Monday, August 22, 2005

The n+5 theorem

This post was due on the 27th of July. I wrote about Allan Border instead. You know, birthday boys and girls are special. However, the day marked another significant little personal milestone for me. An anniversary of significance. Five long years ago on that day, Avinash and I boarded a Delta Airlines airplane wearing a ridiculous suit, with loads of relatives happy to see us off and a Brief History of Time as reading material (We were sad, sad people then. I’ll reserve my comments on the situation now). The trip abroad for a Masters is a strange little journey. It is a shift of the magnitude of the movement of tectonic plates. The breaking up of world into continents. Literally. It is a fabulous experience, a coming-of-age for home-grown boys like me, a step into a life which is tangentially opposite to the one you know (today’s generation is much more informed than us, you know the one’s the pronounce the J in Jansport with a Y), a rite of passage that will shadow you for the rest of your life.

Therein lies the dilemma. How influential is the shadow? How long will the effects linger? How long are you bound to stay in this country? Graduate students often fail to clearly answer the one question that they should have answered foremost: why exactly are they here? For the love of God, money, education, partying, freedom, women, men, rental cars, Walmart, rental apartments, unlimited refills of soda, Taco Bell, long weekend deals, rolling R’s: one of these, all, or none? They get to the US, get through their Masters, get their first paycheck, their first car, first serious attempts at arranged nuptials, actually getting married, getting their H1B visa stamped, applying for the green card, buying the first house, fussing about their lawn, buy bulk groceries from Costco and if productive, have a couple of babies too. The seemingly unbreakable sequence of events stated above is punctuated with trips to India where a few tears are shed with the parents, comments made about how India is progressing, observations made about how the country has changed beyond recognition, pleasant nods made when told that kids are best brought up in India, US’s role in world affairs is tch-tched, and a general doomsday prediction is made about how your life will go down the drain if you decided to stay on forever in the US.

Sum of all fears, expectations and conversations is a common refrain: I’ll come back to India in five years. Somehow, the magical number of five has stuck. Perhaps it has do with the arithmetic around finishing your degree in two-three years, getting a job and recovering or accumulating some money, depending upon how graduate life has treated you. Somehow, five seems the talismanic number that people agree upon is a good time to have enjoyed the good life before they head back to their roots. Somehow, five seems to be the acceptable threshold at which you haven’t done too much to break all ties with your family and friends, where you and your American passport-holding kids will have least trouble adjusting back to the reformed India.

Which is what makes the five year anniversary a significant date. I have gone through the above mentioned steps but find myself firmly entrenched in a life that I have built out of choice. There are still the trips to India, still the talks about how it is better than ever before to go back, to blend in. There are still beliefs that one so attuned to the comforts of the west will not have to cut back heavily on the benefits as India is fast catching up. There are still talks about how life is empty without having family close by.

However, if it were all so easy to pack up and start all over again, why isn’t it so? It’s a vicious cycle of voluntary entrenchment. You dig your heels in, enjoy the stability and yearn to be swept off by the ocean waters you see from your stakeout place on the top of the trees. There is still always the hope, always the desire, for you know you don't belong here. The plan to return is always existent, just difficult to implement. So, here, ladies and gentlemen is my most realistic assessment on the situation. My theorem about returning back to India. I’ll go back to India in five years time … from today.


Ragini said...

Excellent. :) Could not have said it better. The title is so apt. I have been waiting to write about it myself :) The D Day is 1st Sept. And post I will. May not be as good as this but for its worth it will be there.

sd said...

Really nice the way you have put it. I have nothing to comment really - you have said it all!

Akruti said...

:)The words here say it all,a five yr journey and the dreams and also about the life ahead:) Goodluck

RS said...

You stole the words from my mouth although yours sound much better :)

5 is the magic number for me and I too have decided that it will be 5 years from now since aug 12th of 2005 marked the first 5th year anniversary for me in the US...maybe in another 5 years...

Archana said...

The troubles of making a decision...a decision you've made but having troubles to implement? What you've said is true [cos everyone I know mean the same too] but sounds more like a crisis to me!!

Avinash said...

Nice post Parth. You might be interested in knowing abt a certain Prof M. Vidyasagar ( The dude is a heavyweight in controls and non-linear dynamics. Published a couple of textbooks on the topic. Lived here for 20+ years as a prof, went back to India as a Director of a DRDO lab and is now a VP in TCS. He had written a series of articles on going back to India in 93...I think. But very good articles ( Read them if u can.

phucker said...

Interesting post, more importantly because it was exactly how I thought, until Amazon booted me out! I had decided once it's possible for me to get a phone connection with a bribe, water 24x7 and Electricity 24x7, I'd move back to India. Unfortunately only some parts of that are true, but here I am ;-)

Saranya Kishore said...

Nice post.. and nice analysis, observation whatever you call it. :)

For us the magic number was a straight 1, which might become 2, but not more than that..

RTD2 said...

There's a small minority of us in the world that know what you're talking about and can identify with it. Someone told me once, when I expressed such thoughts, not to worry about 'going home' - home is where you go to sleep at night. For the hobo in me, that's good philosophy, but for the sentimentalist in me, home is where the heart is, and my heart is in two continents now, what can we do?! FYI..check this out.

Geetanjali said...

I know a couple of ppl who actually lived upto their 5-year target and are now back in India, with Amrika-born kid in tow, providing him/her Indian education and gearing him/her for higher educ abroad :-)

Hope you make it back as well - sometimes, I think that despite all our population problems we really don't need ppl flying away from India.

Anonymous said...

You are right, its a common enough refrain among us. For me, the biggest issue is not that I keep pushing off my dep date (I used to do that - not any more, now I have a better rationale ;)), but the working conditions in India. Everyone there earns good money but no one has the time to enjoy it. They are all such workaholics...most people our age don't get back home until 11 at night, every night. I certainly can't work like that - I'd go mad!


Anonymous said...


Its kind of late to comment, but have a question. What prompts you or anyone else for that matter, to think/plan of returning to India? Do you miss your parents or Indian life in general etc or is it something deeper?

Very topical and realistic post by the way, this is a common sentiment shared by many Indians working/studying abroad.


Anonymous said...


Beautifully written!
I have been planning to post on this topic for quite some time (it was due on 8/12).
Well, the way I see it (and you mentioned) it is a life created out of choice. So why is it one choice seems logical and the other difficult?

Well, I am here in USA after completing my PhD, but I am ready to go back anyday -- because I have strong feeling that I don't belong here.

There is another intersting idea coming to my mind: By being here I am creating two problems: one I am unhappy and second someone living here is not getting the job.