Sunday, June 24, 2007

Deepak Amin's article that inspired many to return to India

For the sake of quick reference, I post this much read article in my blog.  The person who wrote this was Deepak Amin - by boss at vJungle and Indicus.  It was written sometime before 1998 - that was when I decided to return to India and contacted him.

"A quick background: I went to the US many moons ago (1987 to be precise) seeking the proverbial American Experience trudging the standard route of undergrad in IIT, postgrad in the US, summer job,H1, job in software co., Mexico for visa, etc. You know the schpiel. Worked at Microsoft for 6 years and decided to return to Bharatland in late 1995. Set up www.indicus.com and started churning out code from Mumbai. Been at it for about a year now.

Returning to India:
Having come back and ensconced myself very comfortably into India, and having met several others who have tried this, some successfully and some others not so successfully, I'd like to aver that there is one and only one thing that you need to have to pack your bags and take the boat back to desh: an ATTITUDE. Period. You should really want to come and live here. As soon as you start applying the logic that most of our analytical minds are wont to do, you're hosed. Oh, the pollution is so bad in India! Jeez, it's so crowded in Mumbai. Holy cow, look at the traffic in Bangalore. Mein gott, my kids don't have any open space to play soccer. Hey, there's no private place to take my girlfriend on a date. Forget it bete, then you should just stay back in the US. You should have the attitude that whatever you can avail of in India, you'll make the best of it.

To illustrate this with a real life example: Another friend was once telling me at work that he was really serious about returning to India and that infact, he had even calculated in detail how much he would need to earn to have a decent standard of living in India. Cost of a house, cost of owning a car, cost of milk, school fees, etc. He had come up with a neat Rs. 15,000 per month (a couple of years ago). As soon as you start going through this exercise, you're history (unless you've saved up a good pot of greenbacks, in which case, please ignore my email altogether). You need to think the other way around. You should manage with whatever you make (within reasonable limits ofcourse). You should deal with the pollution, because that's just incidental. Same with the traffic, --do-- for soccer and ditto for your girlfriend/boyfriend. As expected, this friend never returned to India.

professional life
OK, now let's deal with professional life. Mind you, I took the entrepreneurial route, that too in Mumbai, so my views on this will be heavily biased. Applying them appropriately to a regular job life in some other city/village is left as an exercise to the reader. I decided to start my own software company. Believe you me, it's been ..um.. character building, to say the least. I started Indicus Pvt. Ltd. and being the regular stupid NRI (yes, I vehemently believe that NRI's are consummate suckers when it comes to dealing with the Indian business climate, usually only initially though), I went about trying to do things like a decapitated chicken. Ofcourse, I learnt very quickly the folly of my ways and rectified them as best s as I could. I first tried to get into some very big joint ventures and immediately ran into some big gun minister and minister's cronies who quite blatantly asked for unearthly bribes and comfortably and politely threatened to ruin my business if I didn't oblige.

On the contrary, they heard through the grapvines about my efforts & interests and they contacted me on their own. Introductions, phone calls, emails. Yes, technology is being used even there. I was outraged, livid and yes, completely stunned, not so much by the corruption itself, but by the blatant nature of it. I refused to get into this mess and decided to not pursue this business at all (ofcourse, there were other reasons too that came up later on that didn't make the business possible, but they're moot to the current discussion). If there was one thing that I was crystal clear on, it was that I wouldn't pay bribes and promote corruption. I didn't come back to India to indulge in such profanities. I can go on ranting about these kind of miserable wretches until eternity, but then I'd be digressing. So let's get back on track.

OK, so I decided to go back into my shell and start really small. We've rounded up a really smart, dedicated and passionate bunch of people to take on the world. Wait! Did you think that I wouldn't have to deal with corruption just because I'm starting small. Hah! The postman came to us and said, "Saahab, aap humko khush rakho toe hum aapko khush rakhenge". He was promptly thrown out of our office. So he promptly forgot to deliver * any* mail to us for two months. Finally showed up during Diwali with all the company mail of the past two months and said, "Saahab, Diwali kaa bakhsheesh?" We didn't give him any. Sent multiple letters to the main p.o. about our problems. Fortunately, someone out there decided to relent and our mail has been coming in..oh.. rather regularly I would say. Same kissa (story) with our telephone lines. The lines were brought up to our office. But the phone instrument was. Then the phone instrument was installed, but it was disconnected from the central office because some random letter had to be sent. And then the *same* line was used again, "Saahab, aap humko khush rakho toe hum aapko khush rakhenge....(you get it)". Amazing. Are these guys related or what?

Nope, no bribes from here buddy. We cribbed, sent letters, went to the office every single day, sent our peon to the c.o. everyday for about a month and then finally got the telephone line through. Phew! Now Indicus can start thinking about doing business over the internet. VSNL, well, that's another story, for another time. Talk about retrogressive thinking! The builder of our office, the electricians, the water supply, the carpenters, ....are we having fun yet? ... the registrar's office for company registration, the RBI, the banks (yes, international ones too, so don't nobody give me no "phoren" crap!), the Export Promotion Council for Software, et cetera. OK, I'm getting bored and so are you guys probably. There's too much to write. Let's cut this down . Amidst all this, we were busy whacking away at coding, developing business, hiring, etc. Short end of it is that we've finally reached steady state. Express Computer has expressed interest in writing about all these trials and tribulations.

So what, am I some sort of a masochist? Au contraire. I'm having a whale of a time. It's a rollercoaster ride, and I've always been a sucker for rollercoasters! What we're attempting to do at Indicus is very different from what most of the software companies here in India are doing. We don't get into the fray for selling our services for $11 per man hour to General Electric. We're collecting a bunch of smart, committed and passionate guys with a very high level of integrity and who don't care to take the next boat to Umreekland or to Barbados (believe you me, that's the rave these days). We are attempting to build products and technology. And we will attempt to get into the global market. Mind you, we're nowhere close to achieving it yet. And yes indeed, there are other companies out there who are attempting to do the same. The point I'm trying to make (before some idiot out there starts lambasting me for peddling my company) is that it is possible to do great work from India, it is possible to find companies who want good (and even phoren) experience. There are a lot of people who share these dreams and principles that I am writing about. We have had *incredible* support and feedback on these issues not only from others in the industry and the especially the press, but also from a lot of the students in colleges in Mumbai (during our campus recruitment drives). The ingredients are there. The quality and the quantity is there. Just the right focus and bingo....we'll have a movement!

Um, let's not get too philosophical yet. So what about those of you seeking jobs in India? Yes indeed, there are tons of companies in India who will be more than happy to employ you. The biggest advantage that you'll have is that these companies can rest assured that you don't have your sights on some American or European company to "jump ship". Yes, your phoren experience is certainly valuable, but don't let that get to your head. There are a lot of people here in India (I speak for the software industry) who are very intelligent and very savvy too. The classic problem that returning NRI's face is that of demanding special attention just because they're NRI's. Remember what I said earlier about "managing with what you have". Take advantage of your experience et al, but don't expect to get the red carpet when you go next time to check your baggage in at the Indian Airlines counter. Doesn't matter if you have a funky accent. Most yuppies from "Downtown" Mumbai will have it too (the "Oh Gaaad, it's soo haht todjay!" variety).

Personal life:
You'll face the maximum problems on this front, if at all. When I was winding down in the US, I was quaking in my pants about this aspect of India. To give you another quick rundown, I'm a rather outgoing, outdoorsy kind of person. I love to party, dance, hike, climb, travel to exotic places, eat exotic (veg) food, play squash, work out, etc. Am nuts about snowboarding. Been skydiving, bungee jumping, dinosaur bone digging, gold prospecting, you name it. Loved to go for broadway shows, operas, film fests, roller coaster rides. Suddenly I find myself in Mumbai, living at home with parents, *all* friends in the US or Europe and nothing but crowds, cows and carbon monoxide around me. My only companions are my misplaced interests and radical thoughts about society and life in general. And they're not helping. Eeks! But then "Passion creates possibility" (quoting Lynn Hill). A lot of these e things can be done in India too (perhaps more easily in some cities than others). You can go dancing (Copa Cabana is one wild place!), hiking, climbing, traveling (yes!), etc. No you can't go snowboarding for the day to Mt. Crystal or for the weekend to Snowbird. But you can go skiing easily to Aouli, UP.

There is a plethora of really good films (not the trashy commercial types), some great plays, etc. Sorry, no operas. Occasional broadway plays produced locally. Lots of foreign films at British Council type places (NCPA, MaxMu, etc). One real problem in big cities like Mumbai (I've heard the same about Delhi) is that you don't get memberships to (health) clubs at all. Even money can't buy them. They're closed for life for new members. Great. So I gave up squash and got into running. Hey, they even have an International marathon in Pune (participation levels of 10,000+). The other problem is that unlike in the US, you cannot just jump into your car, go pump some weights at the local health club and come back at night to spew out more code. Doing something like that out here at least in Mumbai is an ordeal. So you end up not indulging in most of the activities.

The biggest problem that I faced when I came back to India was adjusting to living at home with my parents again. Don't get me wrong, I love them to death and all that mushy stuff. But having lived completely independently from age 17, I found it hard to come back home and start living at home with my family. Not used to people asking me when I'll be back, whether I want to eat, people waiting for me to have dinner and I not going home at all because on an impulse I decided to stay back in the office all night, late night partying, etc. My advice (if you care for it) is to not underestimate this problem. Particularly for those of you who are married. Wives typically get very used to living an independent life in the US. If you come to India and start living at home with your (spouse's) parents, you're suddenly subject to a whole lot of social obligations that you don't really like. ex. cook, clean , meet random relatives you don't give a damn for, etc. And it takes a lot to change the thinking of older people. Of course, I'm not in this latter situation, but I know of people who threw in their gloves and returned to the US because of this.

All in all, I'm very pleased with personal/social life. Again, it's the attitude that's the saving grace. Make the most of what you *have*, don't expect what you *had*. Note that it is very possible to get things done efficiently in India . You will be amazed at how organized crime and corruption is. Grease the right palms with the right "weight" and sit back and watch the wheels churn before you, in complete harmony with your desired goals. This is true of a lot of other countries too. Wherever there is an inefficient and pernicious system in place, there is a parallel system that is set up to "bypass" " it. However, it is possible to say no to corruption and inefficiency. Infact, there are large sections of the government that will surprise you with their efficiency and integrity. Things will eventually get done, perhaps even immediately. But typically you have to pay a "price" for it. Either money/services directly or a lot of time (=money) and patience! The currency is yours to choose. My choice is clear to me. And so it is for a lot of my other friends and colleagues. We are all trying to find strength and encouragement in numbers, and as each day passes, we find newer, fresher and more energetic blood wanting to join the crusade. Indeed, it is possible for you to feel passionate about rattling the society here, about shaking the very foundations of an industry and about jolting the country awake. For that is exactly what is needed (IMHO). And a lot of us are attempting to do that, in our own small ways. Not because we came back to India with lofty dreams from the US of A, but because we came back to India and share the dreams of the teeming millions who have been in India much longer than you or I. And yet their hopes of seeing change are so much higher than ours. The sheer determination of the common man in India to survive against such overwhelming odds is mind-boggling!

The Indian system:
This may surprise you, but it works! You need to work a little harder to see it work, but dammit, it works. You may moan about corruption in the traffic police, or in the railways, or the registrar's office. But believe you me, if you *write* to these departments, things will_ happen. Once you write a letter of complaint, the government s is bound to take action on it. It may take a week, a month or even six months, but I assure you that you will hear back and action will be taken on your complaints. But you need to write. Most people don't do this and then bitch about the ineffective government. Yes, this can be made more efficient, but it works. Again, you may complain about Enron facing problems in India and how the people here are making life miserable for it, etc. But abstract out the pros and cons of Enron's woes. Look at it from the system's point of view. Here comes a company. They made some business and "education" proposals. One (part of the) govt. was kosher with it. Another set of people decided that they weren't. So they got the courts to stop them. So Enron lost 2 years. Things got thrashed out finally. The legislative in the country provides a forum for people to bring forth their concerns. The executive ensured that their concerns were addressed. This is precisely the role of the system. It works. I personally wouldn't want to trade that *freedom* to voice my concerns for anything in the world. Not efficiency, not wealth or prosperity. You may disagree with my concerns, but heck, you can't take my right away to have them addressed. Nothing in the world is worth my freedom. This past one year has undeniably proven to me that India is really a free country, much more e so than that paragon of freedom: the United States. We can debate the merits of this statement till we drop dead, but I don't have the time or the patience to do that. Perhaps another time.(I used Enron just as an example to illustrate my point.)

A couple of random thoughts on equally random topics: Standard of living in India (pure, unadulterated materialistic approach to life): I have only one succinct comment to make about this. If I were to live as a middle class man, I'd probably live in the US. However, for the upper middle class, and especially the rich folks, India wins hands down. Very simple reason: If you have money in India, people *really* listen to you. Orders of magnitude more than in the US or any European country. You are king. There you have it Your Highness.

Sacrifice et al: Please guys. Spare this junk about how much you had to sacrifice when you left India and how much you are willing to sacrifice to return to the motherland (violin in the background). Sorry to disappoint you, but you get no brownie points for that. You left for the US of your own accord. Nobody held the gun against your head and said, "Listen buddy , you had better go to America and buy your Accord and follow it with a two-car-garage-house then a 40 in. multiframe TV and mow your lawn every weekend or I'll blow your brains out, gotcha?" And the same thing about "The Sacrifice" being made when you leave America and return to India . C'mon guys. Wake up and smell the coffee. No one in India is going to give you any sympathy for it. I left the Indian social fabric for the aggressive individualistic American pursuit of wealth and knowledge. I subsequently left Pizza Hut's Veggie special for Ghasitaram's pani puri. Sounds like fair give and take to me. So what's the big deal?

Before you take the leap to return to India, think hard about why you really want to be back in India. Are you coming back for the love of the motherland? Think a little harder about how much you really love the motherland. Take all the factors that I've only briefly touched upon in this mail and recalculate your love. If you don't have your head screwed on right about this issue, you're going to become one hell of a bitter nut after you get hit with the barrage of hassles in India. Or are you coming back because you need to take care of your parents? Think again. Chances are that you'll have a difficult time acclimatizing to the home/family scene here anyway. Moreover, how long is that going to last? Additionally, can you manage this remotely? If you're still convinced that this is the right answer, then do it. This was one of the reasons I decided to come back(though not the primary reason) . Or perhaps you want to come back to India because you can't bear to have your children identify themselves with America before they do with your relatives back home in "mera gaon, mera desh"?? Perhaps it's a better idea to just reconcile to the idea and stay back in the US (assuming no other reasons). What's wrong with being American?

Lastly, those of you who are still thinking just of coming back to India, just for the sake of thinking that, or those of you who have decided to settle abroad: you don't have to feel guilty about your decision. America is a great country (as great as it is evil too). There are a lot of things that are fantastic about it, as probably with most countries. Once you've decided to live there, get comfortable with the concept. Let go of your senti thoughts about returning to India one day. This particular lie repeated multiple times will *not* became the truth. It's not going to happen. The sooner you reconcile to that, the happier you'll be. Ditto for your spouse and kids. Call yourself American and be proud of it. The worst is when you're living in America and you've got your mind partially in India and you're not moving your fat derriere to do anything about it. Dhobi kaa kutta, na ghar kaa na ghat kaa.

This past one year in India has been like a roller-coaster ride.... in pitch darkness.... without seat belts! I call it perennial l adrenalin gush.. Nothing to beat it!"

--returned one"


6 comments:

ranganathan said...

man...

i am impressed!!

really a good one and worth reading!!

JK said...

jacex said...
Hi All,

Great thoughts. I had for a long time believed that in India the system still works for people who want it to work. The problem is the percentage of people who want the system to work is outnumbered by the percentage who do not want it to work. The second rung just simply take the "easier palm greasing route".
I have gone personally to Rippon Building (CORPORATION HQ) in Chennai to get a birth certificate for my friend who was born almost 30 years back and got the same in a day without paying any thing. Hard to believe ? Yes mate it did happen.
I have had experiences, very good at that but reality is bit trudgy and difficult to digest. I have an example where my brother wanted to change his address in passport and the postman delivered the passport after changing the address to the old address. Hard to believe? Yes mate it did happen. How can the passport authorities after changing the address in passport deliver to the old address? Who ever was responsible for the mess, my brother did not give in to the post man for that "extra greasing" so that the package slides back from the old address to my bro's home. He had to wait for one more month to get it back, he was ready to wait , he got it. So the key word is wait.

Just as in this article I am also one among many who want to migrate to India and have set a deadline for myself to come back. Will surely post another reply once I make it at that deadline. It did help in many ways as the thoughts are in synch with what I am thinking as well about Migration. One of my very close friends migrated successfully and is in India happily - with all the experience of Indian flavour- now.

I agree with most of the comments and thoughts. In short if we will to make our system work , it will work, after all we are Indians if system in India is not working it indirectly means that we are not working.



Thanks for showing us this link Ranga.

Regards
Jayaraman

Sneha said...

Impressive.
good one and worth reading.

achilles amin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
V.S. Krishnan said...

I read Deepak Amin’s article with great interest. If his article has prompted many US settlers to return to India, it is natural because he has dealt with all aspects, the positive, negative and again the positive, in relocating to India. I am sure his article would prompt those already decided to hasten up and those not willing to change their mind. As for those who are sitting on the fence thinking; ‘should I or should I not”, his article would clearly give a guidance: “You should”. .

I am one among the many who admire and even cast an envious glance over those guys who present themselves in social events. In Noorani Saasthapreethi, for instance, which is a grand event in Palakkad; they remain the cynosure of all eyes. It was amazing to see young girls, casting glances not on the deity in front but on the guy ‘who had just come from America”. I can not blame them because our guys from America exude an aura of charm and splendour. Almost every Indian who comes out of Indian Universities aspires to be in the land of prosperity and affluence, America. Almost every youth dream that they too would land in that great country, avail all that it offers and return with that NRI look and status.

It is very good. You get better opportunities there. You are exposed to a wonderful new world where your talents, skill and education can be better utilized. Above all, when back home you get all the focus and attention.

But in the midst of all these grandeur, our man realizes that he has been missing one precious thing, his culture. Culture is something which is part of the personality. It is inherited from generations behind the line and fostered by the land of your birth. It is something unique and contributes to your happiness. Onam, Deepavali, Durga Puja, the Ganesh festival, the Thrissur Pooram, the Rath Yatra are all part of our culture. The Thyagaraja Aradhana at Thiruvayaru is a magnificent testimony of the rich cultural background of the region.

So, go and explore the new world. Be a part of all that is shaping up the world. But never lose sight of your root. You may leap ahead but be conscious that your feet are firmly on the ground. Of course, in order to gain something, you may have to lose something (Kuch Paane Keliye, Kuch Khone Padta Hai). But once, you have gained something in America or western countries, think of your lost grounds and try to retrieve them. You may go anywhere, but please come back to be part of our own rich culture and experience its splendour and glory.

V.S. KRISHNAN
www.thiruppuygazh.org

V.S. Krishnan said...

In my comment, the previous one, I have erroneously mentioned my website as www.thiruppuygazh.org. It should be:
www.thiruppugazh.org

V.S. Krishnan