The curious case of the traveling chairman

NPS Koramangala - Pic courtesy npsinr.com

It was Bangalore Day #5 and our first Friday. I had taken the day off for the express purpose of visiting the top school on our short list – National Public School. In a separate post (Masti ki paathshala), I will discuss our criteria in choosing the right school for our kids and how National Public School (“NPS” for short) captured our imagination. NPS Indiranagar (the first campus) was founded in 1982 by Dr. K. P. Gopalkrishna, and who still serves as the Chairman of the (now) four campuses. NPS Koramangala (started in 2003) and NPS HSR Layout (started in 2007) were our target locations since we were converging on Koramangala as our future neighbourhood.

Since the school year had already started 2+ months ago, a colleague advised me that our best bet was to ‘seek an audience’ with Dr. Gopalkrishna and impress upon him why NPS was our top choice. So off we headed to NPS Koramangala. We got there pretty early but were greeted by a queue of eager parents ahead of us. “Early parent catches the proverbial school seat”, I muttered to myself. I joined the queue while P kept the kids busy in the waiting area. I stated my desire to meet Chairman G and pat came the reply – “the Chairman is traveling”. Attempts to gather an eta proved futile. Dejected, I rounded up the family and we started trooping out.

As we reached the gate, a spanking green Skoda Laura passed us. Like any self-respecting nosy Indian would do, I peered inside the tinted windows. I glimpsed a suited gentleman in the back seat. My Sherlock Holmes instincts on overdrive, I asked the guard if it was Chairman G in the Skoda. He answered in the affirmative. We hurried back inside the school and I got back in line. When I announced that I wanted to meet the ‘recently returned from his travels’ Chairman, the lady (now smiling) asked me how I knew. Purely rhetorical question of course. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she asked me to write down my ‘particulars’ (Indian term for name & purpose). After an additional thirty minutes, we got the audience.

We had no real expectations from this meeting. False! The eternally unrealistic optimist (read “me”) expected the closing lines to sound something like this “Mr. and Mrs. Kuruganti, I am so impressed with your background, credentials and excellent moral standing. Even though the school year started two months ago and our classrooms are full, I’m willing to make an exception for your boys – in whose eyes I can already see their future academic brilliance.”

Ok. So the interview didn’t quite end that way but you knew that, right? We had a really interesting (and at times argumentative) discussion. I’ll save the specifics for a latter addendum. This post has gestated a full 50 days – if I postpone any longer, it won’t see the light of day.

Dec 21 2008 Update: Found this comprehensive and excellent post on Bangalore schools by blogger Chitra Iyer (this is her new blog site):

http://r2blore.blogspot.com/2007/02/list-of-good-schools-in-bangalore.html

Feb 21 2009 Update: In late January, out of the blue we got a call from NPS Koramangala that our 3 year old had been accepted into the Montessori program. Apparently the Montessori 2-year program runs parallel to the kindergarden program. We had applied to the kindergarden program yet they considered our son for the Montessori. After thinking about the admission decision for a few days (virtually unheard of based on the reaction of the admission officials), we accepted. We had to pay the entire school year’s tuition 6 months before the school year even began – nice! Then again, this appears to be the standard operating procedure in all Bangalore (perhaps all Indian?) schools.

Apr 18 2009 Update:  Shortly after S wrote the admission test for NPS Koramangala (1st Grade), we made a few trips to both the NPS branches – Koramangala and HSR Layout. Turns out my mind had played a trick and I owe someone an apology. When I wrote this post in mid-Oct 2008 and compared the NPS Koramangala receptionist to folks working in a government office, it was really the NPS HSR Layout receptionist I was thinking about. The receptionist lady at Koramangala, with whom I had several recent cordial conversations recently is a fine and decent woman and I’m sorry I mistakenly maligned her (via this blog post) from Oct ’08 to Apr ’09. I’ve edited the relevant section and moved it below..

——–start retracted portion

If you haven’t been to an Indian government office in quest of [insert_your_favorite_service_here], some background is in order. The person ‘behind the desk’ holds a position of great power. And clearly they never heard of with great power comes great responsibility. Entire tomes can be written about the government peon, the clerk, the hospital compounder (Indian title for a medical assistant) but… suffice it to say that a common operating theme is to infuriate the ‘service requester’. This is not to say that they are all cut from the same cloth. No sir! Their style can range from the bored and the lazy ignorerto the doing_you_a_big_favour to the cant_you_tell_I_am_really_important.

NPS Koramangala HSR Layout is no government office but the lady at the reception desk was an interesting blend of the aforementioned profiles. When it came to my turn, her expression bore a mixture of boredom and mild annoyance.

—- end retracted portion

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.

A sense of satisfaction… and accomplishment

Pic: courtesy nicolenewtonportfolio.com

“You stink”, yelled my 7-year old nephew when I tried to give him a goodbye hug. “But I showered barely 2 hours ago”, I protested. Of course it was a different matter that I was packing stuff into suitcases, creating piles of junk, and loading suitcases into the rental car in preparation for the drive to Manhattan. So maybe (just maybe) I had broken into a sweat. Sorry Rohan! Will be more careful next time around 🙂

On the drive to Manhattan I reflected on the toil and sweat (and maybe a little bit of tears) that went into our 25-day moving/vacation saga. Apparently we had to work really hard to pull off this ulaari 🙂 So what am I talking about? This is a tale of five garages (in Sunnyvale, Cupertino, San Jose, Pleasanton, and Basking Ridge), Salvation Army, Goodwill, Hertz Car Rental, and a Manhattan condo.

As you already know, we had decided to sell (or donate) practically every household article with the exception of the following:

  • Our clothes (really a subset since we earmarked a good chunk for Salvation Army)
  • Subset of Sanat & Amrit’s toys. Thanks to their sweet cooperation, it was just a suitcase full of toys.
  • 5 year old Power Mac G4.
  • MacBook, Canon TX1, Western Digital & Iomega USB drives.
  • * 15 boxes of books (after giving away about 4 boxes)
  • * Photo albums
  • * Squash racquets
  • * Didgeridoo and flute
  • * Poonam’s wedding outfit & related paraphernalia
  • * 4 boxes of CDs (plan was to sell them at Rasputin Music but we ran out of time)

The point of liquidating everything was to avoid the need to ship any “container” to India. Which meant that the short list of articles above had to fit within the baggage limits for 4 passengers. A cursory look is enough to say “No way!”. There were 2 constraints we were dealing with: 1) No shipping container, and 2) Cross-country road+train trip with a flying departure from JFK (not SFO).

Solving for the first constraint involved a lot of logistics but was straightforward. We just had to fit our top-priority articles into 8 check-in bags (= 6 suitcases + Mac G4 + Mac G4 Monitor) and carry-on bags. All the articles prefixed with (*) were thus not traveling with us. So we had to find a temporary home for them. The thinking was that after settling into our new apartment in Bangalore (after ‘finding one’ i.e.), we would have them shipped to us piece-meal. The 15 boxes of books went to my cousin’s garage in San Jose, the wedding outfit & related to a friend’s garage in San Jose, music CDs, squash racquets and a few unsold Craigslist items stayed in my sister’s garage in Cupertino, the didgeridoo, photo albums and flute went to our friends’ house in Pleasanton. So far so good.

Solving for the second constraint required some creative thinking. Since we were driving a Toyota Camry rental car to Chicago, we knew how much we could carry with us. This worked out to 2 large suitcases and all of our carry-on baggage. The 2 computer boxes and the rest of our clothes etc. we packed into 4 Home Depot shipping boxes and sent them via parcel post to my cousin’s house/garage in Basking Ridge, NJ. As it turned out, the night after we vacated our just-sold house we spent a good chunk of time in my sister’s Cupertino garage sorting through our remaining stuff (which was still a lot). We managed to generate 3 additional boxes which my sister also shipped to our cousin’s house in NJ.

After prancing around the country for a few weeks, we arrived at my cousin’s house in Basking Ridge. There was the little matter of buying 4 suitcases from Jersey’s Little India (read “Edison”). And finally moving the stuff from the shipped boxes to the suitcases which was a walk-in-the-park for phenomenal Tetris player Poonam. We also managed to generate 2 additional suitcases which we couldn’t carry with us. Enter another dear friend from West Orange, NJ. He volunteered to bring these suitcases to Bangalore later in the year – cool!

The final logistics hop was to get all our baggage from Basking Ridge to my other cousin’s condo in Manhattan which we achieved in two separate trips. And finally (yes, really this time) a Super Shuttle ferried all our luggage to New York JFK airport – this was the most straightforward trip of all. As I reflect upon the above, I cannot help but feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment for pulling it off.

P.S. Perhaps I should named this post “The Great Social Move” or “The Amazing Race”. What do you think?

If this is not ulaari, then I don’t know what is

“But my move was unconventional…”, replied my friend R who had moved to Bangalore from the Bay Area three years ago. Our email thread stalled at that point so I didn’t get a chance to learn what her definition of ‘conventional’ was. Bet it wasn’t Nagesh Kukunoor‘s portrayal of Varun in Hyderabad Blues. Jokes apart, I reckon the following stories might map to most folks’ definition of conventional moves:

  • S moves to Delhi/Noida from Bay Area, remains with Oracle. S’s parents live in Delhi.
  • SB moves to Delhi from Boston to start and lead Sapient’s India operation. SB is originally from Bombay.
  • BV moves to Bangalore from Bay Area to start and lead Yahoo’s India operation. BV is originally from Bangalore.
  • RA moves to Delhi/Noida from Bay Area, quits HP and joins HCL. RA’s parents live in Delhi.
A common refrain between these stories is that the primary breadwinner secures a job first and then moves the family. In other words, there’s little downtime between the US job and the Indian job. Now let’s contrast this with that the Kurugantis are doing.
I wrapped up my responsibilities with Graspr on May 31, went on a 2-week trip to India in search of a forcing function, decided on Bangalore as our destination even before I had finalized my career move. To make life more interesting, we also decided to sell our house and, mind you, not just sell our house but also sell/give away 95% of our household belongings (more on this later). And to top it all, we were embarking on a 25-day Farewell USA road trip to bid farewell to our beloved adopted country, dear friends, and cousins. If this is not ulaari (Etymology of ulaar), then I don’t know what is.

The Last Temptation

Pic: courtesy contentmentyetdespair.blogspot.com

It started innocently enough. I was telling my friend (let’s call him “Joe”) at Company X about my decision to leave Graspr and move to India. Joe immediately asked me if I was interested in exploring Company X. If yes, he was eager to introduce me to a key executive for an exciting role. It was early days of our India decision and I had left the door open for exploring US-based careers too. So I told Joe to wait a few weeks before making the introduction. I fully expected to tell Joe soon that I was in fact serious about our India plans and hence not explore the role at Company X. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Either I had miscommunicated with Joe or he got overzealous. A few weeks after our conversation, I got that introduction email to the Company X executive (let’s call him “Peter”). One thing led to another and a phone conversation was scheduled  between Peter and me. Try and picture this. There I was in the LAX airport, jamming my cell phone against my left ear and attempting to block out the airport sounds with my right hand. Considering this backdrop, we ended up having a pretty good conversation. My intrigue about Company X turned into a genuine interest in the role.

Things moved rather quickly after that. Peter wanted me to come in for a full round of interviews before my trip to India. I had one foot in India already but I had a desire to see where the Company X exploration would lead. Little did I realize that this would become my Last Temptation. I made the overnight trip to Company X just a day before a scheduled family vacation. I thoroughly enjoyed my full day of interviews. My final two meetings were with Peter and his boss. The role was indeed very exciting, it played very well to my strengths and I had the potential to hit the ball out of the park. Apparently the interviews had gone well from Company X’s perspective too. I was about to hop into my cab when Peter caught up with me and made a verbal offer. The HR manager called me on my way to the airport and discussed the offer in detail. A few days later, the offer was formalized and the ball was in my court.

In most respects, this was a great role and a highly attractive offer. Since we had already made the psychological leap to move out of the Bay Area, moving to a different American city was not a show-stopper. The only problem was that the job wasn’t taking me to India… at least not just yet. Company X did have a presence in India and Peter was very supportive of my moving to their India operation in a few years.

I had plenty of time to think about this… sorta. I was getting on a long plane ride to India and was slated to make a decision before the end of my India trip. I thought about The Two Types of Indian Immigrants and asked myself whether I really was an active should-we. The answer was “yes” but I could feel the temptation to postpone our move by a year. The spirit was willing but was the flesh weak?

Something happened in Vijayawada that tipped the scales decisively. Since my whirlwind trip wasn’t touching Vijayawada (my parents live here), my mother had planned a short visit to Bangalore to see me. Just a few days before my Bangalore stint began, my father fell sick. It wasn’t something major but he needed care and attention so my mother cancelled her trip to Bangalore. The timing of this event provided that burst of clarity and I decided… to resist the last temptation.

The road to Bangalore goes through Shasta, Portland, Cedar Falls, Chicago and New York

IMG_3122It’s official – we are moving to Bangalore. (Here’s more on Why Bangalore).

Before I made the 2-week scouting trip to India, Poonam had this idea for a road trip across US before our India move. It seemed like a pipe dream initially since there were so many things to finish before our move.

But slowly things fell into shape. We sold our house and had to move out on July 18 but we had at least 1-2 weeks of winding down tasks ahead of us. Instead of renting an apartment for a month, why not rent a car and drive across America, we reasoned. We could always do the address changes and other sundry tasks “on the road”.

We acted quickly. Booked our air tickets for a non-stop flight from New York to New Delhi on Aug 14 and set Jul 21 as the start date of our vacation. The goals of this trip were simple. It was our Farewell USA road trip and an opportunity to meet and bid farewell to as many of our friends and cousins as possible. Our trip consultant (Poonam) mapped out three different routes from San Francisco to Chicago.

The chosen route started from Pleasanton to Sacramento, went north via Redding and Shasta (in California) to Crater Lake & Portland (in Oregon), skirted Spokane (Washington) and then went due east and slightly south through Montana (Missoula), Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa before finally reaching Chicago. Return the Hertz rental at Naperville, spend 5 days in Chicago catching up with our friends and then hop onto an Amtrak train to Washington DC, spend 1 1/2 days with a cousin and two friends and complete the final leg (a short four hour drive to New Jersey) by road. This would give us about 8 days in NY/NJ area which was hopefully sufficient time to spend with the plethora of cousins and friends we have in that area.

It is Jul 28 and I’m writing this post from my friend’s house in Cedar Falls, Iowa. We started from Pleasanton at 13:00 on Jul 21 and reached Cedar Falls at 17:00 on Jul 27 covering a total distance of 3,000 miles. The only deviation from our plan was an extra day (in Oregon) since we started a bit late from Sacramento. Quick summary of our 7 days of driving:

  • Mon, Jul 21
    • Pleasanton to Redding. Highlight was the stop in Sacramento to say goodbye to BTV (a dear friend on a miraculous recovery path after a long stint in the ICU) – he actually said “Bye”.
  • Tue, Jul 22
    • Redding to Medford, Oregon. Highlight was Crater Lake (incredible and surreal).
  • Wed, Jul 23
    • Medford to Portland/Hillsboro. Spent the evening and night with my cousin & his family in Hillsboro. Kids had a great time playing with Nishaant and his toys. We were treated to a great home-cooked meal by Amber. We were pleasantly surprised and excited to learn that Amber is a budding fiction writer in the science/fantasy fiction genre. She has already published (read “sold”) her second piece to the Cosmos magazine. Check out Going Somewhere Else – neato! Poonam and I are trying to entice Amber to move to Bangalore to feed her writing muse.
  • Thu, Jul 24
    • Hillsboro, Oregon to Missoula, Montana
  • Fri, Jul 25
    • Missoula, Montana to Gillette, Wyoming
  • Sat, Jul 26
    • Gillette, Wyoming to Sioux Falls, South Dakato via Devil’s Tower and Mt Rushmore
  • Sun, Jul 27
    • Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Cedar Falls, Iowa

I’m having trouble embedding pictures so here’s the Flickr link: Farewell USA Trip in Pictures.

Update (Jul 2, 2012): Did some formatting tweaks and embedded one of the beautiful Crater Lake pictures.