Monday, January 17, 2005

Dear Mr Mohan

Dear Mr Mohan,
Sorry for not writing earlier, was busy with some work so....
Well I know few people personaly who have come back from US and were doing quite good there. One of them is Dr. Supratik Chakraborty. He is an IIT Kharagpur President's gold medalist. Passed out in 1994 (if i m not wrong) and was in US for some years and came back to do what he loved most. Spread the knowledge he had gained. (This is just to show you that I am not bluffing)
He is a professor now in IIT Bombay.
Please go through this article.
Rooster's Call (came in Outlook India on 18th December 2004)
"A life well lived is coming home to do something besides, money being no object"
So, is there more to the story of the returning NRI, the Bollywood superstar 'slumming it' role and the developmental innovations of a former Citibanker. Of course there is, and one way to see it is to take a walk to the Vinayaka temple in Chennai's Besant Nagar, where it isn't uncommon to see traditionally dressed elderly couples shod in out-of-the-box new Nike trainers. The only variant-many parents will now have been joined by the footwear supplier, the NRI offspring.
For reasons ranging from bad (the dotcom fallout and the still-hurting knock-on effects) to good (the engineer/mba path is still a safe career bet, and if you're into anything radical, India's never been a better place to set up shop), NRIs have been returning to India in huge numbers. In Bangalore alone, something like 35,000 ex-NRIs have 'returned' over the past five years. This may dwarf the number in other metros, but the total for India over this period is at least 50,000.
And the numbers are growing. Last July, nearly 1,000 people of Indian origin, or PIOs, attended a job fair organised by a magazine in Santa Clara, California, and offered their resumes to companies planning operations in India. A Wipro job fair too met with similar enthusiastic results. Bhaskar Sanyal of IBM, who returned six months back from Singapore to manage a global IT project out of Bangalore, confirms the growth: "In the SAP community alone, we recruited 10-12 returned NRIs in the last three months." He also receives a lot of e-mail enquiries because he is known in the techie community to be pretty thorough with PIO procedures and taxation. CISCO director Srikanth Hoskote, who returned last April, also speaks about the huge volumes of mail from people who want to return.
Still, IT isn't quite the international meal ticket it was during the boom towards the end of the last decade, so it isn't surprising that most of the returnees are industry professionals. But the numbers are also made up of a number of remarkable artistes, bankers, entrepreneurs, lawyers and teachers, to name just a few. They are coming back to an India that is changed not so much for the Nike or Levi's or a certain quality of life but one which provides the means to the same "fulfilment", material and otherwise. Perhaps, even more crucially, these NRIs are coming back to India because they really want to, and not particularly because they need to.
Consider Ramesh Ramanathan's experience. As head of one of Citibank's key European businesses, this bits Pilani/Yale University alumnus had already stretched the envelope of the South Indian middle-class dream. But his motivations were focused by a deceptively simple issue. He describes NRI gatherings where they would have the usual conversations on India's ills: "The more Swati (his wife) and I thought about it, the more we realised that we were successful not just because of our own effort but because there was an invisible 'system' that enabled this search for excellence and accomplishments...that ensured the streets were clean, the garbage got picked up.... We began to believe that we had to return, that it was the obligation of our generation to build these systems back in India," he writes on the website of Janaagraha, an organisation the Ramanathans started in Bangalore to engage citizens, government, NGOs and the corporate world with a view to achieving greater citizens' participation in local government. In practice, this means the often difficult task of finding effective ways of working towards laudable goals such as a demonstrably usable implementation of the 'Right To Information' legislation, for instance.
In Karnataka, Ramanathan found a citizenry that could be educated about the potential benefits of such ideas, as well as a state that was buying into the information technology message in its own way.These were conditions for bringing in his skill sets and experience in a way that might have been inconceivable a few years earlier. It's still moot whether local governments all over India will be as receptive today to ideas like making quarterly performance reports available to the public. Yet, in an ideal world, such examples of participative democracy could be the norm. And his is not an isolated case.
In Calcutta, Amitabha Bhattacharya is finding similar satisfaction in effecting a 'dramatic' social transformation that will hopefully spread far and wide. In 2000, the IIT graduate left his $1,00,000-a-year job with a Silicon Valley data warehousing firm to make a mere Rs 20,000 a year through an unusual theatre group. He calls an "alternative communication plan for the social sector". It uses theatre to communicate to marginalised groups like Calcutta slum-dwellers, disadvantaged kids, truckers, port workers and people in the Sunderbans and rural Bengal in general. And the impact is heartwarming. The government has hired them off and on, and his team recently worked with the Calcutta police on an anti-drugs campaign. Like several of his fellow returnees, Bhattacharya is clear he's not in the charity business. Banglanatak is not a non-profit group. "We're a regular company," he affirms. "We make a living out of this."
Elsewhere, it's true, the motivation has been closer to home. As a software couple, Suresh and Usha Jamadagni, who spent 17 years in the US, explain, "We were alarmed when we saw how kids grow up in the US. Every summer, we sent our son, Chirag, to his grandparents in Mysore; he spoke endlessly about his time there...we realised he would be happy back in India. If you are in the US, you try to consciously impart an Indian experience to your kid. But in your home environment, the values are transferred quite naturally. We saw others who couldn't make the decision at the right time suffering."
Shivram Venkatasubramanian and his wife Shuchi thought along similar lines. After Shivram (fortuitously, as it turned out) sold his software firm in January 2000, the couple took time off to wind up their US affairs and acquire a couple of degrees before moving to Bangalore so that their children would have "another frame of reference" while they pursued their goals in educational consultancy. Other motivations have less to do with children.
When Vikram Goyal quit Wall Street major Morgan Stanley, he was advising giant institutional investors on the merits of investing in India. Barely a year later, he was knocking at the doors of posh boutiques and salons in India and abroad because he saw a global market for a pure, no-compromises ayurvedic beauty product with the right branding: Kama Ayurveda now sells in 12 countries. Suitably emboldened, he then set up Viya, a chain of upmarket lifestyle (read exquisite and high-priced objets d'art from the Northeast and Southeast Asia) with sister Divya, another returnee.
Meanwhile, professionals like Microsoft's Krishnan Srinivasan and Lucent's Sundaresh Iyer were seeking transfers to India because it offered an excellent way to mix career growth with a chance to test Indian waters. As Srinivasan says, "We may come back for good at some later point in our lives." Iyer though has taken rare time off at Bangalore's famous Vidhyarthi Bhavan for a mild roast masala dosa and a by-two coffee with old college mates and fellow returnees. It was in this 50-year-old cafe that they had first dreamt of America, after all.
Nevertheless, it would be naive to suggest that India's infamous brain drain is about to get reversed anytime soon.Intangibles like nostalgia may play a role, but for the most part these individuals make a success out of coming back to the motherland since hard facts back it up, like the exposure, education, growth, and not least, earnings that they got out of their foreign stays. In recent years, a two- to three-year India stint with a multinational firm has emerged as a challenging but potentially rewarding attraction. Many NRIs have found the luxury of living in India on a dollar-denominated salary impossible to resist when there's a career opportunity thrown in.
Certainly, when the money is there, the living can get a lot easier. Techie Aravind Sitaram and his artiste wife Soumya sold their Silicon Valley home and their cabin in California's Stanislaus national forest to move to a farmhouse outside Bangalore which hardly offers less in terms of "connectivity". Not far away is Adarsh Palm Meadows, a plush returnee NRI colony similar to gated communities in other metros. Architect Vankulapathi Vinay even moved from Sydney to Bangalore because he sensed correctly that there would be a demand for people who could design houses similar to what NRIs had seen abroad.
But not everybody is looking at India with the sort of long-term vision that encompasses house-building. While the number of successful returnees is significant, the majority, especially in cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, are from the infotech industry, and it's unlikely that the hiring triggered by, say, a jump in the tech-heavy Nasdaq index would necessarily keep many of them in India for very long. Certainly not as long as Java remains the second language of choice after Telugu, Kannada or Tamil. Economic opportunity is still the most potent of all motivations.
Such opportunity is certainly emerging in India, but it is still some way off the phenomenal transition that hit cities like Shanghai a decade ago; Viya's Goyal describes how overseas Chinese brought themselves-and their money-in hordes when they scented the sheer scale of big bucks to be made from a giant and fast-growing economy. No one's doubting India's potential, but the reality could take a while yet. Which is why many NRIs are still hedging their bets, short of making a clear commitment to India. It's also why people like Shivram, much feared by luckless fellow students at both bits Pilani and IIM Calcutta for his sharp tongue, cheerfully lets slip a suitably tart acid drop about the hypocrisy inherent in the biological impossibility of hearts in one place and heads in another!
Luckily, there has been a seismic change which has revolutionised Indian society in between; an emergence of realistic career opportunities that veer radically away from the doctors, lawyers and engineers so beloved of middle-class India. That's why a former investment banker like Goyal can find both meaning and money out of selling Vietnamese lacquer bowls, while another, like Ramanathan, finds comparable if rather different fulfilment in helping local governments become more transparent to their citizens. Perhaps even more importantly, India has shed enough socialist baggage that it no longer necessarily sees some trades as being morally superior to others. There's hope yet for India's emergence as a legitimate professional goal, it's certainly no longer a place to flee.


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