Archive for the ‘Return To India’ Category
Cait Murphy has written a scathing article in Fortune deriding India’s claims of self proclaimed superpower status. Murphy mentions the oft repeated statistics around poverty, illiteracy and unemployment to argue that India’s ambitions of becoming a superpower are misguided. I don’t argue with Murphy on that part. We need to take care of our problems. What I didn’t like, and in fact actually found offensive, is the tone of the article. The “first world” has an incomprehensible viewpoint that every developing country must first solve its poverty problem before attempting to make progress in any other sphere. I just can not understand why it should be assumed that if India is progressing in some ways, it must be because we are ignoring or *gasp* unaware of our other problems. Each time India rejoices on the success of a local business going global, of making advancement in space technology, of shining in the software services sector, the so called (and self proclaimed) developed world tells us that “half of world’s poor live in India”. Well, I ask, so what? Yes we have many serious problems that need to solve. And general economic prosperity is one way to alleviate the situation. Are we expected to stop all work and wait until every single of our teeming billions is well fed and disease free? Is that how America progressed? Did it wait to abolish slavery before they made any technological progress? Did America get rid of apartheid before launching their space program? Are there no homeless in America today? Of course not!
Progress can not happen in linear fashion. We can’t solve our poverty problem without strengthening our economy. We can’t generate employment without developing our services sector. We can’t make progress if we don’t get a chance to feel good about ourselves.
I am sick and tired of this first world attitude and it is really disappointing to see such cliched drivel coming from Fortune.
It has been over 2 years since I returned back to India. So it seems pretty outdated to write about “R2I” (return-to-India) but at the same time, I have been observing an interesting trend that is worth writing about.
One of the positive developments over the last two years has been that today R2I-ing doesn’t come across as such a drastic step as it used to couple of years back. When I had returned back to India after quitting Microsoft, it had sent shockwaves thru the family and friend circles. Some even thought they must have thrown me out of Microsoft and hence I was forced to return! Voluntarily coming back to India seemed out of question. But that is no longer the case. I have come across dozens of people who have returned back to India. I know of many more who are planning their R2I right now. So today coming back to India after working abroad is “no big deal”. That is a great thing because not only does it encourage reverse brain drain, it also reduces the pressure on bright young Indian kids to go abroad at any cost. There was a time when working in the US was the only measure of success. That is no longer true. If anything, rejecting overseas job offers seems to be the new in thing!
I am pretty confident that in a few years, we will see this return to India trend hit another extreme when even foreigners will want to come and work here. Its already happening in small numbers but I think it will happen more and more. It will be quite a high to see people worldwide queue up to get an Indian work-visa!
2006, just like last two years, was a landmark year for me. It was one of those years which I will always remember. For example, if I was asked what was special about 1994, or 1999, or 2002, I can barely remember anything from those years. But 2006 was different. “2006″ will always evoke many many memories for me – but that is not the point of this post.
Towards the end of 2003, life had started to get into a rut. Everything seemed too comfortable and predictable. At the end of 2002, I could have forecasted with great accuracy how 2003 would go. I could have told you who are the people I would be hanging out with, who are the people I will be working with, what kind of raise I will get at work, what time of the year I will visit India etc. The same thing happened at the end of 2003 too when looking back, I realized it was an “OK” year which went pretty much as predicted. And frankly, the next one was going to be pretty much identical. So at the end of 2003 I had resolved that I will celebrate the next New Year’s eve in India. I was craving for change. I was dying for some excitement and unpredictability in life.
Well, as the wise men have said – be careful of what you wish for, you might actually get it!
Year end of 2004 was when Ashish and I had just met Marc and were working hard on proving ourselves. I guess the seeds of Tekriti were sown at that time. On new year’s eve 2005, we had no idea of how the next year was going to go. We honestly had no idea of what was coming next. It was thrilling. So 2005 came and went like a whirlwind and indeed we could have never predicted that the year would turn out like it actually did. On Jan 1 2006, Manish and I were stranded at the Mumbai airport and got disucssing how 2006 would be. We knew it was an important year (and which year isn’t) but again at that time, it was hard to say where we would be in an year’s time. So, my wish from 2 years back continued to come true. And in all honesty, I have enjoyed, and even thrived in the excitement of the unknown. Human nature is to gain inertia and settle in a comfort zone as soon as possible. Hence it is a challenge to keep oneself outside of a comfort zone and continue to deal with uncertainty on a prolonged basis.
So as I wish you a Very Happy New Year 2007, I will myself not make any wishes for the new year- who knows which ones might come true
I started this blog with the purpose of chronicling my “return to India” (R2I) experiences. Of course that is what I have been doing though I haven’t talked about anything specific to R2I of late. I guess part of it is because its been more than an year and a half since I returned. I am so well entrenched here in Delhi now that my stay in the US is almost like my past life. I can only give two thumbs up to returning back and anybody who is contemplating it should go for it! India is a truly alive and kicking place to be in at this time. Life is fast paced and there is rarely a dull moment – for reasons good (booming economy) or bad (politics, reservations, jessica lal case). But then that is just me. Somehow I feel I was just cut out to be in India and I am glad I bought that one way ticket!
There are things about India which you can really appreciate only after spending a few years abroad. For example, I really like the fact that people can pronounce and even spell my name right without being told how to! I definitely like it that I can go and watch a cricket match live instead of having to watch it on Dish TV in the middle of the night. I am also kind of relieved that I no longer have to worry about Green Card queues or H1B quotas. It is really nice to not have to pay several hundered dollars a month just for car insurance. And its a real joy that I can eat “Indian” food whenever I want to! Its real fun to have your family around and be able to call them and talk to them without having to dial insanely long calling card codes. Sometimes (ok very rarely) its nice to know that you can jump an occasional red light . I could go on and on but you get the idea. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy my stay in the US. I made really amazing friends there and worked with and learnt from really smart folks. Life was one big party while I was there. Heck, there was a time when apart from work, I used to play tennis, cricket, pool, go to the gym, party on weekends, and also volunteer for CRY at the same time. So I actually had a “life” while I was there (no comments on the present “entrepreneurial” situation please!).
But all said and done, you love the place where you were born and grew up. It’s in your blood and you realize it even more when you spend a few years away. The feeling of belonging that I get on the streets of Delhi would be missing anywhere else in the world. So all I can say is, I am happy to be back
December-January is the time when most NRIs in US visit their homes in India. This year I have come across/heard of many many many people planning to return back to India. And guess what, most of them have entrepreneurship on their minds! That is great news! For once, I was ahead of the curve and R2Ied somewhat before it became fashionable
If you are looking to return back to India, feel free to write to me (gaurav at tekritisoftware dot com). I will be happy to help in whatever ways I can.
If I had still been working at Microsoft then I would have completed 4 years there yesterday. And if I had carried on for yet another year, I would have gotten that shiny clock as well! And If I had stuck around for yet another year, I might have *gasp* actually shipped something. OK, just kidding, I know Vista will ship before that – and we did ship some stuff while I was there. I had very badly wanted to be there when Vista (then, Longhorn) shipped. But it just kept getting delayed repeatedly. One day it stuck me that I was 22 when I started working on Longhorn and I would probably be at least 27 when it finally ships. Did I really want to spend all of my 20s just shipping a single product – even if it is the most complex software project in the world? But it is amazing that inspite of the long shipping cycles, attrition rate at Microsoft is very low. In fact, in my 3 years there, I was the first person in my group to leave. Microsoft has a very all-encompassing culture and inspite of occasional internal bickering, Microsofties are very loyal and vociferous in their defense of the company. I think that is a hallmark of a great company which takes good care of its employees. Microsoft gets so much bad press but largely the employees remain unfazed and genuinely love working there. So, even though I work with a lot of open source today, you will never catch me spelling it as Micro$oft!
Exactly one year back, I was preparing myself to talk to my manager about considering to leave Microsoft. I had been feeling the itch to change things in my life right from late 2003. My worry was that I was letting myself get cast into a stereotype. The “desi engineer in US of A” stereotype. This stereotype is so stereotypical that I could virtually see myself living the life depicted in all those stereotypical desi-NRI movies. My other worry was that I was in too much of a comfort zone too soon in my career. Inspite of whatever discontent you hear of from Microsofties, for a middle-class Indian 24 year old, life doesn’t get much better than what it is in 98052 (zip code for Redmond where Microsoft is situated). To top it off, work was fun and I rarely got stressed out because of work issues. Frankly, I couldn’t find an excuse to give to myself for moving on!
For Christmas and New Year’s eve of 2004, Ashish, Manish and myself went on a week long trip to LA and Las Vegas. We spent a lot of time on the road driving the rental car and eating chocolate chip cookies. I decided during that trip that by next new year’s eve I needed to change something in my life. I just wasn’t sure what that something was going to be. Around middle of 2004 I decided that “something” was going to be getting an MBA. A little bit of business education can never hurt. I quickly got down to preparing for GMAT and spent a month or so digging deep into books. I told almost nobody about it because I was thinking I will screw up the exam pretty badly. I had not written a competitive exams since IIT entrace in 1997. However, thankfully, with a little bit of luck, I managed a pretty good score on GMAT. Gleefully I started researching business school admission process. At that point, I realized I was on the verge of stepping out of one stereotype into another one – from “desi engineer in US of A” to “desi engineer + MBA in US of A”!! It became evident to me pretty quickly that Indian engineers form the biggest pool of non-white applicants to business schools in the US. I was afraid that I would spend two years and $100,000 getting an MBA and end up feeling exactly the same way as I was at that time – part of the herd. So MBA plans were dropped (or at least postponed indefinitely). That left only one option – go back to India. It was an easy escape route because there was so much uncertainty associated with it. There was nothing stereotypical about it and it would surely throw me out of my comfort zone (spend one summer in Delhi heat and you will know what I am talking about ). Fortunately, Ashish was also contemplating moving back and for both of us, it became much easier to take the plunge together.
October 22nd was my last day in Microsoft. October 20th was when I started this blog. October 28th was when I left for India. If there is such a thing as astrology and if stars really influence your life, then my stars were really aligned in some strange configuration in October of 2004!
A much needed downpour brought the temperatures down a little today. Day temperature was hovering aroud 44 C (111 F) for the last few days. Summers in Delhi are about as pleasant an experience as getting your appendix removed without anesthesia. It gets so hot during the day that you can see mirages on the roads. Nights aren’t much better. April-June is the peak summer season in Delhi. So if you are planning to visit, please don’t. Wait a few months. Let the monsoons arrive in July. Then it wont be that hot. Only humid.
I came across this interesting thread on the R2I forums. Apparently, you need $900k to live for the rest of you life “doing nothing” in India. Of course, the bigger question is if you would really like to spend all your life doing nothing, even if you had the money. Only somebody who was working just for the money would want to stop working as soon as they met their financial goals. But then it is said that you can’t succeed if you work just for the money. Seems like a catch-22 situation to me. You can’t make money if you don’t love your work. And if you love your work so much, why would you ever stop?
I wrote the following piecealmost exactly 1 year before returning to India.
I saw a dream last night. I saw that i was going to watch a movie with my friends. There were friends from school, a few from college too. Even Lokesh was there, so some office buddies were there as well. You cant remember all the details in a dream na. Everybody was pestering me to pay for the tickets. Amazingly I agreed to pay too. Most unlikely things happen in a dream!
Then the movie began. And as you know, anything is possible in a dream. It turned out that I was the central character in the movie. A young 17 year old ambitious boy. Everybody was teasing me saying I looked so skinny and geeky. I was wearing my old Gandhiji specs. I still have them somewhere. In the movie, I was a dreamer. I wanted to reach for the skies. They showed me studying hard, preparing for my entrance exams. I remarked to Sameer that the movie was quite accurate in depicting my story. Then this young kid in the movie went to college. He was still dreaming, ever ambitious. There were some funny incidents from my college life in the movie. Raman and I had a good laugh remembering those incidents. There was a song too. All my college buddies and me singing and teasing girls on the roads. Obviously the director had added that to please the crowds. Nothing like that happened in real life. The kid was a idealist. He had lofty ideals and loftier goals. A pinch of patriotism too. Yes, thats me alright, i thought to myself.
We had popcorn in the interval. The movie resumed with the convocation at IIT. My parents snapping my photographs in that red graduation gown. Mom looked really happy. Dad mentioned that he had stood exactly where i stood today 28 years ago. In the movie, I went on to take a job in India. I frowned, wondering if the director had got it wrong there. When did i work in India? The young man in the movie was working hard, earning a fraction of what i really earn. The director had got it really wrong here, i said to my friends. This isnt me guys. You know i work in US. And dude, i earn way more than that. I was agitated even though it was only a movie. A few people sitting in the seats behind us asked me to lower my voice. I sank into my seat red with rage. The young man in the movie (who clearly only looked like me) went on with his idealistic drivel. He was talking about staying back in India. Working for the motherland. So cliche, i thought. I felt sorry for that face on the screen. Poor guy couldnt make it to US and now was having a case of sour grapes. Rohit, my old buddy from school whispered to me he remembered me saying the same things. What rubbish! I chided him. I never said that. Who was this guy in the movie anyway. Thats not my life they are showing! Rohit just looked at me and remained quiet.
Two hours were almost up. It was the climax. The protagonist was setting up his own company in India. He had worked hard. Struggled against odds. And now he was seeing the fruits of his labor. His college mates who had gone to America looked up to him in admiration. That is so like Hindi movies, I hissed. They will show the most impossible things! That doesnt happen in real life. The hero of the movie (who was definitely not me!) was sitting in front of a computer when his phone rang.
That is when i woke up. It was 2 AM in the night. I was lying in the bed, sweating bullets. The room was very dark, very quiet. I could hear my self breathing. It seemed like the moment had frozen in time. My eyes were wide open. It took me several hours to fall asleep again. But as i drifted into sleep, I had only one question in my mind: Was I living the wrong dream?
Am I now living the right dream? Only time will tell.