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Bengali Mumbaikar takes the long way home

July 29, 2010 2 comments

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).

R2I Profiles – Launching a New Category

July 12, 2010 1 comment

My WordPress dashboard stats tell me that a lot of organic traffic comes from folks searching for “nris returning to india” or “indians returning to bangalore”. When I started this blog in 2008, this was the primary target group I had in mind. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that we moved to Bangalore from SF Bay Area when our kids were 5 and 2.5 and that our kids are attending school at NPS Koramangala (a CBSE board school, not an International/IB school). You may have also noticed that most of my posts in the second year are categorized under Settling Down instead of Returning to India.

Sure – I’ve written about how we picked schools for our kids, our escapades with the drivers and of becoming one with the Bangalore traffic. But that’s merely one perspective. What if you are considering Hyderabad or Delhi/NCR because you have family there? What if your older kid is 10 years and you are wondering if you’ve waited too long? When to keep a cook and driver? and when not to? When does it make sense to send your kids to a CBSE school vs. an international school? Answers to these questions can only come from the hordes (yes “hordes”) of Indians with heterogenous profiles who have returned before and after us.

Without further ado, I present to you R2I Profiles (short for Returned-To-India Profiles) – a new category that shall feature interview-style posts with other folks who have made the bold (or foolish) move back to the motherland. Stay tuned! (Hopefully not for too long)

….

And the posts have started to come in…

The Three Bubbles Revisited

March 27, 2010 Leave a comment

When I wrote The Three Bubbles back in Oct 2008, the perspective was biased around cushioning the India landing. Clearly the 3 bubbles represent a fairly minimalistic view of life. If one were to just shuttle from the “living bubble” to the “working bubble” via the “commuting bubble”, there’s a strong likelihood of slowly going mad… unless you are one of the workaholic types who’s all-consumed by work. For the rest of us, a fourth bubble is what the the joie de vivre doctor ordered.

The fourth bubble is an activity you do at least once a week, usually on weekends, and is something that delivers large doses of joy, pleasure, and exhilaration. Physical pain may be a side effect sometimes but..(heck) it would have been worth it. Lest the hyperactive imagination of my readers go off in strange directions, let me cut to the chase and elaborate on what I’m talking about 🙂

Pranshu Gupta (buddy and ex-colleague from Yahoo who returned to Delhi in 2002) spends weekends offroading his custom-fitted Jeep up-and-down steep ravines and sloshing through muddy swamps on the outskirts of Gurgaon. For company, he has 8-10 other folks vying with each for bragging rights on offroading adventures, jeep modifications and towing equipment. For a taste of what these guys do with whinnying machines, check out Offroading in Behrampur/Gurgaon.

Soumya Banerjee (who returned to Delhi from Boston in 2001 to start Sapient’s India operation and is now working on a startup in Mumbai) is a thoroughbred wanderlust who doesn’t let a single weekend go by without exploring yet another picturesque part of India. After experiencing the best of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh (during his Delhi days), he’s now busy exploring Maharashtra and the southern states. For photographic evidence, check out his travel blog at Soumya.org – be warned! the travel bug might bite you.

Manjula Sridhar (a budding entrepreneur and endurance athlete who returned to Bangalore from Silicon Valley) has a menu of endurance activities to choose from every weekend – from running to cycling to “Lost-style” adventure competitions. I kid you not! This gal chalks up cycling and running miles like…well… I don’t know what to compare her with. As though this were not enough, she’s also a trained martial artist and she teaches karate. Clearly she has conquered time.

Sridhar Ranganathan (serial entrepreneur and good friend who moved to Bangalore ~ 7 years ago) does not miss his Sunday morning round of golf at the KGA links for anything! His golf handicap is steadily getting better I’m told but I strongly suspect he’s sneaking in an odd round during the week as well (there! that’s how rumors are started).

Ajay (my colleague who moved from San Diego to Bangalore 3 years ago) gets his weekly dose of adrenalin by playing several games of squash at his apartment club house.

When we moved to Bangalore ~ 2yrs ago, I had grim forebodings that my dormant asthma might flare up (see Asthma, Bangalore and me) so I had to choose a physical activity wisely. My choices narrowed down to squash (which I absolutely LOVED) or running (which I kinda sorta liked in a bursty irregular way). Running eventually won out because there were no squash courts within reasonable driving distance. Boy! Did I get lucky or what? I was introduced to a rabid Koramangala/HSR running gang and before I knew it, had run ~ 1200 km in 2009 – completing my second and third marathons (see Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010) were merely a side effect.

The Three Bubbles will keep you nice and cozy during your initial year (a ‘necessary’ condition in The Art of Returning to India) but I now believe that it’s the fourth bubble that’s the high-order bit (‘sufficient’ condition) in staying-put for the long haul.

The first week in Bangalore

August 25, 2008 1 comment

“I want to go to Bangalore, Mommy”, declared Sanat three days after we reached Bangalore. He knew, of course, that we had reached Bangalore but what he was trying to say is that while he really enjoyed the last month of traveling, he was ready to settle into our new place. “Soon, beta“, we reassured him. The Adobe guest house is a very well-furnished 4-bedroom flat – we were alloted 2 bedrooms which is making for comfortable living. The first (larger) room became the family bedroom and the second room doubled as our study and the kids’ playroom. Suraj, caretaker and awesome cook, has been churning out a steady stream of culinary goodness – bless him!

Among the first things we noticed about Bangalore was the traffic decibels. I scratched my head. Why did it seem like drivers were honking more than usual? It should sound just like any other Indian metro, right? I then recalled seeing the following road sign in Delhi – “Do not honk. Violators will be fined.” At that time, I thought it was one of millions of Indian laws & signs that were routinely ignored. Apparently, it has worked at least partially because I could tell the difference in traffic volumes between Delhi and Bangalore. A web search for delhi honking ban yielded the following top article (dated 2002): Honking ban for Delhi drivers.

A funny thing happened on Monday morning (August 17). The folks at Adobe were expecting me to join that morning while I thought my join date was a week away (Aug 24). So I strolled in wearing my Birkenstocks to say HI to my HR contacts. Adobe was fine with me joining on Aug 24 but the HR manager suggested that if I joined on Aug 17 and worked reduced hours, I might get a lot of great leads and advice from my new colleagues. Totally made sense. I’m glad I listened to him because that’s exactly what happened the entire week. Between schools, apartments, and which cars to buy, I was getting a ton of leads from my colleagues – in the hallways, cafeteria, and in between business meetings.

The first four days whizzed away pretty quickly with a rhythm. I’d go to work for 2-3 hours in the morning, return home to lunch with the family. The kids would take their afternoon nap and my afternoon session was 3-4 hours. I’d return around 4:30pm and the family would clamber aboard an auto to zip over to that evening’s destination. One of the apartment communities we liked a lot is Raheja Residency in Koramangala. Turns out we know 4 different folks who live there. On Friday, I took the day off to hit the school pavements in the morning, and a whirlwind apartment community tour in the afternoon (organized by a broker whom we enlisted). What an eventful day that was. Stay tuned for the following posts:

(Oct 17: Updated with link to The curious case of the ‘traveling’ chairman)

First 3 days in India (Delhi & Bangalore)

August 18, 2008 2 comments

Aug 15

The prodigal son returns to India on Independence Day exactly 16 years after he had left for America. Left on a Lufthansa flight and returned on an Air India nonstop flight.  We had the closest thing to a red carpet welcome. Our very dear friends had arranged for ‘Man Friday’ (no less) and two vehicles to whisk us away to a comfy guest house in a neato Delhi neighbourhood. It was 10pm by the time we reached, nobody was hungry but we played safe anyway and ordered some takeout. At 3am, the kids woke us up and we realized everyone was hungry and non-sleepy. We finished the food in no time and spent the next 3 hours trying to persuade the kids to go back to sleep. You can guess who won that round. Almost forgot to mention that we were VERY impressed by the service on Air India. Seriously!

Aug 16

Went hunting for soymilk in the morning. Thanks to the ubiquity of Silk, the hunt was successful. After breakfast, spoke to the Avtars (dear friends of ours who had moved to Ghaziabad/Indirapuram from SF Bay Area 2 years ago) by phone. Started calling a bunch of friends from Bokaro days and struck pay dirt. Amitabh came over to the guest house – we had lunch together and had a great time catching up. Later in the afternoon, called another old classmate Rahul who promptly invited us over for dinner. Amrit’s first auto-ride in India – he enjoyed it, The kids became friends with Rahul’s son (and his toys) in no time. Excellent chinese food (“Indian Chinese” variety) and catching up on our last 20 years made for a great evening.

Aug 17

The Jet Airways flight to Bangalore was in the morning. Man Friday was again instrumental in making our airport experience very very smooth. The good vibes must have rubbed off on the Jet Airways because they waived the 12 lbs excess baggage fee. The special treatment from Jet personnel didn’t end there. We were the last people that disembarked from the plane in Bangalore and what do I see when I reach the baggage claim? A pleasant and attractive lady from Jet Airways greets me by name and asks me to confirm whether the 6 suitcases and 2 boxes stashed on 3 carts were ours. Cool! Then an entourage of 3 Jet baggage attendants escort us all to the way to our transport. Double cool!

Flash update: In the midst of our Farewell USA tour (Cedar Falls to be precise), I had accepted an offer to join Adobe Bangalore. It’s a very exciting role and I’ll elaborate in a separate post – sequel to Searching for a forcing function.

The nice people from Adobe had sent a Toyota Innova (the Indian minivan) with a luggage rack. I needn’t have worried about the luggage not fitting. The drive from the new Bangalore International Airport to the Adobe guest house on Bannerghatta Road took one hour. Our driver pointed out all the neighbourhoods along the way – our education and settling down in Bangalore had begun.

P.S. Has anyone noticed that I’m gradually switching from American to British spelling (colour instead of color)? Strange thing is that this happened subconsciously.

Searching for a forcing function

June 12, 2008 3 comments

When I planned the 2-week trip to India, the objectives were simple. First and foremost, interview with as many companies (big & small). Secondly, meet as many people as possible to assess the overall liveability of the city in question. And finally, spend time soaking in the city in order to get a first-hand perspective of living in the city.

Regarding soaking in the city, my experience has been as much literal as it was metaphorical :). I’ve traveled in chauffeur-driven cars and SUVs (most of my friends have one of these), traveled heavily in auto-rickshaws (fondly known as autos),  and a regular (read “non-airconditioned”) cab from Delhi airport to Gurgaon (not a very pleasant experience in June I’ve gotta admit).

As discussed in Where in India are we moving to, we had short-listed 4 cities – Bangalore, Delhi/Gurgaon, Bombay and Pune. Poonam and I reasoned that, all things roughly equal on the city front, we would use the job opportunity as the forcing function. In other words, if I landed multiple job offers, the overall best offer would drive our decision to move to city X.

After spending 9 days hopping from Bombay to Delhi to Bangalore, I’m learning that the forcing function needs modification. I believe it should be 50% based on career opportunities and 50% based on liveability. Let’s examine both criteria.

Note that the first criterion is career opportunities, not job offer. This is a crucial difference. You might get a great job offer from company X in city Y. In the best of circumstances, you might have a very fruitful and rewarding stint at the company for 3+ years. In the worst of circumstances, you might find the environment too intense or simply not a good match (for any number of reasons) in the first year itself. In either case, your next step would be the same – to look for a new job. In short, you want to be in a city where there are ample opportunities in your industry vertical hence the plural (career opportunities).

Now let’s examine the livability criterion. There are five key components to livability – friends, schools, housing, good playing spaces for kids, and traffic/pollution. The first component (friends) is an essential and obvious prerequisite. If you have spent the better part of your adult life in America, most of your friends are currently in America (very likely in the precise geographic area you are just contemplating leaving). Having a sufficient number of great friends in the destination city cannot be overemphasized – after all, what’s life without friends? From our original short list of cities, Pune is looking bleak because we haven’t located any of our Pune-dwelling friends yet. The remaining four criteria warrant separate posts – stay tuned!