Gaurav Mantri's Personal Blog.

Cerebrata Story–Return To India

This post is for all my friends settled abroad and harboring the wish to return to India. I don’t mean to preach or encourage or influence them in any way to come to India. It’s a very personal and important decision considering how much time you have spent abroad. I just want to share my experience. I did not move back because after watching “Chak de India”, I started feeling patriotic or overwhelmed with “Mera Bharat Mahaan” feeling. It took us good one-two years to make this move happen.

Arguments against moving back to India

I worked in the US for 10 years from 1998 – 2008. When I broke the news of us returning to India, I got mixed reactions from our friends there. Here are some of their thoughts and my reaction to it:

Having worked in the US for so long, you won’t survive in the corporate culture in India:

I completely agree. In fact, over this weekend I was having a conversation with an old acquaintance who moved back around same time as I did and he was bitching and moaning about the work culture here. From what I have heard, there is a remarkable difference between the work culture in the US and in India.

I guess what worked for me was that I was not working for anybody. I was working for myself and folks I hired were working for me so that kind of played in my advantage. I get to decide the work culture in my company not somebody else. Right from the get go we created an environment of mutual respect and cordial relations in the company and my team members loved it and embraced it. Team members are encouraged to speak up their minds and you would be surprised the kind of ideas they can come up with.

We kept things very simple in the office: If it’s your mess, you clean it up! We didn’t (and still don’t) have an office boy sort of person in the office. If somebody wants to drink tea or coffee, they would need to make it themselves (and for other team members as well while they are at it).

India is so much polluted:

Agreed. Yes, there is so much pollution. Some people don’t have civic sense. You’ll find garbage all over the place. And let’s face it, you can’t change that. What you can do however is not be a part of it. Nobody has put a gun to your head that you will have to go with the flow. If your neighbor is throwing garbage on the street, you’re not socially obligated to do the same. In fact, you do the same things you were doing in the US and maybe your neighbor will get inspired and start following your deeds. Hey, you just made India a little less polluted Smile.

However things are changing for better. At least the younger generation is aware of these things. But you can’t expect these changes to be done overnight!!!

There are so many people:

Damn right, you are!!! After all it’s the second most populated country in the world. I don’t think you and I can do anything about it other than be a part of them.

Poor infrastructure:

Sure, you get 200 KBPS instead of 6 MBPS Internet speed for High Speed Internet connection. Sure, there are power cuts. Sure, there are more cars on the road than the road can afford. But it’s all improving. It would be unreasonable on your part to think that you would get same lifestyle as you’re used to. I think you would agree with me if you have recently travelled on any of the national highways or flew through Delhi Airport. In the last 10 years or so, things have improved dramatically towards the positive side.

It’s tough moving to India

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all peachy returning to India. It has its own share of issues (that too very BIG issues). We too had issues adjusting here at first but the key thing is that you would need to adapt and adjust.

I’ll share a story that really helped me adjust in India very fast:

A friend of mine moved back from India in 2002. I met him in 2004/2005 during one of our “vacations” to India (and at that time I was not even contemplating returning back). I asked him how things are going and he told me that when he moved back he got irritated and annoyed at every small little think people around him were doing (like driving for example) but then one day he realized that he has moved back here thus it is he who needs to adjust not the other way around. The day he realized that, his life was bliss.

This was a very profound lesson for me and I remembered and implemented that when I moved back. Yes, I got irritated when people cut the line and I used to yell at them. Sometimes they realize that they were wrong and step back, sometimes they yell back at me. It’s all part of the game.

I guess the key is

ADJUST & ADAPT

What worked for me, it may work for you

Enough Yapping!!! I guess the things that worked for me were:

Don’t leave anything behind: When I was coming, I was told by many people to keep my green card process alive so that in case things don’t work out, I can always come back. Some of them even offered to file for a new H1B visa for me. However I decided against that. It is very true that the life in the US is extremely comfortable compared to here in India and if I have an option to go back, I would have taken that on the 1st sign of problem. In fact, this was covered by one of the Venture Capitalists here in India in one of his article (more on this below). When we moved back, we sold everything so that even if we want to move back to the US, we can’t.

Come on your terms: I think it’s more of a psychological issue than anything else but I decided to come to India and was not forced (by recession or whatever reason) to come here. I didn’t feel cheated or let down by the system there in the sense that why I have to move back to India while my friends are still there. I came back feeling content that I got to spend 10 years in a wonderful country which changed my attitude drastically and positively and got an opportunity to accomplish certain things which took ages for my parents to achieve here in India. For example, my father owned his first car when I was 6 years old. I had my first car before my son was even born.

Adjust an adapt: This is the most important thing that worked for me. Without this, I would not have survived. Believe me, it will not happen overnight or even in few months. I’m still adjusting and adapting. I’m surviving Smile.

Do not look back, burn the bridges to wherever you came from

In January of 2011, I read an article in The Economic Times by Anand Daniel. He is a Venture Capitalist and had moved back to Bangalore from Boston. I think the things I talked about above, he has summarized it very nicely. IMHO, it’s a must read. You can read that post here: http://boston2bangalore.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/homeward-bound/

I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue of moving back. If you’re contemplating moving back, what are the reasons which are holding you back. If you have moved back, what kept you here.


[This is the latest product I'm working on]

Comments

  1. :) I remember when I was trying to throw a paper cup under the train, you made me walk to the trash bin while I could have missed my train doing that. You said “would you have done this in the US? If not, why are you doing this in India?” :).

  2. Nice write up, Gaurav. This touches upon practical scenarios that any Indian planning to move back to India would face. I appreciate if you could share your experiences and opinion regarding education for kids in US vs India.

    • Hi Rajesh,

      Thanks for commenting. Education is a very touchy subject and quite subjective too. I think my wife would be in a better position to answer this question :), but I will try.

      Here are some of my obersations:

      1. Education at least at the elementary level has improved dramatically. It’s becoming more and more US like where students are encouraged to be more creative. There are more projects given to the kids where they are asked to find out information on their own. Students are encouraged to write stories, poems, articles etc. for their projects.

      2. Education is expensive in India considering most of the good schools are private schools. I have heard that in bigger cities one could easily spend $5,000 – $10,000 per year on a child’s education. And these are not International schools. With Internation schools, the fees is prohibitively expensive.

      3. Grading system has come in instead of percentage system. Also I believe you can’t fail a child (which is real bad IMHO).

      4. One good thing I guess that has happened is that “By Law” teachers can’t lay their hands on the kids.

      I’m no expert of education system here but from what I have heard, it’s a little bit messy right now (at least at a higher level). 10th Board examination has become optional. So the first time a student can appear for a board examination is in 12th grade. Then one needs to appear for IIT-JEE (which is one of the most competitive exam at +2 level) and other entrance exams right after 12th board. So it’s a little bit confusing at the moment.

      Lastly it depends on how old are the kids. When we moved to India, my son was 8 years old and he started in 3rd grade here so adjustment for him was somewhat easier. It becomes hard for kids to adjust if they are a little bit older.

      Hope this helps.

      • Our education system is in the phase of improvement and since we are trying to imitate so much from west it’s got messed up.
        Why we fail is because we are following blindly. Introducing optional board exams, introducing grade systems (in the name of reducing peer pressure) is completely absurd. Things haven’t been planned, like no one knows how to convert GPA to %. Most of the colleges still ask for % during admission. This is how things fail.
        Talking about, elementary education we are again trying to simply follow Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V pattern. Most of the times, it’s parents who end up doing projects for their child.
        Encouraging creativity is good thing, but it should be by choice not by force. A class of 20 students is asked to do the same thing, let them do what they are good at. Instead of asking each of them to write a poem or draw something it will be better to give them the freedom to pick and do whatever they want to. Creativity comes from inside, it can be improved, not introduced :)

    • I’m someone who experienced secondary education in both the U.S. and India and was quite shocked by the difference. In the U.S., unless you live in a very high income neighbourhood/city, the public schools aren’t all that great. I attended convent school in India (fees at about Rs. 200 per month ten years ago) and public high school in the US. My American peers were behind in virtually every subject, including social sciences.

      Your kids are much more likely to learn to respect books and value their education in India, rather than in the US where everyone is trying to skip school and half the class doesn’t do their homework. Cheating is quite rampant, and you are considered an “overachiever” for getting good grades.

      • Hi Malaika, Thanks for providing your feedback. Please provide some more detailed comparison, I just moved back to India 5 month back and feeling like I make a big mistake.

        But this is very helpful.

        Thanks,

        Ajay

        • Hi Ajay,

          Will it be possible to share your experience in somewhat more details. It would be really helpful for the readers of this post to get other perspective also.

      • In reply to Malaika’s comment, I wanted to say that I have experienced school in 4 different places in the US, few in Canada, and two in India. I noticed differences within states I went to in the US, such as North Dakota being much better in education than Florida, Florida I was public schooled for 6 years. Florida is known to be one of the least achieving states in the US according to my aunt who had a PhD in education. I went to an international school for college for people with lesser marks mind you, and people THERE cheated alot, didn’t care about classes, and generally made fun of all the female teachers, and laughed at every comment that had sexual undertones. It was like adolescents who never grew up. Florida I experienced people similarly not caring more superficial, lot of cases of teenage pregnancy, no Dad. North Dakota I experienced people who were very smart, efficient, humble, yet sometimes racist. Canada I experienced similar, strong educational system. I remember Texas was fairly large hearted.. anyhow. If a place differed within itself in one country, same applies to a nation. my experience of an international school in India will not be everyone’s experience. Maybe you got into a really hard to get into school, and are there now. And it’s tough. Science and math, the US usually is behind alot of countries. There are differences everywhere you go.

  3. Anuj Uppal says:

    Adjust and Adapt I like that!!! This will work every time.
    – Mera Bharat Mahaan.

  4. Hi Gaurav,
    The “returning to India” is a common topic among people based in US and its also discussed frequently in the media.
    As you rightly said the “adjust and adapt” formula is required to survive and thrive in India.
    This is a wonderful article with a balanced view of both pros and cons.
    My view is that people who have worked in US must take an informed decision based on their own circumstances because “one size fit all” approach doesnt work. There are stories of people who came back and are happy and there are sad stories as well.

    Taking extreme views is not a good idea. The story of getting inspired through ‘chak de’. ‘swadesh’, etc is okay.
    However, any decision should be based on rational thinking rather than pure emotions and ofcourse
    taking personal situation in to consideration.
    I think you were lucky in a way since you had your own company or business. But there are several people working in US who may not find it easy to adopt to the new culture, and they cannot change the system according to their whims and fancies becayse there are only a small part of it.

    I also agree with Puneet about our education system which copies some of the outdated stuff from the West instead of taking best practices or forming our own ideas. A radical change here is required if India wants to become a Superpower.

    • Thank you Sridhar for your comments. I completely agree with your views that one should make an “informed” decision instead of making an “emotional” decision (though sometimes that’s required as well). Like with every situation, you basically gain some and you lose some. Just decide if you’re gaining more than losing by coming to India and I think you’ll be happy.

      I was extremely lucky with my return to India story. I don’t know how things would have been if I had taken a “job” route. Who knows in that case I would have been on the other side of the table.

      I ran into an interesting article on Quora a few days ago: http://www.quora.com/How-do-Indians-feel-when-they-go-back-to-live-in-India-after-living-in-US-for-5+-years.

      Thanks again for your comments. Much appreciated.

  5. Rushabh Mehta says:

    Even I have a similar plan “study-recover-earn-return-my own startup” It has just been 4 months since I came to US and started my masters in CS, so don’t exactly know what’s there in store for me. But I really liked your post!

  6. The education system in U. S is definitely the best than the Indian system. In U.S it is self study. The school even from the elementary level teaches you the concepts. A student has to explore on the topics, and has to practice a lot at home through various resources. In India, it is mostly spoon feeding even at the masters level. A student who works from home making use of all the available resources given by the teachers do extremely well in U.S no matter whether they are at the top or bottom ranked school district. All the school districts are equally good. Many Indian parents raising their children in U.S do not know about this at all. They always complain that there is less work in U.S schools compared to Indian schools. Exams based in Indian schools are asked directly from the text book and for that, a child should have memorized the text book well. It is not all important whether they should have understood the concepts. Even to this day it is the same with the state, CBSE & ICSE syllabus though some minor changes are made with the inclusion of more multiple choice questions. Even then those multiple choice questions are directly from the text book. Exams based in U.S even from the elementary level are not directly from the text. If you have not understood the topics well, a student will not be able to answer those questions at all. A student who just finishes up the homework that is sent home, or who practices just Kumon or other related activities, and who does not practice anything beyond that based on the U.S curriculum of their school, will not thrive well in U. S. International students attending colleges in U.S are generally told at the orienation meeting that they should not depend on the teachers for everything, and that they should do self study. Lot of students who come from India find it very difficult to study in U. S colleges after having come from a spoon fed system. Many get depressed and do end up quitting college. People in India do not realize this and will scold them saying that they enjoy life in U.S & don’t study well and hence the reason for all the depression & low grades. To sum it up, Indian system and American system of education are entirely different.

    • Shreya, I agree totally. I’ve seen many of the kids doing very well here and i’m very satisfied with the education system in the US. Did you go back to india? what are your findings after moving back?

  7. nice article … in my case , I am kind of repenting my decision to move back. This article will help me to get over my decision as I am trying hard to get out of this regret.

    • Would you mind describing why you are regretting your decision to move back? It might help other folks immensely as they get to see the other side of the picture as well. Thanks.

  8. Vikas Singh says:

    Hi Gaurav,

    Great article. I have been through this situation two times already and most probably will go through 3rd time. And what I felt that this decision varies a lot of you are single/married/have children.

    After finishing my BTech In India, I moved to US in Jan 2003 for higher education and did my MS & MBA and worked there. Then decided to come back back after 5 years of stay thinking that I will never go back. I came back in Jan 2008. At that time I was single.

    After coming back joined a company in India. I got married and I was quite satisfied with my decision and was happy about it. Ironically the company I joined was an IT company so went back to US again in July 2012 after I had my first kid as my wife planned to take a break so decided to show her USA (benefit of working in an IT company). Then we came back in May 2014 deciding that we will never go back as we both wanted to settle down in India only. But now when we came back we are realizing that was it right decision or should we have spent some more time there to save some money as its very struggling nowdays in India as things are very expensive now.

    So planning to go back again. Not sure will come back or stay there… ???

    Any thoughts…

    • Thanks Vikas for sharing your thoughts. I agree that India is expensive. No wait, let me correct that – IT IS RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE (when it comes to certain items). You won’t believe if I told you that in 6 years I have been in India, I have only purchased one pair of clothes. I still do most of my shopping from the US. Can’t really pay Rs. 3000 for a pair of Jeans when I can get a better quality Jeans for under Rs. 1000 from the US (Costco and Outlet Malls have spoiled us :)).

      Jokes aside, I think there are many other factors that come into play. Family is certainly a big factor in all of this. But whatever you do, don’t regret that decision. I know some folks who are living in the US and they’re regretting their decision to live there. At the same time I know folks who moved back to India and they’re regretting their decision. Both societies have some good and some not-so-good to offer. You just have to live with them. Just my 2 cents :).

      • Vikas Singh says:

        Hi Gaurav,

        Thanks for your response. I liked the way you have put together your thoughts on a very touchy points. And on top of that your honest opinion.

        Hey quick question.. you said that when you returned from US your kid was in 3rd grade. Was it quite difficult for your kid to adjust here in education system. As this is my biggest worry right now. My kid is 3 years old now. We are planning for another 3 years of stint in US and by that time my kid would be in 2nd grade so not sure that how that would work out.

        Also on the personal side, I saw your LinkedIn profile also and found out that your from MNIT passout. I am also actually from Jaipur, studied by BTech from IT BHU (Now IIT Varansi). Good to see that you did start of something of your own and found success. To be true I am currently struggling what I want to do with my professional life. I am passionate about starting of something own but quite uncertain to jump in unknown water may be because of all the liabilities etc.

        Vikas

        • Sandeep Mohan says:

          Hi Vikas,
          After living for 7 years in US, we moved back to India. My advice, save as much money as you can while working in US. If you need to buy a decent house in a good locality it will cost you close to 1 crore or +. Interested in starting your business, save enough to sustain your family until things work out (probably for 2 years). About your kid, 3 years or 3 grade is not much of a concern. I would be concerned 5th grade onwards. A job in IT company is quite different – job stress, managing more people – standing of living dips.

          Whatever your decision is, please plan well.

  9. Hello Gaurav,
    Nice article with all the major points covered. However i feel that the education system is still a question for people with kids. Like Shreya mentioned in her comments, I’m pretty happy with the US education system and also with all the extra curricular activities that the kids are exposed to here in the US. We have a 8 year old and planning to come back.
    My concerns are mainly schools and extracurricular activities for the kids and both of us working in India. All this is easy here in the US with wonderful daycare facilities and after school care. I feel that this part is missing in the article. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Vee,

      Completely agree with you. Education system is much better in the US than it is here in India. Though things are improving but it will take some time. Though I haven’t tried it but if you have really deep pockets, you can try those super-ultra-expensive International schools :). I think there you will find the infrastructure compared to/better than US schools. But if you expect to get same level in a decent private school (forget government schools), I think you will be severely disappointed. Like I tried to say in my post, there’s some positives and some negatives for both US and India and you just have to be happy with positives you’re getting and accept the negatives. As we say in Hindi … You can’t have laddoos in both hands :). Hope this helps.

      Cheers

      Gaurav

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