Return to India decision – in ONE tweet

Pic: courtesy pecksandbushels.blogspot.com

Yeah – Twitter is an addictive time-sink but it does offer a few redeeming moments. The tweet below is one such moment.

The one tweet answer to… Should I stay or should I return?

If you are an Indian living outside India (especially if you are a lay-down-rooter), you might want to check out the South Asian Parent.

 

Taking the pressure off your R2I decision

Pic: courtesy robert.foo.my

Problem with starting your morning with Twitter (or Facebook) is that you might exceed your “daily dose” by 9am itself. On the bright side (especially if you are a blogger), you might read something that makes you go “Aha! I know JUST the post I need to write today.” This works great when you’ve been agonizing between the post that you were supposed to write and the one that you wanted to write. Since the winning post came out of the blue, there’s no residual guilt either. Sweet.

From my Twitter timeline this morning:

The conversation reminded me of our Return2India decision. Why we were returning was easily answered. If you are new to  this blog, you’ll find different answers here, here and here.

The second popular question was “Are you moving for good?” Good as in permanent / final / will not ever return.

Depending on who asked the question, our answers ranged from “Yes, for good.” to “Well. We’d like it to be permanent.” to “Well. If things don’t work out, we can always come back.”

None of the answers were false – together they represented our continuum of intent. In hind sight, the smartest thing we did was not putting too much pressure on ourselves. Sure – we both really REALLY wanted the move to work out. But we told each other that if the move didn’t agree with either of us, the option of returning to US was always there.

“Don’t tie yourself up in knots.”

This advice, from a friend and mentor, when I was contemplating a stay-or-walk professional decision is relevant to the R2I decision as well. By not getting too attached to the desired outcome, strange as it may sound, you give yourself an opportunity to be surprised… in unexpected ways.

Main baat hai ki tension nahin lena ka!

(Translation: main thing is to not get worked up.)

 

 

Leaving Hotel California

The Sirens trying to tempt Ulysses’ sailors (Pic: courtesy giovanino.deviantart.com)

It’s been a little over four years since I wrote Why are we moving back to India now? I thought of our R2I decision this morning as I read Tim Kreider’s brilliantly insightful and wonderfully written The ‘Busy’ Trap on New York Times.

The following two passages caught my attention.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Kreider is writing about America in the 21st century. Nowhere is this more true than in Silicon Valley. I recalled something my wife said to me (probably in 2007) – “You were more fun in Chicago. You were interested in things other than startups!” Guilty as charged – just take a quick look at my Chicago memories.

Six months after we moved to Silicon Valley, I had quit the ‘big’ company (Navteq) and joined a hot mobile startup – Online Anywhere. (Yeah – mobile was hot even back in 1999 though we thought the inflection point was just a few years away.) After Online Anywhere was acquired by Yahoo, I stayed at the ‘large’ Internet company for almost eight years. It might seem like a long time but Yahoo was an exciting place in those days and it felt like a startup on most days. In 2007, I quit Yahoo to co-found a startup in the video social learning space (Graspr).

So when I quit Graspr, why did I not join (or co-found) yet another Silicon Valley startup?

Just dumb luck I suppose. As I wrote in the Why now post, Poonam’s and my desire to move to India ebbed and flowed like two sine curves with a phase lag.  And then came April 2008, when the planets, moons and Saturn’s rings all aligned in such a way that both Poonam and I got simultaneously primed and jazzed about moving to India.

And boy, did we move out of Silicon Valley in style?

So… why did Kreider’s article resonate with me today? I was reminded of the fact that it actually took a certain planetary constellation to make us move. If any of the myriad preceding events hadn’t quite occurred just that way, Newton’s First Law might well have prevailed. Maybe we still would have moved a year or two later but my gut tells me that it would have required a special performance – think Ulysses and the Sirens.

Thus ends my brief flashback to four years ago, in the process, peeling another layer from our R2I story.

*******

If the Internet-induced ADD has prevented you from fully reading Kreider’s article, I’ve pasted my favorite bits below. Have I mentioned that you MUST read it?

She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”

This next bit appeals to the writer trapped inside me:

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day.

The next gem reminded me of a quote from A. Parthasarathy’s Vedanta Treatise – “You must practice Vedanta in the din and roar of the marketplace.” [Nailed the theory, failing the practical.]

It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.

For those who need a *reason* to be lazy or idle, here’s the checkmate argument:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

And this final extract is not very different from the vision that Khan Academy’s Sal is pursuing for a learning laboratory physical school he’ll be setting up soon:

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites.

 

4 years of blogging!

Pic: courtesy rodrigues.se

Yup – 4 years! To celebrate my 4-year blogging anniversary, I migrated my WordPress-hosted ulaar.wordpress.com blog to  ulaar.com. I’m sure it’s an event the blogosphere’s been looking forward to with joyous anticipation but guy… don’t know how to break it you… I’m not doing any press interviews. And yeah – don’t send any TV crews either (especially those with Burkha Dutt imitators).

If you really must know where I do most of my blogging, here’s a hint. Koramangala. There are a lot of coffee shops in Koramangala though. Not as many as within a quarter mile radius of a Los Angeles or Manhattan neighborhood..but close.

I’ve also been known to blog from my car as I wait to pick up my son from his school or art class. You may not know which car I drive or which school my sons go to. Then again, you might have read Hum do humare do… bina exhaust ke,  this drama-in-real-life The Janus Man, or The curious case of the traveling chairman.

Now that I’ve cleared the air on how you can’t easily find me in Koramangala, let me share some blog statistics and highlight some other posts.

My blogging journey started with A time to Qik on Feb 8, 2008. The 2nd post (Etymology of ulaar) followed soon enough. Things kinda languished for a few months until the primary Returning to India meme emerged in May 2008. Why are we moving back to India now remains an all-time popular post; a more recent guest post by Vasantha Gullapalli, Our Return Ticket 16 Years Later, was another widely read post on the R2I meme.

It took me 2 years to reach the magic milestone of 50 posts. Fittingly, post #50 was The Art of Returning to India, which also marked the change of my blog’s tagline from Return to accustomed earth to The Art of Returning to India…and Staying Put.

The darndest things you see in India photo blog post was one of the largest traffic drivers in 2010. It also garnered a modicum of fame when BlogAdda, an Indian blog network, featured it as a Spicy Saturday pick.

The 100 post milestone was crossed in Feb 2011 (a speedy 12 months compared to the previous 50). Post #100, As I shuttled between San Francisco and Bangalore in 2010, was on the troubling topic of homelessness. In a coincidental way, this post can be considered as a segue to my new TechSangam blog, which I started in March 2011.

TechSangam’s inspiration (and first) post was Evolution of the Human Race. It took a mere 8 months for TechSangam to hit the 100 post milestone. Comparing TechSangam (official blog) with ulaar (personal blog) is not fair since the former was supposed to be a full-time gig. Unsurprisingly, the blog cadence on ulaar suffered in the first 6 months of TechSangam’s evolution but it started picking up steam in Sep 2011. The ulaar blog is now batting n.o. at 137 (including today’s post) and TechSangam is batting at 133. Gotta keep a healthy competition between the two… are you listening, Dr. Jekyl?

Closing Note: This post was conceived on Feb 7 and written in fits and spurts on Feb 9 (today) – first in a Costa Coffee, then in front of my son’s school, followed by a brief session in Au Bon Pain, and a briefer session on a tree-lined Koramangala street. I’m hitting the Publish button in the comfort of my home office. Boy! it’s been a hot February day.

 

Attracting diaspora to address India’s higher education faculty gap

Pic: courtesy hebrewhistory.info

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on my other blog (TechSangam) – republishing here since it’s clearly relevant to the Return to India meme. Earlier this year, academic collaborators from Rutgers University, Penn State University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences published an insightful study that quantified the severe gap in higher education faculty in India and, after surveying nearly 1,000 Indians who are either pursuing or have completed graduate study in the U.S, came up with results that are surprising and encouraging for Indian universities. In Part 1, we looked at key trends around higher education in India. In this post, we’ll present key trends around the willingness of Indian graduates to return to India.]

Why They Left for US in the First Place?

A combination of factors – high-quality teaching, cutting-edge research, professionalism and post-graduation options – were all deemed to be very important in attracting young people to study in the US. High quality teaching was the single most important factor for half of the respondents, but a number of factors were rated as “important” or “most important” by roughly four-fifths of all those taking the survey. A surprisingly low percentage (8%) reported that the desire to find a job and settle in the US after graduation was the most important factor in their decision to study abroad.

What if Indian Universities had US Faculty?

To try to retain some the more than $4 billion that Indian students are now spending on education abroad, and to increase domestic capacity to offer high-quality Higher Education (HE) to a greater number of Indian students, the government has proposed reforms to allow foreign universities to offer degrees in India. The IITs have also petitioned the HRD Ministry to allow them to hire permanent foreign faculty to help fill the estimated 40% shortfall in qualified professors needed to achieve the ambitious growth targets they have been set. With these reforms in mind, we asked respondents whether they would have preferred to study in India if they could have done so with US faculty: 21% indicated they would, while 35% preferred to go to the US, with the highest percentage (44) choosing “maybe”.

Desire to Return to India (Hint: money chart #1)

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (74%) plan to return to India eventually or had already done so (categories 1, 3, 4 & 6 in pie chart above). In contrast, only 8% of respondents said either that they preferred not to return; with half of these indicating they’d take any job they could to avoid returning.

Interest in Types of Careers in India

Three-quarters or more of respondents are interested in corporate jobs or entrepreneurship opportunities in India, and HE opportunities that offer the chance to do research are also very attractive. In contrast, teaching-only positions, which historically have constituted most of India’s HE sector, are not as attractive to the majority of respondents. While Master’s students are attracted to private-sector jobs in India, the vast majority of PhDs and Post Docs are most interested in pursuing positions that combine teaching and research in an Indian university (79% and 81% respectively) or research-only careers (64% and 76%).

The other encouraging finding for Indian policymakers is that 84% of those who have decided to return to India are potentially interested in HE careers. When asked which specific types of institutions they would find most attractive, not surprisingly the IIT/IIMs/and NITs topped the list, along with the National Institutes. Centrally funded universities were attractive to about half of all those interested in HE careers.

Key Factors Affecting Decision to Return

The most significant reasons individuals cited for wanting to return to India are family and a desire to give back to the motherland, while corruption, red tape, and the academic work environment were the strongest deterrents to returning, and instead remaining in the US. The study authors conducted a factor analysis to determine the underlying structure of individuals’ preferences on what is most or least important to them when deciding where to live and work. This analysis yielded natural grouping of 11 of the 18 items into four factors, eliminating the other seven that overlapped among 2 or more of the factors. These factors are shown in the table below (money chart #2):

Just one of these four factors – the desire to give back – is strongly associated with a desire to return to India. Quality of life and career factors are more mixed, but tend to be seen as more positive in the US, while “red tape” and “corruption” are what we label the major “hurdles” that need to be removed or at least addressed if institutions are to succeed in attracting the most able academics back to India.

The study authors also asked respondents to write in the most important factors that would lead them to go back to India. Confirming the results of the items on the -2 to +2 scale, nearly three-quarters indicated that family and giving back to the motherland were the key reasons they would return to India, while nearly half were keen to help build India’s HE system. These results shouldn’t surprise us. One proof point comes from Seer Akademi’s Srikanth Jadcherla (whom I interviewed a few months ago for this post). The winning argument for recruiting & retaining Seer Akademi’s US-based faculty (and have them conduct 4-6 hour interactive webex sessions with students in India) is simple – Do it for India!

(Closing note: The authors of the study also had some specific credible suggestions for reform of the Indian higher education system. My copy editor (err..that would be “me”) pruned that section from this post. It might well make it as a separate post in the future. If you are the impatient type, here’s the PDF link – if you enjoy statistics, regression and the like, the report has a ton of those details as well.)

Bengali Mumbaikar takes the long way home

Pic: courtesy ekmarathimanoos.blogspot.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we are in India (Bollywood Inspired Version)

Movies were never a dominant part of my entertainment. It’s not that I dislike them – it’s just that there always seem to be more interesting things to do. It’s thus a tad bit ironic that I found inspiration to explain our migration in two Bollywood movies and one Hollywood movie.

 

Pic: courtesy 1morefilmblog.com

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Rob Neary (played by Richard Dreyfus) becomes increasingly obsessive about a mountain-like structure after a UFO encounter. He eventually learns that the mountain structure that’s haunting him is nothing but Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. He heads towards the site along with others with similar experiences. The US army apprehends most of the civilians headed to the UFO site but Rob (and a handful of others) make it to the mountain. After a mothership UFO appears and ‘returns’ the people abducted over the years, the US Army determines that these are apparently ‘peaceful’ aliens. As the aliens emerge from the mothership, Roy is invited to join them in their travels.

I’m not saying that I was seeing visions of Bangalore during my years in America but there was just that subtle subliminal pull that just refused to go away.

 

Pic: courtesy glamsham.com

Lakshya: The movie centers around Karan Shergil (played by Hrithik Roshan) – a young man with no actual goal in mind or plans for his future. His inability to take anything seriously causes a strain in his relationships with his father (a successful businessman) and his girlfriend, Romi (played by Preity Zinta), a student activist and motivated reporter. He eventually joins the Indian Military Academy (IMA) mostly on an impulse. When he drops out of IMA, it’s the last straw for his girlfriend who dumps out. His parents aren’t too happy either. Stung by the dumping followed by a period of introspection, Karan rejoins IMA with a newfound dose of commitment. When the Kargil war breaks out, Karan’s unit is deployed close to enemy lines and faces heavy losses. After Karan’s unit is assigned the task of taking back a strategic high-altitude outpost (from the Pakistanis), he declares his lakshya (i.e. goal) is to succeed in his mission — at any cost.

So what’s my lakshya in life? Simple question but no simple answer. According to Buddha, “Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” Problem for 99% of folks (yes – I’m in that big bucket) is that it might take an entire life to ‘discover’ their world. As I wrote earlier on this topic (see Why are we moving back to India now), it’s not that we were miserable in America, it’s just that I felt there was a higher probability of finding my lakshya in India than in America.

 

Pic: courtesy searchandhra.com

Delhi-6: Roshan (played by Abhishek Bachchan) accompanies his dying grandmother Annapurna (played by Waheeda Rahman) to their ancestral property in a crowded neighborhood of Chandni Chowk, Delhi. Roshan is initially stunned by the mad rush of neighbors and the commotion that’s Old Delhi. However, Roshan eventually warms to the place, wholeheartedly embraces the sense of community, and gradually becomes steeped in the culture of the place. He also starts falling in love with local lass Bittu (played by Sonam Kapoor). The pivotal point in the movie is when Roshan decides to stay back in Delhi and his professed reason (to his parents in New York) is “It just WORKS in India!” He goes on to describe how, in spite of the chaos he has experienced in the recent past, there’s something inherently ‘right’ about it.

I personally think the screenplay writer took the politically correct approach by saying “It just WORKS in India!”. What he really meant for Roshan to say was “It just DOESN’T WORK in India and I want to understand why it doesn’t work and be a part of a change for the better in India.” Ok – so that was rather wordy and we know why the dialogue writers picked the verbiage which they did.

Apr 15 Update: Today I stumbled upon this Gaurav Bhatnagar’s slightly dated but very relevant post Why return to India.

My favorite extracts from his post:

Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: “I cling to India like a child to its mother’s breast, because I feel she gives me the spiritual noursihment I need. She has the environment that responds to my highest aspiration. When that faith is gone I shall feel like an orphan withut hope of ever finding a guardian.”

This lack of a definite answer was a bit unnerving. I suddenly felt that perhaps my decision to go back was not well thought out. Perhaps I had made a choice based on emotions. And yet strangely I was feeling a quite confidence in my decision. Even though I could not justify it, I knew it was time to go back. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else but in India. Funnily, it seemed obvious to me that I needed to be India even though I couldn’t think of many rational reasons for that. There was almost an urge to go back, an invisible force pulling me back. So I think my decision to go back is based on faith. A faith that I can fulfil my ambitions and aspirations in India. A faith that a brighter future awaits me there. Clearly this is blind faith because I don’t have any solid reaasoning to back it. But I am not scared, not even apprehensive. I have never felt so confident of my choice.


The Art of Returning to India

If you’ve previously visited the blog, you may have noticed that the blog title used to be Return to Accustomed Earth. It was a play on Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories – Unaccustomed Earth. You’ll note that the new blog title is The Art of Returning to India…and Staying PutStaying Put is an important suffix because if you’ve returned to India for say, 2 years, and then gone back to America/Canada/wherever, the return didn’t fully happen, right? A different way of decomposing the blog title is to state that returning to India is a two-step process:

  • Step 1: Acquire terminal velocity to make the move (inertia is a powerful thing)
  • Step 2: Retain sufficient positive momentum (if the positives continue to outweigh the negatives for you, you’ll stay)

18 months after our move, after talking to numerous folks who did similar moves and hearing about others who have since returned to America, it struck me that this returning to India business is more an art rather than a science.

Let’s start with some definitions. The related tag cloud for science would look something like this: research, planning, rational, repeatable, deterministic, technique, predictable. The corresponding tag cloud for art would look like this: beauty, random, feeling, impulsive, emotions, unpredictable, affairs of the heart, maverick, irrational, impractical. Do you see where I’m going with this?

If you are an active-should-we or a passive-should-we (defined here –  Two Types of Immigrants), you might have different ways to slice and dice the return to India decision. Shalin Shah (a passive-should-we at MoneyVidya) captured a comprehensive list of pros and cons of moving to India. As I’ve noted earlier, it’s a handful of reasons (no more than 2 or 3) that usually tip the tide and make most of the cons fade away into the background. Based on the sample of population of folks who’ve returned, the top three reasons that have inspired them are: 1) Strong sense of wanting to be close to their aging parents, 2) Higher comfort with India (instead of their adopted country) as their home land, and 3) Career growth. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people.

Except for reason #3 (career growth), the other two reasons require a leap of faith to pull yourself from the clutches of inertia into a terminal velocity. There’s rarely such a thing as perfect timing (at least in foresight) nor can one feed all the variables into a mathematical model and expect a magical answer. Hence my growing belief that it is the art (not science) of returning to India. This applies also to the staying put part of the equation. Compared to US, Canada or Europe, there are few environmental variables that are within your control in India. The weather and your destination city’s pollution and/or pollen counts might conspire to make the family’s health miserable. Or you might find out that the dream job which you accepted isn’t as dreamy or strategic as you had expected (and your destination city doesn’t have too many companies matching your industry vertical). You could get lucky too – if you are an outdoors person, might discover that your destination city offers a ton of outdoor activity options. In short, there’s a fair bit of randomness which finally determines whether you end up staying put in India.

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