This is the first question our friends and acquaintances ask when they learn about our India plans. The first part of the answer lies in understanding why we immigrated to America in the first place.
The next lies in understanding the Kurugantis’ position on the two types of Indian immigrants. Poonam and I were always in the should-we camp. Barring my first six years in America (when I was unambiguously a passive should-we), I have vacillated between the active should-we and passive should-we camps. About 3-4 years, Poonam and I both crossed over to the active should-we camp but an interesting/cyclical thing played out. After nearly moving to Bangalore in early 2005 (more on this in a subsequent post), Poonam and my desire to move to India ebbed and flowed like two sine curves with a phase lag. In 2006, my sine curve had hit a local maxima while Poonam’s curve had reached a local minima. In mid-2007, our roles had reversed – she was ready, I wasn’t. And then came April 2008, when the planets, moons and Saturn’s rings all aligned in such a way that both Poonam and I got simultaneously primed and jazzed about moving to India. How did this come about? I had recently decided to leave Graspr – the startup where I had slaved for a year. Sometime earlier, Poonam had left her previous gig with a medical communications firm in order to find a better opportunity. So here we were… discussing our respective future plans in our living room after getting the kids to bed when… it suddenly flashed upon us (not unlike the Halley’s Comet) – our time had come. The time was indeed very opportunistic – in other respects too. Our older son was about to turn 5 and the younger one had recently turned 2. If we didn’t act now, it would be criminal.
So I’ve answered the “now” part of the question “Why are we moving back to India now?” What about the rest? My philosopher wife has a very succinct answer. According to her, there are four aspects to life – mind, body, heart, and soul. Our minds and bodies have been nourished extremely well (oh! so well indeed) in America for the past 16 years. But there is a yearning on the heart and soul fronts and we fervently believe that moving back to India would satisfy it.
Poonam’s right of course and I could have ended the post right here. But I want to peel another layer of the onion and provide some color on this ‘yearning’ that I talked about. Lest you think that we’ve had a miserable time in America, let me elaborate. The last 10 years in the SF Bay Area have been awesome. Both Poonam and I made strides and thoroughly enjoyed working in our respective fields. Having a group of 25+ classmates from BIT Mesra whom I’ve known for 20 years created a home away from home. Between our respective workplaces and involvement with various non-profit organizations, we made new friends – many of whom we’ll cherish for years to come. The confidence one accumulates, as a byproduct of pursuing the American dream, is hard to acquire anywhere else in the world. I feel privileged indeed.
The essential difference between the laydown-rooter and the should-we has less to do with the proverbial melting pot and more to do with how they reconcile with their Indian roots. Mathematically speaking,
Indian roots = immediate family (parents & siblings) + larger Indian community
The laydown-rooter‘s emotional (read “Indian root”) needs are satisfied with the annual/biannual trips he makes to India. The occasional visit of his immediate family to America is an added bonus. The should-we craves for more interactions with the immediate family and wants to engage more with the Indian community. Let’s bring this discussion back to my personal perspective – of an active should-we.
On the family front, my parents have visited us in America exactly twice – their second visit was in 2004. Considering that my dad is in his early 70’s, suffered a minor illness during his last visit to America, and has been fighting a low-intensity duel with asthma for several decades now, he cannot be expected to do any heavy international travel. It was completely reasonable when he announced last year that he won’t be traveling to America (or any other country for that matter) anymore (of course I was shocked initially). My second son (who was born in Jan 2006) hasn’t seen his grandparents yet. There’s something wrong with this picture.
Coming to the second half of the Indian roots equation – larger Indian community. My heart (and Poonam’s) has always bled for the disenfranchised. Over the years, we have donated money and time to several different non-profit organizations – touching causes in America (Yahoo! Employee Foundation, MS Society, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, March of Dimes, Build.org, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Organization for Autism Research) and India (Asha for Education, Rejuvenate India Movement, Indians for Collective Action, India Literacy Program). But I have to confess that our hearts resonate more with India-related causes compared to any other causes. Moreover, Poonam and I want to do more than just fundraising for India related causes. This is only possible in India.
I left India 16 years with a 100% Indian composition. I return to India with a composition that is 60% Indian and 40% American. I salute my two favorite melting pots in the world – India and America.
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