Return to India – Opportunity or Payback?

I am heading out of home in a couple of hours from now but I thought I will complete the post that I started to write last week, and never came back to it. I have some interesting ideas to blog about in the coming days but that will have to wait until I catch up on the more important things.

A couple of days back, somebody from Hindustan Times contacted me to find out if I would be interested in contributing to a story she was doing on returning Indians who want to do their ‘payback bit’. I told her that the reason for my returning was definitely not to pay back the country (not to say that I am against the idea – but, quite honestly and not to take any credit, that was not the main intent) but was more to cash on the opportunity that currently exists in India. Realistically speaking – I am paying back the country by bringing down my learnings and best practices from the US and using that in bringing foreign currency to India, but that’s really incidental and not intentional.

This got me thinking – again – about the major reasons why somebody returns (or shoud return) back to India. Having stayed both in the US and then back in India – I think I am in a decent situation to comment on it.

  • Indian Opportunity and Global Citizenship: I think that in the competitive world that we all live in currently, it is rather naive to confine self to a nation’s border. One has to be ready to travel, stay at a particular country for a few years / month – according to the needs of the business / industry, a country’s economy growth and his / her ambitions. We all have to start believing in the concept of ‘Global citizenship’ and by that logic, India is a far more lucrative option for most industries – given that our GDP is growing by 8.5% every year which is higher than most other countries (with the important exception of China). And the opportunity is not only because of the outsourcing boom but also because that more and more VCs and big companies have realized the role of India and are willing to pump in more and more money.
  • Closer to Home: Agreed that this is one of the biggest plus. It’s always far more comfortable to stay with family because it provides a lot of different kind of support. Even if you are not staying with your family – you know that it’s much easier for your family to come meet you or for you to meet them – without thinking too much about the international travel rules, visas, etc.
  • Things have improved and it can only further improve: This has been said and talked about in numerous blogs, articles and the fact is that things have been continuously improving in India and there is no looking back. There is better infrastructure, better malls and restaurants, more foreign brands, higher salaries, more confident people,etc. In general, there is a lot of positive energy amongst the people – which makes the place all the more lively.
  • Life is more eventful: If you are in India – you can be sure of one thing that you will never be bored. Just switch on the TV, pick up a newspaper and you will see all kinds of events happening (positive and negative) and a lot of events will be those which you will be able to connect with. It’s because they have a history and the history connects you with your childhood. So, if there is a protest because of the reservations for a certain section of the society, you also notice a new fly-over opening up making traffic and driving little less painful than before. Not to say that it’s not eventful elsewhere but the events in India makes more sense to Indians because of the factors outlined above.
  • More satisfaction on serving the country: Having said all that I said above – when you see that what you do things that brings happiness in fellow countrymen, you feel so much nicer. Seeing others getting happier because of some of your actions always gives satisfaction but if you know that you can easily do things for somebody needier gives a lot more satisfaction.

So – yes – I am selfish enough to say that I came back to India because it is a more opportune place to be in but I am honest enough to say that my actions does pay back country in some way, even if it is indirect and not intentional.

1 year in India

At the end of this month, it’s going to be one complete year of my return to India from the US. So many things have happened in this 1 year that I can easily say that this has been one of the most happening year of my life.

When I came back, there were so many uncertainties – I sure did face some resistance from family and relatives initially when they thought that it was not very wise to leave a stable, well-paying job at Microsoft and come back to India so soon and that too with the intention of starting something of my own – always a riskier option. But at the end of this year, things could hardly have been better!

Positives:

  1. Tekriti: This is the single most important thing to have happened to me over the last 1 year. I have never been more satisfied professionally. Such is the power of creativity that it’s the work that keeps me going – even when I am drawing a very modest salary – there hardly is anything better than working on something that you absolutely believe in. And then I have met so many interesting people in the process – that it only widens my thought process.
  2. Food: I was never really crazy for food before I went to the US – I used to eat because I needed to. That got changed in the US – with all the different cuisines it had to offer. But something that I missed was the authentic North Indian food and the roadside paani-puris (waterballs). And I absolutely love that here now – I do miss the ease of finding food from different cuisines / cultures but the trade-off is still quite appealing.
  3. Closer to Home: Unlike in the US, my parents and relatives can easily come and meet me at Delhi when they want to. I wish that I can also make trips home at times, but the work at Tekriti doesn’t allow me to do that now.

Negatives:

  1. Health Club: If there is something that I absolutely hate – it is the lack of exercise / gymming. I have neglected it so much now that I stopped even feeling guilty till the last time I talked to my dad. The comment my dad made, out of no-where, was – “No, you are not really thin but your body has deteriorated”. I am, again, serious to start working out and be able to wear those nice T-Shirts that looks good only with a better physique.
  2. Living Alone: Living alone in India is, definitely, harder than staying alone in the US. You have to take care of everything when things are not as streamlined – at home and at office – and that is something beyond me. And this hurts more knowing that my other partners at Tekriti – Manish and Gaurav – stay with their parents and eat the good home-made food! :-)

To sum it up – my association with Tekriti has helped me improve as a person tremendously. I am more practical, more tolerant and more passionate now. It wouldn’t have happened if Tekriti hadn’t happened and Tekriti wouldn’t have happened if I was not in India.

And, yeah, when I came back to India last year – the first party that I attended was a Diwali party organized by the company I joined here. And a year later, it’s yet another Diwali party TODAY – organized by Tekriti – which brings me on the organizer’s side. Not bad!

What am I up to

“What are you up to these days?” – is probably the question that I have been asked the most in the last 3 months. But the interesting thing is that my answer, irrespective of what I say, is always followed by the same next question – “No, What I mean is that what are you REALLY up to these days?” It’s really hard for people to believe that somebody will leave Microsoft and join a much smaller company back in India (and I don’t blame them for it, I agree that it’s really not too common).

The straight answer is that I have joined a company in Noida in the capacity of a technical lead. The company is growing really aggressively and is a good fit for anybody who is ambitious and believes in growing with a pre-IPO company. There, definitely, is a lot of difference between the work cultures here and at Microsoft (more on that later) but I can assure you that positives and negatives both almost balance out each other. I will get back to the “not too straight” answer in a later post, and there definitely is going to be news in that.

The last 3 months have been really happening for me, both in a positive and not so positive ways. On the positive side – I am much closer to my family, have met a lot of influential people, learnt a lot about technical and people management, and about the Indian system in general – besides enjoying the delicious indian food and the road side pani-puris (water balls). And on the other hand, I have never experienced death more closely than I was when I was a part of the accident that took place between our bus and a truck leaving 13 people dead. Luckily, I got out safe with just a minor fracture in the neck area and bruises here and there.

So, life has shown me many ups and downs in these months- though the former outweighs the latter by a order of magnitude and I feel all the more confident that my decision to come back was right. Never in these 3 months have I regretted my decision of coming back (okay, with the exception when I am busy hurling abuses at the chaotic traffic in Delhi). Other than that, India has really really developed a lot in the last few years and I only see it improving more and more in the coming days.

As I write this, my belief that it makes more sense for a Indian sofware professional to be in India only gets strengthened. It’s really a logical decision and not just an emotional decision, as many people thought when I was coming back.

Stay tuned for tomorrow – I am going to describe some interesting services in India!