Thursday, November 17, 2005

Kya Ab Laut Chalen?

NRI's spend a substantial amount of their adult lives outside India reminiscing about India. As a NRI blogger, nostalgia is a genre almost at the tip of my keyboard fingertips. I mean, you are either going to India, coming back from India, and if all else fails, missing it. I thought it would be a good reality check to go back and see how many posts I have written about my beloved country, India, the best city in the world, Mumbai and the centre of the universe, Andheri. Oh, never mind. I am not skimming through a hundred plus entries to determine that which I already know. Several posts. It is easiest to romanticize about my favorite beaches and the idyllic life of Surat and the wonder years in school and college. In my post I touched upon the common trajectory that an average graduate student goes through in his initial period in the United States of America. That was a rant, a complaint, a question and a conclusion at the same time.

The main problem is that we keep viewing India through this prism of emotional imbalance. Its all about family and society and festivals to be celebrated and costs of living and the little comforts. We want to go back to India with the expectation that the fourteen days that we spend on an average with our families are a good enough snapshot of the remaining 351 days that we would have had in case we were resident Indians.

A week back a few enlightened souls, my office mates and friends gathered together for a post-dinner munching of good ice-cream. After the initial pleasantries and comments on the housing market, new deals and a few etcetras, the conversation veered to the all-too-common returning to India. Surprisingly though, we managed to focus on a very practical discussion on why it may be difficult to go back and work there. I am listing out the salient points. Feel free to share your thoughts. Most of this is speculation since I haven’t spoken to a lot of people who have made this switch back. These are questions to which I’d love to have accurate answers.

Attitude issues
My wife worked for a couple of years in India and then came here for her Masters. Subsequently, she got an internship with the evil monopolistic company everyone loves to hate. In the interim, she went back to India and met up with her former managers. When she mentioned where she got her internship, the reaction was drastic. The comments were sarcastic and the tone changed. The whole attitude was one of “she used to work here before, and now she is flying high because of being in the US”. This may be an over-reaction, but how far fetched is it from a common reality? This is precisely what I fear. Is the Indian mentality beyond such pettiness? Another colleague of mine had interviewed with Infosys and TCS in India after having done his Masters here. He narrated how they gave him a hard time in the interviews, aiming to prove a point and boss over him.

Work Culture
A colleague’s wife works for Infosys in India. When he narrated her stories to us, I was made to think hard. They have to work weekends even though they are off, to the extent that she had to notify if she was taking a Saturday off. There is a lot of emphasis on the balance of work and life out here which may perhaps not exist in India. That actually surprised me. I worked for a year in India and we had fixed timings (in fact, we had buses we would catch at fixed times to get to Andheri station from Chandivali). That however, was almost, 6 years ago. Perhaps the reality today is different

I am the Boss of you
Indian work culture is steeped in hierarchy. Apparently IT is no different. You have to get to work before your manager gets there and leave after he does. Again, hearsay for me. But I can believe that some of it may be true. The importance on pretense may be too much.

Services versus Product industry
To me, this is the single most important factor. I work for the largest software company in the world. I work on delivering a product that millions of people use. To me, that is a terrific experience to have. There is continuity, there are familiar processes, familiar stages (Software Development Life Cycle, if you remember your Software Engineering class). The impact I as a single employee can have is tremendous. The services industry is a different ball game altogether. You keep getting shifted from project to project, have to sit on the bench when you aren’t on one, and be too mobile for you own good. There is another issue. in the services industry, the emphasis is on knowing as much of new technology as possible. Everything from SAP to SOAP. The more you know, the better. Out here, even though we develop the technology, we are isolated from knowing a million technologies. I even wonder if I’d get hired back if I go back today.

Management the only way up?
We have the concept of an individual contributor here. You can spend several years in the company growing in your role of your choice. Not everyone is good at managing, especially the uber-geeks we have in-house. The good thing is, you don’t have to be an manager if you don’t want to. You can make progress in life otherwise too. In India, the concept of growth is to do a few projects, and become a lead. At least this is what I gathered.

No IT in Mumbai?
A more localized issue, but it impacts me. I have lived in Mumbai as long as I was in India and frankly, it would be difficult for me to imagine living elsewhere. Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad: perhaps. Gurgaon: maybe. Chennai: I don’t think so. Jhumri-Talaiyya: Anyday! I find it amazing that I settled in Seattle without any qualms and find moving around in my home country a big issue. Unfortunately, the big product development companies aren’t in Mumbai.

Wow. That was a long post. I have to put a disclaimer that working in an American company in America has its own set of issues, which doesn’t make it better than the Indian counterparts. The points above have been based on some personal experiences and a lot of conversations with people. So, of course, it may not be all “factual”. Again, feel free to share/discuss your thoughts.


TTG said...

ask and yee shall receive. See my blog...

Extempore said...

I disagree almost entirely because I work in the IT industry and in Bombay. Granted that there aren't as many places in Bby to work as there are in Hyderabad or Blore, but the work situation in India has changed. It is a better place to work now.

I once said on your blog that ppl at my workplace are unhappy but it is because I work in the IT services industry as a tech writer - MS, by the way, is one of our biggest clients - We are working on the Yukon series right now, having finished with Whidbey a while ago.

The biggest source of frustration for us is unreasonable client demands and our PMs who dont contest anything. Pls dont misunderstand - I am not trying to pick a fight about MS - only trying to make the point that the services industry anywhere - IT or advertising - comes with that huge handicap... of being captive to your client's demands.

From everything I hear, even start-ups here are doing really well and are good places to work at. A friend of mine, on confirmation, got a hike from 27 to 35k, never comes in on weekends and works everyday from 10 to about 7 in the evening. Good life, I'd say, esp in Hyd which is cheaper than Bby.

I could go on Parth, but I will stop here. :-)

I do hope that I have not given offence in anyway and I am quite sorry if indeed, I have.

Prerona said...

came over from aparna's blog. nice blog. i love the previous post ... downpour.

the Monk said...

nice post...we have nris in our college and they tell me the same thing...

Niranjan said...

I'd add that the answer to whether to return back to india is in part based on practicality as you have described, and is part emotional (for want of a better word). I'd been to a talk some months back, where the speaker (a distinguished CEO of a start-up) made a snide remark about how indian students take up most grad positions, and then return home only to marry and come back to the US to work again. And the audience thought it was funny! I've since wondered why I'm still in the US, but then again there is the practical aspect that's aptly expressed in this post.

Graffiti Speak said...

Hi there, let me help to disperse some of your misconceptions and fears you have expressed herein.

I am an IT professional, a senior business analyst in a Telco.

I was in the US on H1 for more than 4 years and I moved back to India owing to personal reasons in 2002. Initially I had lots of apprehension, and infact I had quite some disappointments after I came and I thought that I have done a mistake but things started to make sense in the long run.

And I must confess that I have no regrets now…

Few changes here and there are required…but overall you are happier here than in the land of lust.

I fell sick the first month I came down because I took a sip of tap water in a restaurant and got viral fever. That was a bad start alright but I learnt a lesson not to take anything but mineral water.

Like you mentioned, being in the US while giving you an advantage over your career, it has lots of downside as well.

Attitude issues are there everywhere but in India it could be more apparent and prevalent because India Inc. is just getting professional. We ought to just shrug off these and really give these things time to heal themselves.

Work Culture is again getting better by everyday but yes if you are in a service industry chances are at critical times you would be called in to put extra efforts but again you can ask for a comp off when there is less pressure which any sensible project manager would grant. I have personally liked the challenges of a service driven company as opposed to the laid-back work environment of a product driven one. We have both here in all major metros including Mumbai and there is really no need to worry.

“Boss” culture is very much here and your fears are justified. But it need not be a rule of thumb to go or come to office based on your manager’s timings. As long as you deliver quality things at the right times and show your presence as much as possible without chitchatting with colleagues for long hours, it should be ok. And of course while not working you can even play games or solve crosswords even with your manager…to lighten the spirit. This trick has worked for me…

Exposure wise, India gives you a lot as in US we tend to focus on mastering one particular thing, which is not the case here as you are expected to be a jack-of-all-trades as there are variety of clients. If you are not one, you become one automatically once you are in such a demanding environment. There are training requests that you can give to your PM during appraisal sessions and if it is genuine, then they are always heeded.
When I came down, this stark truth (of knowing many things) hit me hard but eventually I found myself easily adapting to the demands of the job. This is actually a great plus when it comes to Indian work environment.

Like I said before, India Inc. is just getting professional, so while changes are happening, the change is slow and steady. So patience would be the key for people who want to come back. This is particularly applicable for climbing up the ladder here. Also, you need to preferably have a Godfather to give you the necessary push…at least in not-so- professional companies who still have this bossism. If you don’t know to butter people, then you might as well be contented with your post and pay and get out of all the politics.
There is an automatic pressure to come up in designation as you age in a company but it is not again mandatory. In my office I still see programmers who are in their 40’s something that is not uncommon in the US of A.

However, the most key thing being in India is the job security and citizenship status that is seen as a luxury for all foreign returned people because we know the reality we had in the US. There is constant fear or job loss unless you have a green card or citizenship with which you can be at least safe until you get another one. Here there is no one to kick you out…you are a king …literally! If you have a decent monthly income, and a stable job, then nothing like that! You get anything and everything. The labor is cheap, so you get the luxury of having a chauffer, cook, maid(s), caretaker, etc. which if done in the US, would eat up all you earn…

Finally, Mumbai has lots of major IT companies concentrated in SEEPZ and Navi Mumbai where you have this Millenium Business Park…

The conditions are most conducive right now for all NRIs so much that many foreigners are coming to India seeking secure and better paying jobs.

The downside I could say being in India is facing bribery and red-tapism in day to day lives along with pollution. Again you can find ways to bypass these things as you mature here.

But all said, it is upto you to make up your mind. Good Luck…but hey don’t think too much to comeback to your motherland. It is she who made us what we are and it is time we show our gratitude to her.


RS said...

Hmm...I find myself thinking a million times about going back to India too...and as you rightly put it, half of my memories of India have to do with festival and fun times, with family and friends around and familiarity more than anything else...its like I dont fit here or there, sometimes...

sd said...

Hi Parth,

I think most of what you say is probably very true (although in my experince - working on weekends as an IT guy was rare - my PL practically had to bargain with us for that! On the other hand I think that is trend for the MBA guys - they seem to spend all there time in their offices). There is one thing I want to add to your list - India may still not have the kind of R&D/challeging amounts of job that one has access to in US. And although this is fast changing - it may be some time before getting other than "back -office" jobs is possible. I think your post has mainly focussed on the career issue: but perhaps going back to India has more to it than just that. Apart from very personal reasons; there is:
a. Corruption in daily life. Try getting your telephone(land line) conection fixed !
b. Pollution/Other "simple pleasures" that one gets used to staying in US.
c. On the other hand, there is family and friends in India.
d. Money is also potentially a serious issues that needs to be thought about.
e. India is now growing at an amazing rate. This might sound utopian but I feel that this is the time to grab opportunities and be "pioneers" in India...
f. Finally, I strongly feel that even as an citizen one tends to remain a "sort off" secondary citizen...every action has to be over planned. There is insecurity.

So I am not sure... For me the trade off between being in "one's own country (being able to do whatever I want)" vs "the kind of job I will get" is what I need to decide.....ok I have gone into a major tangent here...let me stop.

kamal said...

I agree with Andheri being the center of the Universe. :)

TTG said...

Parth, made small updates, and added a little more coherency to my post.

SD - about the phone line? Puhleez! While there IS a lot of day-to-day corruption, getting your land-line fixed is a same-day job IF you are living in one of the Metros. Airtel Zindabad!

Braveheart said...

Though I am very sorry about most of your 'misconceptions' that, despite all your claims, seem to have come from people who never put a foot on this land, I'd like to say some more important things. (Oh yes, let me say that 'Services versus Product industry' does make a lot of sense, but you can always sort it out)

Coming back to India and Home are two completely different things. Nostalgia brings you back home Parth, not to India. There are people in this country who, exactly like you, go once a year to their native places. They are equally nostalgic about going back home. Yet, the defining factor is the love for the country and the fragrance of its soil which remains much the same everywhere. While I make a sweeping assumption here that you are not there for the love of America, I can say that keeping everything same, if you want to come back, its because you want to be back to India, not mumbai, not home, not to your friends and all that. The point is coming back to India, the nation of infinite diversity and an entire array of emotions that remain untouched in almost every other country of the world.

And I only know one simple thing Parth: If you want to come back, everything - every fact and every myth, every truth and every lie - calls you back. But right inside you, if you dont want to be back, you only see roadblocks - practical, factual and intimidating.

The choice is not about 'Home' and 'Away' Parth. Its about India or US and the facts can go to hell. We all know that US is where Power is and India is a poor land of rather insecure and desperate people. There's no point talking about attitudes, culture and superiority. We all know what lies where. Having gone to a country which is financially (in statistic terms) 45.77 times stronger and provides you with the degree of comfort and sophistication unparalleled elsewhere, the only reason you need to come back to India is the love for what has made you what you are; nothing else.

-- Akshaya

Anand said...


I relocated back to India about a couple of weeks ago. I have written a few posts on my experiences so far. Check it out here whenever you get a chance.