank You Maids: [essay from wife] Cheap labor, poor performance, excellent excuse for the Indianization of the Indian-American male.
  • Desperate Lives: Whether it’s the maid or the driver or the handyman or the kackra-wala, they are all living incredibly difficult and desperate lives to make ends meet.
  • Educating Boys: [essay from wife] School + sports = incomplete; Home + school + sports = complete. Her thesis is that the top reason why more Indian women are not able to join the workforce is because the men are incapable of managing the household.
  • Global Identity: [essay from wife] 1992 -> Indian looks, American thinking, Indian feelings; 2009 -> Indian looks, American thinking, Indian-American feelings (hypersensitive vs. tempered)
  • Piracy in DVD rentals
  • Sequel to The Janus Man

Any of the above topics sound interesting to you? If yes, please vote for your favorite(s) in the comments.

Thanks!

Gurgaon Growling

Gurgaon at night (Pic: courtesy flickriver.com)

I wrote this post in my head in June 2008 shortly after my 2-week reconnoisance trip to India before the big move. Thanks to the growing list of candidate topics and my ever shrinking leisure time, it didn’t see the light of day. During my flight back from my business trip to Bay Area in June 2009 (exactly a year later), I finally managed to finish the post. It took a further 3 weeks to make it from “paper notes” to WordPress 🙂 Now just pretend that you are reading this in Jun 2008.

Marc Canter (of Broadband Mechanics/People Aggregator & MacroMind fame) had come to Yahoo in mid-2006 to give a tech talk. With a downtown skyscape as his first slide, he quizzed the audience about the city’s identity. Nobody could guess it and he announced that it was Gurgaon – India’s fastest growing city. Why was Canter telling us this? Because the software for PeopleAggregator (the thrust of his talk) was being written in Gurgaon. The transformation of Gurgaon, Haryana from a sleepy village on the outskirts of Delhi to a technology and industrial hub (worthy of Thomas Friedman’s World is Flat) was complete.

Of course, Delhi NCR is more than just Gurgaon (it encompasses Noida, Ghaziabad and Faridabad as well) but I happened to spend most of the 3 days in Gurgaon. I had flown in to Delhi to interview with a Gurgaon-based technology firm (there are so many, bet you can’t guess which one). Interview done, my friend Pranshu (colleague from Yahoo days) picked me up and we headed to dinner. Along the way, I called my classmate & friend from Xaviers Bokaro days (Ritu) who absolutely and warmly insisted (in a way that only treasured old classmates can) that I stay at her flat in Gurgaon. We had last met in 1987 but thanks to the last two years of reconnecting via our school’s Yahoo Group, we just picked up where we left off. Ritu was still the same bubbly girl with the infectious laughter. It was a great weekend spending quality time with her husband and two kids and a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday afternoon party with the rest of our Xaviers Bokaro classmates (Geeti, Vikram & Amitabh).

By now you are probably wondering about the title of this post – growling huh? I’ve seen a lot of cities (both in India & America) but they were all ‘already built’ cities. Gurgaon was the first city I glimpsed in the throes (albeit ‘late stage’) of being built. A few months ago (in a video conference interview with yet another Gurgaon-based company), I asked the interviewer what he liked most about living in Gurgaon. His reply “After living in Bangalore for 8 years, Gurgaon weather absolutely sucks – especially in summer. However, we all know that India is growing at a frenetic pace. Living in Gurgaon gives me a bird’s eye view of India’s growth — skyscraper by skyscraper, road by road, month by month, also as the Delhi metro extended deep into Gurgaon.” As Pranshu drove me through Gurgaon late afternoon (after a memorable day of “Offroading in Behrampur”) in his open Jeep, I saw scores of skyscrapers in various stages of completion and I couldn’t help thinking of it as “Gurgaon Growling” at the sky above. I also wondered what it would be like to see a time lapse photography seequence of Gurgaon from high-up in the air. [Google Maps – are you listening?]

If you thought I had an exciting weekend in Gurgaon, you haven’t heard the half of it. My friend Pranshu is fond of motorcyles, open jeeps and adventures involving both. He used to own a 600cc motorbike and a Jeep Wrangler during his Silicon Valley days and his move to Delhi (Vasant Vihar) hasn’t cramped his style one bit. He bought himself a bright red Jeep, did a whole bunch of customizations and teamed up with a group of fellow crazy offroading enthusiasts. Pranshu’s gang would spend the better part of every Saturday in a hamlet called Behrampur (on the outskirts of Gurgaon) and attack various hilly slopes and muddy swamps. I don’t need a second invitation for any adventurous gigs so I accompanied Pranshu on Saturday armed with my trusty Canon Powershot TX1. I was blown away by the day’s proceedings – rumbling and groaning of powerful 4×4 Jeeps, splashing through muddy hollows (much to the angst of a few slumbering buffaloes), towing jeeps up steep slopes. After the day’s fierce festivities drew to a close, it was a real bonus to see dozens of beautiful peacocks strutting & squawking in the wild. They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ so enough said – here’s the link to selected videos from that adventure (thanks again Pranshu!):

Offroading in Behrampur/Gurgaon

Bangalore Calling

Cubbon Park, Bangalore (circa 2009) – Pic courtesy thehindu.com

(Someday this post shall be completed. Until then, here’s a relevant comment thread between me and a New Jersey Indian American woman contemplating the move.)

Other posts related to the “Where in India” decision:

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Hi Vishy,
Great and interesting blog!! I am a 26 yr old married woman staying in NJ from last 2 years. My hubby works with an investment bank. We two are also seriously thinking of moving back to India and we definitely belong to “should-we” group..:)I read all your posts, sequentially, right from the first one and really felt surprised how simila we ppl think in terms of living in US and when talked about going back to India. We also are in the process of deciding upon the city to which we want to move. And we hav also selected Delhi/NCR, Bangalore, Mumbai as our options. Both of us belong to UP.
I have seen New York city and absolutely love its diverse and cosmopolitan crowd, the freedom in the air. And thats why I am more inclined to settle in Mumbai. When I was reading your post “The Bombay Seduction”, I felt its something special about Mumbai city that everybody who goes there falls in love with that..:)but later in your post found out that you are settled in Bangalore. Would you please tell me why you and Poonam made this decision? I understand its all the individual’s choice and the preferences but in the end of the post you showed your intent of living in Mumbai. Actually I am collecting all possible informations from my friends and different sources which can help us in making a right decision about the city, job etc while moving back to India. Your valuable experience might help us.
Once again would like to say I really liked your blog. You have put your thoughts and experiences in a very interesting manner. Would love to hear from you,
With Best Wishes,
PS

——

—–

Hi PS,
So glad you are finding the blog interesting & useful. There are 3 posts that I never completed:
Gurgaon Growling
Bangalore Calling
Why we chose Bangalore

I have a fond hope that during the Christmas holidays I’ll complete them (your comment is inspiration enough). Meanwhile here’s the short version of our decision:
1. Since we have 2 young kids, having sufficient “playing spaces” was a top criterion. This translated to “gated apartment communities” which were present in greater profusion (& affordability) in Bangalore than Mumbai.
2. Had we been contemplating this move 10 (or even 6) yrs ago – an era sans kids, Bombay might have trumped Bangalore.
3. New York is to Mumbai as Silcon Valley is to Bangalore. During our years in US, both Poonam & I longed to live in New York for a few years. The window of opportunity (we felt) was again in the pre-kids era so it passed.
4. I’m not saying a family with kids cannot live in Mumbai – it’s just that for a family with kids returning from US, Bangalore is a softer landing than Mumbai. In your case (assuming you don’t have kids yet), Mumbai sounds like a great fit, especially if you consider the fact that your hubby is an investment banker (for financial folks, Mumbai trumps Bangalore big time).
5. Finally, after spending 10 excellent yrs in Silicon Valley, the fact that Bangalore ethos was the closest to it clinched it for us. Will elaborate on this in the ‘Bangalore Calling’ post :)

Wish you the best in your moving plans. Hey – maybe you should start your blog? And keep the questions/comments coming..

Vishy

—–

Hi Vishy,

Thanks for your reply!! Many of the NRI people whom I have interacted with have chosen Bangalore to settle down while moving back to India. I wish to know the positive aspects about B’lore city- is it
1. plenty of job options
2. similar-to-US lifestyle
3. Pleasant Weather

However, I have heard from my age-group people that Bangalore has extremely high cost of living(high rents and real estate prices). And the road traffic is sickening and horrible over there.

If possible, pls share your views and experience (till date) about Bangalore and Mumbai city. I will be looking for a job in an IT co., so would like to explore whether Mumbai would have enough IT job opportunities. Also as you have moved very recently there, is the IT job market bad in India too? Is hiring taking place?

Looking forward to your next posts..:)
Happy Christmas and a great new year 2009!!
PS

——

PS,
Yes to all three – plenty (read PLENTY) of job options – especially for techies, closest to SF Bay Area (& by corollary US) and best weather among all the leading metros. One cannot over-emphasize that aspect. There’s a reason Californians are happier than East-coasters (ok – I only have anecdotes as proof). I believe every Indian metro has one redeeming quality – in the case of Bangalore, #1 is the weather. For a techie, there’s also a strong #2 – abundance of job choices.

Yes – traffic sucks big time. Then again, with the exception of Delhi/NCR, other metros are no great shakes either. Mumbai traffic is quite lousy, Hyderabad’s traffic might get better faster than Bangalore’s.

Regarding IT jobs in Mumbai – sure there are a fair number of them but it doesn’t come close to Bangalore. If you are looking for a career in technology product development, Bangalore is a clear #1 (followed by Hyderabad, Chennai, and Gurgaon/Delhi – order depends on who you’d ask). If it’s IT in finance, Mumbai would be a really good bet.

The IT job market in India is not yet bad. However the operative word may be ‘yet’. Technology product & service companies are still hiring in 2009 but everyone’s really cautious. In this global meltdown state, it’s hard not to get affected.

Vishy

—–


The Coconut Seller’s Daughters

A few weeks ago we were parked opposite the Raheja Arcade – li’l A, Sunil and me in the car while P and S had gone to the bank. A was watching the perpetually interesting traffic while my attention was drawn to the various actors on the pavement. By ‘actors’, I mean the usual foot traffic that’s typical of Indian pavements.

A coconut seller (probably in his 40’s) had laid anchor on the stretch of pavement close to our car. He had a standard wooden cart laden with fresh green coconuts. He also had other sackfuls of coconuts – one of which his wife loaded on her head and headed off (presumably to sell at a wholesale rate somewhere). She didn’t return for another 15 minutes – during which time I sat transfixed watching the rest of her family. A drama began to unfold in front of me – not quite the Shakespearean kind but more the slow, poignant and inexorable kind that Satyajit Ray is famous for.

The coconut seller had his two young daughters with him – the older one was probably six and the other close to three. The older girl was dressed in a bright colored South Indian traditional outfit and the younger girl was a bit more shabbily dressed. The girls each had an orange-yellow plastic bus toy tied at one end with a piece of string. The 12′ x 8′ section of the pavement trisected by two trees was their ‘playground’. In between their playing, the kids ‘snacked’ on one of the coconuts which their dad lovingly cut for them – what a doting look he had. The six year old’s facial expression was mostly inscrutable but I could detect a resigned look one usually sees on older countenances. The three year old was more playful but she was clearly missing her mother. The mother’s return was celebrated with glee.

The above sequence I observed would be repeated throughout the day for all 7 days (don’t think the family could afford taking a day off). The girls would probably take a nap (if they did) right next to their father’s cart. For my non-Indian readers, I need to mention that the concept of public toilets hasn’t really taken off in urban India. This was a grim and sobering sight. The depressing part is that there are tens of millions of such families. Want to hear something even more depressing – there are hundreds of millions in India who are worse off than the coconut seller’s family.

A few closing stats:

  • India ranks 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries.
  • India has 828 mil (75.6% of pop) below $2 a day. Sub-Saharan Africa is better – 72% of pop (551 mil) are below $2 a day. Source: World Bank.

(Jan 22, 2009 Update)
Hope, optimism and dreams are powerful things. This morning I read this article Born on the road, she aims for Miss India and I was uplifted – ever so slightly.

Three Coincidences

Put two Indians (perfect strangers mind you) in a room and it’s merely a question of time before they find a few common connections. As you might suspect, I epitomize this quintessential Indian quirk.

  1. The Paper Cup Saga: In our first week in Bangalore, during that honeymoon period when work had not yet consumed me, I had the luxury of reading the Times of India (TOI) cover-to-cover. I read a very interesting story in the business section entitled After all your paper cup is not that eco-friendly. The story was about a Texas Instruments (TI India) employee creating an informative video that persuaded the employees to significantly reduce paper cup usage. Being ‘green’ at heart, my thoughts immediately raced to achieving a similar outcome in the Adobe India office. Since TOI publishes the reporters’ email addresses, I was able to dash off a quick note asking them whether they could share the video produced by TI. My attention then went to one of the authors – Sujit John. Was it the same Sujit who was school captain (three batches my senior) at St. Xaviers Bokaro? A quick LinkedIn search confirmed it. Turns out, he’s Times of India’s Bangalore-based Business Editor. Wow! my first solid contact in the Indian Fourth Estate. To top it, Sujit is married to Alice (one of my Xaviers Bokaro classmates).
  2. The Intel Folsom Connection: As I mentioned in The First Week in Bangalore, we spent the first three weeks in a guest house flat on Bannerghatta Road. The flat was in an apartment community called Adarsh Vihar – two buildings next to the Adobe office so it was very convenient for us. As Bangalore apartment communities go, Adarsh Vihar was small (less than 100 flats) but they have a decent playground which the kids and I would frequent on most evenings. One of the kids mom (Sharmila) had moved to Intel Bangalore (from Intel’s offices Folsom, California). I knew exactly ONE person in Intel Folsom – BTV Anant Kumar (my dear friend and classmate from BIT Mesra). Turns out Sharmila and her husband (who also worked at Intel Folsom) knew BTV and his family very well, in fact they were even next-door neighbours for a few years in California. Gee! What are the odds? We exchanged updates on BTV’s miraculous recovery after a month in the ICU.
  3. The Bokaro/Jamshedpur Connection: P and I were sitting in Alok & Babita Sinha’s (owners of the Raheja Residency flat we are renting) living room relating about our life’s ram kahani (“life’s story” for my non-Indian readers). The conversation eventually led to Bokaro and Jamshedpur (two eventful places in my past). Alok runs a division of Symphony Services and had a long fruitful stint at Tata Motors Jamshedpur (previously known as TELCO). Turns out that yet another Xaviers Bokaro classmate (Aman Sinha) used to in Alok’s group at Telco. Not only that, Alok and Aman (who is in the SF Bay Area) met as recently as a few months ago. On a final coincidental note, I had reconnected with Aman (at Hobees Cupertino) just a few weeks before our exodus from California.

Apologize for the extended hiatus

It’s been 3+ weeks since my last post – I know! Work has kicked into high gear and I’m barely keeping my nose above water. The 1st month honeymoon period at work is over – time to take over the world. 🙂

I’m developing a fresh appreciation for the part-time blogger. The full-time blogger merely has to juggle between work (writing) and family. The part-time blogger has to juggle between work (the gig that pays the bills), family (what feeds the soul), and finding that slice of 1-2 hours to complete a post. Meanwhile, the following posts are awaiting the finishing touch while fresh topics are clamoring for my mind share.

Oct 27: Updated with link to The Three Bubbles.

Nov 1: Updated with link to Three Coincidences.

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.

Asthma, Bangalore and me…

Pic: courtesy myhealthguardian.com

Asthma and I go back a long way. One cold winter in Bokaro, when I was either 6 or 7, asthma came uninvited into my life. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that it changed my life. Besides taking a lot of medicines and being bedridden more than the average kid, the big lifestyle impact was that I didn’t play much of any sport during my school or college years. In the 70’s and 80’s, asthma was not well understood – I mean besides the medicines prescribed by allopathic & homeopathic doctors to suppress asthma. Sports Star used to be part of my staple reading during my high school years. I was deeply puzzled when I read that Morten Frost Hansen (Dutch All England badminton champ) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (heptathlon Olympic uber champion) suffered from asthma in their childhood. I was to learn later that the best way to combat asthma is to exercise “more” (not “less”).

My first job (in India) was with Tata Steel at Jamshedpur. Perhaps it was finally the release of academic pressure or maybe it was finally time to beat my nemesis. Whatever the reason, Jamshedpur was where I won my first battle against asthma. Thanks to my dear friends & colleagues Vochak (squash champion from BITS Palani) and JD (squash champion & amateur coach from IT-BHU), I was introduced to the wonderful sport of squash. I scratched and struggled around on the squash court of Beldih Club for nigh on two years. My squash game didn’t threaten but a worthy side effect was that it kept my asthma at bay and I gradually built my cardiovascular fitness. When I moved to USA, I experienced asthma-free bliss for 16 years (barring a few minor episodes of exercise-induced asthma in Chicago).

As I wrote in Why are we moving back to India now, we came very close to moving to India in 2005. A casual one week stay in Bangalore suddenly turned into a very real possibility. I had an offer to take up a key role in the Yahoo! Bangalore organization and Poonam also had a great opportunity at a biotech startup. At the eleventh hour, we pulled the plug. The asthma factor was not a major reason but it did figure in the calculations. In all my trips to Bangalore (including this one), the wheezing would start by the second or third day.

Fast forward three years. I was planning my 2-week scouting trip to India and wondering Where in India we would be moving to. By our original reckoning, Bangalore should have been on top of our list of prospective cities. However, it had fallen out of favor and was at #3 (behind Delhi and Bombay). This was partly because we were steadily reading stories about Bangalore’s worsening traffic situation, Delhi/Gurgaon’s rise as a techno hub, and of Bombay’s seduction. The elephant in the living room was actually my old nemesis.

Poonam (our Chief Research Officer) read many articles about how asthma was getting worse in Bangalore.

50% Bangalore kids hit by asthma screamed this Times of India headline in 2007. Dust mites in the humid atmosphere of Bangalore trigger around 60% of asthma, while vehicular emissions like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, sulphur dioxide also act as trigger agents.

‘‘Continuous exposure to allergens like Parthenium could prove fatal for asthma patients as it can lead to a permanent damage of the lungs affecting the respiratory functions’’, said Dr. Rao in this blog post Bangalore still carries ‘asthma city’ tag. Then came a study from WHO and UNICEF that declared that over 30 per cent of Bangalore’s children suffer from asthma. Whoa!!

Then out of the blue, Twitter provided a glimmer of hope. I saw the following tweet (or maybe it was a Facebook status message) from one of my Bangalore friends: “down with asthma. Bummer.” You might find the following email exchange interesting.

— start of email thread —

Hi [friend],
Sorry to hear you are down with asthma. I was reading a few blog posts recently about how the air quality in Bangalore keeps getting worse – pollution + pollen. Why you might wonder? So I suffered from asthma for years – it only stopped after I moved to US (14 years ago). Actively in the throes of moving back to India (looking at Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore as Pune) as prospective cities. The biggest ding against Bangalore (for me personally) is how severely my asthma would return – my last 2 trips to Bangalore were memorable (not!). Would like to know your thoughts..
Thanks.
– Vishy

Hi Vishy,

I can relate a lot to what you say. I was in the US for about 6 months – and was perfectly fine through the period. I am fine elsewhere in India too, In general : Asthma for me is local to Bangalore. I have been here about 10 years, and have learnt to fight it. I am generally fine as long as I am exercising in some form or the other – even a 10 minute walk would do it, as long as its regular. Through various stages, I have practised pranayama, played badminton, gone running, etc regularly. The moment, I get a little lazy – stop exercising for a few days, and asthma reminds me that I cant afford to be lazy in Bangalore. I believe, as long as you are religiously regular with exercise – you can keep asthma away. I myself have considered moving to other cities, but for internet products focussed on the global market – this is the place.
There is enough India focussed internet work happening in Bombay & Delhi, but not as many global companies/startups as in Bangalore.

Let me know if you have anything specific you are looking at in India – might be able to connect.

All the best with the move,
[friend]

[friend],

Thanks for your detailed note on asthma. That certainly re-emboldens my heart towards Bangalore. So I just booked my trip to India – flying in to Bombay on Jun 3 & returning on Jun 18. Plan to cover Bangalore & Delhi as well. Would love to hook up when I’m there.

— end of email thread —

In my blog post chronology so far, a few posts are still incomplete (and hence unpublished). One of them is the “Bangalore Calling” post where I make the case for Bangalore. (Still intend to finish that post but might take a few more weeks). Anyway, I spent 6 days in Bangalore during my 2-week trip and I didn’t feel a single asthma symptom. This was baffling and miraculous. In all my previous three trips to Bangalore, I had asthma trouble so what was different this time? I tried to contain my excitement. Maybe it was the allergy medication which I was taking regularly that acted as a shield. Did it? I have no idea.

What this asthma-free Bangalore trip did to me (& Poonam) was that it removed the we-cannot-move-to-Bangalore straightjacket. We still had a healthy apprehension about how this factor would affect the kids and me. The net score in Bangalore’s favor definitely tipped things over for us. I’m completing this post on day#13 and, so far, (touch wood!) I have not felt any symptoms. The traffic is as bad as it was touted to be but ‘maybe’ the pollen counts have come down. Only time will tell.

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.