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.

 

East or West, Is Home Really the Best?

[Editor’s Note: For the 5th voice in this series, I bring you a guest post from Roona Ballachanda who describes herself on her India Repat blog as thus: “After seven years in the United States, I returned home to India in 2010, only to feel myself a stranger in my own country. Living an expat life in the US was an expectedly unique experience, however being an India Repat is something that I am yet unable to define or describe and so this blog…” She’s Class of 2010, still settling down – I found her story to be honest, authentic and more.]

Shivranjani – Satellite in Ahmedabad (Pic: courtesy rojnuamdavad.wordpress)

One night in August 2003, I boarded a flight heading out to the USA from Bangalore, India. Most of us here know the amount of preparation it takes to get into an American University and get a Student Visa as well, so here I was frozen with shock, thinking, “I am actually moving out of my country” and exhaustion after months of intensive work that culminated in this moment. Little did I realize to what extent this decision would influence my life in the ensuing years!

I spent two years in Illinois pursuing my master’s degree in social work and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio where I worked as a mental health social worker for five years. I visited India in 2006 to get married, my husband too worked in Cleveland and at that time, it appeared as if Cleveland would be our home for a considerable number of years, if not until the age of retirement!

My husband works for a manufacturing company and in 2009; they decided to open up Indian markets for their product. Once they decided upon this project, things happened so fast that he moved here in May of 2009 and I followed in May 2010.

After exploring different places to figure out the best place to conduct his business from, we decided on the city of Ahmedabad.

Although it was a relatively easy decision for my husband, it was a not easy for me to reconcile to this move. I felt that this would be a huge disruption in my life and career and would have preferred to wait until I had reached a certain turning point in my life before moving back. Due to this reason, even to this day, as I continue to struggle with settling down here, I cannot draw a definite line between issues related to countries and my own personal issues. As we do not have any children yet, we had one less thing to worry about while planning our repatriation.

I also think, initially, choosing Ahmedabad as the place to move back to made it very uncomfortable as well. I was born and raised in Coorg, Karnataka, lived in Mysore for a few years while attending College and then moved to the United States. Simply moving from Coorg/Mysore to Ahmedabad would have been culture shock enough without factoring in the United States as well! As for the month, I chose to move, the less said the better! I had just gotten through a particularly harsh winter in Cleveland, at the fag end of which, when there were signs of Spring in the air, in May, I moved to Ahmedabad where the hottest summer in a decade had begun and people, birds and animals were falling dead every other day unable to tolerate the heat. All I could see and feel was the unbelievably glaring sunlight, the scorching heat, the immense amount of dust, the soot and grime-covered buildings, the conservative culture and of course, the lack of boozing kens to drown our sorrows in as this is a dry state! To make things worse we were living in an almost empty apartment throughout the torrid summer as we had shipped our furniture and other household goods from Cleveland and it reached us only in November. There was no question of appreciating any of the nicer things except the air-conditioned shopping malls. Eventually this changed and I began to develop a liking to the place but when I first moved, I refused to believe that I would even be reconciled to this city one day, let alone like it!

When I try to think of what feels good about living in India, proximity to family tops the list(in our case proximity simply means living in the same country again!) along with the abundant sunshine and easy availability of garden fresh produce, meat and poultry, which makes it a relief not to have to rely mostly on supermarket crap. On the other hand, I still cannot tolerate the dust, the crazy traffic sense and the uncaring attitude most of our fellow country people have towards keeping our surroundings clean outside of our own homes and gardens.

There are certain things that I continue to miss about living in the US, I miss going out on road trips by myself, something I got used to during the year I lived alone in the States and exploring wine racks in the local stores, finally picking what I would like to try on any given day. I also miss the feeling of freedom where people respect personal decisions and individuality as a matter of course unlike India where we have no compunction about intruding into others’ space. However, what I miss most of all is the youthful optimism and cheer, the almost eerie feeling that you get of forgetting your mortality in the abundance and near perfection of life as it is lived in the United States.

If you ask me to rate my return to India on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the happiest, I would say that today I stand at a four. This is partly because, so far, I am too engrossed with simply surviving this move to focus on building a life here but there is another more significant reason. India and the US are two hugely different entities and as I whole-heartedly loved the American way of life, it is taking me longer than I anticipated in working it out of my system and feeling at home in India again. I am not unhopeful of one day feeling content here but as of now, I still have days when I seriously contemplate moving back.

The one significant thing I realized from my moving back to India experience is that “how” we move matters a lot more than “why”. We can give ourselves umpteen number of reasons why coming back to India is a good idea but none of that will satisfy if the time, place and circumstances do not come together to make the move as seamless as possible and you have a decent closure for your life abroad before you come back home.

Our Return Ticket 16 Years Later

[Editor’s Note: After an extended silence in the R2IProfiles category, I bring you an interview with a recently returned (to India) fellow blogger, Vasantha Gullapalli. Most of the answers below are partial or full extracts from her blog (which you should frequent, especially if you are contemplating a move to Hyderabad). She and her husband are “Class of 2010” returnees which makes them two years our juniors 🙂 As it coincidentally turns out, Vasantha and her husband are long-time Sapient’ers and friends with Soumya Banerjee (of Bengali Mumbaikar takes the long way home fame).]

Q: How long & where did you live in US? When did you return to India?
A: Lived in the US for 16 years mostly in the New Jersey/ New York area. Returned to India on Sep 25, 2010.

Q: Why did you return?
A: [Reproduced entirely from her beautiful post – Home is where the heart is] In the most basic sense, ‘Home’ is nothing more than a shelter or roof over one’s head to protect from the basic elements of nature. But, is that all that is needed in a home? So, what is it that we need in life? One practical point of view suggests that all we need is air to breathe, food to eat and a shelter and then you add to this the basic human craving for love, companionship, etc., we are already talking about personal needs such as family, friends and then as we move towards being a social being, we are treading into professional aspirations, social status, etc. One of my friends said something that struck a chord with me which is something like this (shamelessly plagiarizing): Life revolves around these three pivots – Personal needs, Professional needs and Spiritual needs and finally Home is where all these three pivots can be balanced and satisfied. It definitely sounded very thought provoking and deep, but for me it has always been ‘Home is where the heart is’ and that heart sometimes doesn’t listen to my head 🙂 So, in the process of trying to understand my heart better, my head started listing down what the above statement really meant? What do I need from my home/life? Here are some that I could put down:

  • I want to be able to be surrounded by people that I can relate to. I want to be able to understand what their lives are like, what struggles they have, how I can help them and want them to understand my life and lend a hand when I need it
  • I want to be able to share my beliefs, superstitions or idiosyncrasies and not be looked upon like a ‘fool’ or ‘stranger’
  • I want to be able to walk out of my home and be able to relate to even a complete stranger because we share the same background
  • I don’t want to be planning every meeting and every moment that I feel like spending with the people I love
  • I want to be able to drop things at a moment’s notice to be side-to-side with the people I love and care and selfishly would like the same from them in the time of need
  • I want to be able to show off my little day-to-day victories or my kids accomplishments before that moment has passed
  • I want to witness the special moments in ‘my peoples’ lives right then
  • I want to be in a place where I will be missed when I don’t show up one day
  • I want to be in a place where the difference I make will make a difference to me

Most visible symbol of Hyderabad’s Hi-Tec City (Pic: courtesy hyderabadplanet.com)

Q: Which Indian city did you move to and why?
A: Hyderabad (given the proximity to career opportunities and family).

Q: If proximity to family wasn’t a top concern, which city would you have rather moved to?
A: Well, our priority was not just proximity to family, it was both good school and employment opportunities, a social circle that is needed for day to day life and just to have a life. Given these, I think we would have stuck with Hyderabad and second choice was Bangalore.

Q: Dwellings – apartment, villa or independent home? How did you arrive at this decision? Did you move all/part of your household belongings?

A: In Hyderabad, we will be moving into our apartment which is not done yet. Currently, enjoying our stay with our parents and my sister. From US, we shipped all the things that we thought we could use here plus things we and kids are attached to. We did not/could not sell the house and so rented it out, sold the cars, got rid of a lot of stuff that we either didn’t need anymore or not attached to as much. Since shipping was being taken care by my husband’s employer, we didn’t have to worry much. In spite of this, there was a lot of decluttering I had to do.

Q: Which schools are your kid(s) going to? And what were your criteria in picking schools?

A: Indus International School, Hyderabad. Short list and criteria discussed in the School choices post.

Q: How do you rate your return to India on a scale of 1-10 (10=love the place, why didn’t we move earlier, 1=hate_the_place; currently planning my return back to USA)
A: 7 [Editor’s note: considering it’s less than 6 months since their move, I’d call this a pretty high rating]. For context, check out our 1 month progress report.

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely love about India since you returned?
A: From our first quarter progress report, the top 3 are:

  • My people around me – Lot of relief that I don’t have to save up vacations just to spend time with them, confidence that I am right here and they are around me if they or us need anything anytime.
  • Kids adjustment – Kids have blended in so beautifully, they are enjoying school, making new friends, learning Telugu, enjoying our festivals, even enjoying the unexpected bandhs 🙂
  • Time for each other – Although, I am having some time management issues, in general we don’t feel rushed and don’t have to wait for the weekend to have our breakfast at the table or sit down for a cup of tea in the evenings

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely detest about being in India?
A: Corruption, the state of politics in Andhra Pradesh, and the lack of professionalism in people you interact with day to day.

Q: What are the 3 things you miss most about America?
A: Here’s our top 3:

  • Privacy and coziness – I miss the privacy and coziness that comes with being just the 4 of us. I hope we will get this back once we move into our own home (we are still not there yet)
  • Dependence: The Indian society is very tightly knit and how smooth our life is depends on the contacts we have. With this, comes some amount of dependence and unpredictability. I miss being able to drive down to the grocery shop. Since I am still not comfortable driving in India, I have to wait for some driver to grace us before I can step out.
  • Streamlined day to day – In general, life in US is pretty streamlined and after the initial settling down and figuring out, our day to day was pretty streamlined and we were pretty confident with how to get things done. On the flip side, either because we are still not over the initial settling phase or perhaps this is just the way it is, there are very few things that are clearly streamlined here. Each time we seem to be using a different process or contact to get things done.

 

Vizag Boy Returns Home After 15 Years in Northern Virginia/DC Area

For Part 3 in this series, I bring to you an interview with Srinivas Savaram. Srinivas is my friend from Rejuvenate India Movement volunteering days (circa 1999) – I later learned that he was my senior in Timpany School, Vizag too. He returned to India in 2004.

Q: How long & where did you live in US? When did you return to India?
A: Lived in the US for just over 15 years mostly in Northern Virginia (DC metro area). Returned to India in early 2004.

Q: Why did you return?
A: As with most Indians, the yearning to return ‘home’ was always there. For a while it morphed into a modified version of X+1 syndrome since I stayed in school for much longer than most others. However, the desire to return became stronger since in the late ’90s. Around this time, my involvement with many voluntary organizations started in earnest, a majority being India related. This increased my awareness of the needs in India and so the desire to return to India became even stronger. By this time, my brother and sister had also moved to the US. This prompted my parents to finally visit the US for the first time. They waited until both of them retired. Realizing the difficulties that retired persons face in India, the desire to return reached a fever pitch. So, one fine day, I decided that the time had come. Since I was still single, the decision was probably easier than for many others. At the time of returning, my reasons for the decision were:

  1. Do some hands on volunteer work to help the underprivileged, specifically related to literacy and education,
  2. To be with my parents so that they did not feel lonely and I did not feel guilty that I was enjoying a life of luxury that would not be possible without them while they are left to fend for themselves at a time when their energy levels may be taking a downturn. There was also a realization, based on my experience interacting with retired friends and colleagues in the US, that in India retired people assume that their life is over and now they have nothing much to look forward to versus their counterparts in the US who look forward to a new life of freedom, exploration and relaxation.
  3. To start a business of my own and provide much needed employment to the growing number of youth in India as well as to create a long lasting reputed organization.
  4. To start an educational institution which will set the mind free and create the much needed leaders of tomorrow.

Rishikonda (one of Vizag’s famous beaches)

Q: Which Indian city did you move to and why?
A: Since my parents are in Visakhapatnam (aka “Vizag”) and it is a city that always tugs at my heart, this was the only option open. I did not want to move to a larger city where my career prospects might be better because it would mean uprooting my parents and their comfort. Vizag also offered an opportunity create a strong new sector (IT or otherwise) from scratch that other cities did not offer.

Q: Which company did you move to? How did it work out? Where do you work now?
A: I moved without a job on hand wanting to go with the opportunities that presented themselves. I initially joined a local software company but very quickly moved out to take up a franchise of a HR company along with a business partner. The franchise experience taught some very valuable lessons, the biggest one being that working with Indian franchisers is laden with a lot of risks. We are now an independent company offering consulting services – we added management and IT consulting to our portfolio in addition to HR consulting.

Q: Dwellings – apartment, villa or independent home? How did you arrive at this decision? Did you move all/part of your household belongings?
A: Since my return I have been living in my parents home along with them. Maybe I am old fashioned but for me a nuclear family is not appealing. I was able to give away almost all my furniture and other belongings, so I brought back only a part of what I had in the US. In hindsight I probably would have left back even more.

Q: How do you rate your return to India on a scale of 1-10 (10=love the place, why didn’t we move earlier, 1=hate_the_place; currently planning my return back to USA)
A: 7 or 7.5.

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely love about India since you returned?
A: Here’s my list:

  • Being with my parents so that they have peace of mind that their son is there in case of need.
  • The love and closeness that you get from people.
  • The endless opportunities that are available.

Q: What are the 3 things you absolutely detest about being in India?
A: Here’s my top 3:

  • The apathy of people, especially of the so-called educated ones, in cities.
  • The inexcusable neglect of primary education especially in rural areas that will prevent India from becoming a truly developed democracy.
  • Ever widening economic divide because a few selfish and short term thinking people are not enabling their fellow Indians to also benefit from the many opportunities for growth that exist.

Q: What are the 3 things you miss most about America?
A:  Family and friends would come first. Second would be the access to volunteering, education, sports and entertainment. I have had the chance to volunteer in soup kitchens, at the airport (Travelers Aid), in river cleanups (as a part of SAALT’s Gandhi Day of Service), in temples (Siva Vishnu Temple, Rajdhani Mandir) in addition to India Literacy Project (ILP), Association for India’s Development (AID), Asha for Education and Rejuvenate India Movement (RIM). This is something I truly miss over and have been waiting for too long to do here in India. The third would be the honesty, professionalism and work ethic which is probably going to take some time to take root in the cities of India.

Q: Is there anything else about your R2I experience you’d like to share?
A: Yes. Returning to India is not for those who want to have a structured life although even that is possible nowadays as long as one decides to live in a gated community and keeps away from the hustle and bustle of everyday interaction with average Indians. Many things are still a struggle although many things have improved over the past 5 years. So life in the US is almost a cakewalk compared to India. Having said that, India is India. What you make of it depends on what you bring to it. You love her, she loves you back. You hate her, she lets you be. You want to change her, it’s going to be an epic struggle but it is possible.

[Editor’s Note: Along with a business partner, Srinivas runs IndiGenius (www.indigenius.co.in), a consulting company located in Visakhapatnam. He is also attempting to start a chapter of ILP in Vizag in addition to the efforts on Primary Education that are in pause mode right now. He is a trustee in a local non-profit organization called Upkaar Charitable Trust. In conjunction with his collaborations on Effective Primary Education with Dr. Parameswara Rao, Srinivas maintains the blog http://citizensforeffectiveprimaryeducation.blogspot.com/. As you can see, he likes to keep himself busy.]

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

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:

—-

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

—–


Memories of an American Life – 4 years in Chicago

Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive between Diversey & Fullerton – part of my fave running stretch — till Navy Pier (Pic: courtesy flickr.com)

I originally wanted to start a post called “Ten little things I miss about America” and then realized it should more on the lines of ‘memories that I treasure’ (true true!) rather than a life that I miss and crave (at least not yet!). Sixteen years of American life were spent in 3 cities (Houston, Chicago and San Francisco Bay Area) so this is going to become a three-part series. I’m going to allow my stream of consciousness to flow with little filtering (P often wonders whether I have ‘any’ filters) – the only exclusions would be grand tourist sights like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Golden Gate Bridge, etc. So here I go in no particular order…

  • Running along Lake Shore Drive between Diversey and Navy Pier often times at 10pm and not being the only soul on that stretch
  • Dining in umpteen multi-ethnic restaurants in Lake View/Lincoln Park neighborhoods
  • Riding the different L trains between Lake View, Downtown, Belmont, Park Ridge, and Evanston
  • Driving north on Lake Shore Drive and continuing on Sheridan Avenue through Evanston, Wilmette, Highland Park all the way to the Wisconsin border
  • Walking on Michigan Avenue (aka “The Magnificent Mile”) during festive Christmas time and in sub-zero bone-chilling wind chill conditions (ducking in and out of stores)
  • Summers in Grant Park (Taste of Chicago, concerts, jazz festival, oh.. so many events)
  • Listening to Fareed Haque mesmerize the audience at The Green Mill with a custom-built guitar-sitar
  • Experiencing the young trumpet genius Nicholas Payton at The Jazz Showcase
  • Watching Jethro Tull at Tinley Park following a loud warmup session from Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • (Dating days with P) Watching R. Carlos Nakai perform the native American flute at the Field Museum of Natural History
  • Zipping around Greater Chicago on my rocket (ahem, 1985 Suzuki GS-700ES) – thanks for protecting me, oh guardian angel
  • (Dating days with P) Out of the world performance by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – the pride of Pakistan
  • (Dating days with P) First Dave Brubeck concert at the Orchestra Hall (I think)
  • Riding my Suzuki from Chicago to Omaha with a gas tank cap held tight with tape. This is a blog post all by itself (maybe someday after I retire)
  • Returning to Chicago and getting caught in a thunderstorm. Riding an hour in soaking rain before stopping at a motel close to Des Moines, Iowa
  • Bungie jumping in Wisconsin along with Ganesh – childhood buddy who intersects three of my place circles (Bokaro Steel City, BIT Ranchi, and Chicago)
  • (Dating days with P) After training for a Chicago-area Half Marathon for 3 months, woke up late on race day and missed the start (by one hour). Oh well! apparently the auspicious time hadn’t arrived for me to run marathons
  • My first Starbucks coffee – in an obscure Dominicks location – next to the Park Ridge offices of SEI Information Technology
  • Meeting P for the first time in a Chicago art gallery. What on earth was I doing in an art gallery?? As the wise old men say “it was meant to be”
  • Watching Big Daddy Kinsey, Junior Wells, and a host of blues luminaries in Blues Etc and Blues Chicago (didn’t mind the smoke-filled ambience those days)
  • Playing disc golf during lunch time with a group of like-minded fanatics at an ‘object’ course in Park Ridge
  • My first winter morning in Chicago. Icicles formed on my wet hair as I vigorously scraped the ice off my 1984 Volkswagon Jetta
  • Watching Jean Luc Ponty perform at Navy Pier
  • (Dating days with P) Watching Ian Anderson perform, as a guest artist, at the National Flute Convention in downtown Chicago (Grant Park? I think). He had the cheek to poke fun at the flautists’ “puckered lips”
  • A glorious year at Old Town School of Folk Music (on Armitage Ave). They made me feel special even though I had little talent for playing the silver flute. Thank you Judith Johnson Brown.
  • Watching Ulele at their CD release party on Morse Ave (North Shore) with Michael and Marilyn and two of their friends (Deidre and Ms. X).
  • My first veggie Thanksgiving at Anthony Clarke’s Arlington Heights apartment. Anthony & wife were fellow bikers (from Maryland) who took my apartment sub-lease (while I moved to my Lake View apartment).