I just got back from a wonderful vacation in the Caribbean with family and friends. There is nothing like being able to walk around in shorts, swim in the ocean and grill – all that in the middle of December. But anyways, the reason I mention this is that I was catching up on news from the last couple of weeks and read an article in the New York Times titled “Some Indians Find It Tough to Go Home Again”. Here’s the link:
I was initially pleasantly surprised opening the article and seeing the photograph of someone I know from my MIT days – Shiva Ayyadurai. But when I read the story, it sent shivers down my spine. It could have been me who went through the same experience that Shiva went through and be forced to return to the US after a stint in India.
As I think about it more, I believe that it all boils down to three words – setting reasonable expectations. Yes, I was born in India and spent the first couple of decades of my life there and hence I could think I know all about its traffic, congestion, bureaucracy and lack of infrastructure. But, the truth of the matter is that the India I’m returning to has probably all the same problems but, at a much larger scale in proportion to the growth of the economy over the past decade. And so, my expectation is that I’m going to find it very tough to settle in and that’s what I’ve told my wife as well.
When I look back at my first couple of years in the US – I found it quite tough needing a lot of compromises. I was in an alien place (Purdue, West Lafayette, IN) and was in an old house with 10 other strangers (who later became good friends) and most of them from different countries. I hated the fast food that I ate almost daily. I had to very delicately balance a budget with my meager teaching assistant’s salary. Many times I ran up credit card bills and hence had to make adjustments to basic necessities (that I would have never done in India) to fix the situation. I didn’t own a car and used to haul grocery up a hill in the middle of the mid-west winter (considering I grew up in Chennai which never goes below 70F). But, I never once complained about any of the above mainly because I thought of this as the seeds I needed to sow to reap the benefits of a wonderful education in a top-tier school. I mention all this cause this is not my singular experience. If you talk to most immigrants who come to the US for graduate studies they probably went through the same. But we all went through this knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel (a good job). It was all about having the right expectations.
Now, I view going back to India to be just as difficult if not more. It’s probably going to take a couple of years for me and my family to settle down in India. We are probably going to have some really rough patches – both professionally and personally. If I list all the things that I anticipate going wrong – you will think I am paranoid. But, most importantly I think it will be crucial to be “A Roman in Rome”. That does not mean I will cut any ethical corners – but it just means recognizing that India has its own idiosyncrasies that I would need to first understand and then work through patiently. And I would also need to constantly remind myself that the reason I’m moving back to India is the same reason that makes it a difficult country to live in – it is a fast growing economy that lacks a lot of things we take for granted in the US and that my friends, is music to my VC ears.