A few weeks ago a friend posted this on my FB timeline. “Tell me this, you spent a number of years in US and suddenly shifted for good to India. how are you finding it there? do you feel like going back to US at all? I think every indian who lives abroad has this dilemma,including myself.. but the million dollar question how are you doing it?”
How am I doing it? Here’s the one line answer – by just deciding that I have to. And if you believe “where there is a will, there is a way” you know what I mean. Now here’s the longish answer. I’ve engineered this life for myself. And this is perhaps the only engineering I have done in my life! I am a campus brat – grew up on the campus of IIT Madras. Loved the campus, its serenity, its beauty, its closeness to nature, the access to resources, its silence and yet the inherent vibrancy that comes from being in a place with so many young people. I loved that part of my life so much I decided I wanted it forever! So here I am, having only changed locations from IIT Madras to IIT Bombay.
But if you are looking for the honest-to-goodness long answer, here goes. For me (and I think for Udayan as well) there was never an option about going back. I was always going back. Why? Because I am fundamentally an emotional person. The reasons are all the sentimental ones you see in the movies- doing something for your country and its people and being there for your family. Hell to this day I tear up when I hear the national anthem- at the thought of being in my country!
The task for us was finding a way to make this transition work for us with minimal difficulties. Because honestly we don’t want to be martyrs in this mission. We also want a good life for ourselves. We want to achieve certain personal and professional goals. We want to have a certain quality of life. So we found ways by which we could do good work and lead a comfortable life in India. Our graduate education and jobs were all planned around going back in a few years. I, of course, stopped working after a while so my transition was easier – I just said I would pick up after we went home.
For Udayan, he wanted to go into academia and was fortunate to start collaborations with IIT Bombay while in the US which eventually ended up with him getting a position here. As a result of these collaborations, we got a chance to spend 6 months here on the campus in 2007. We lived in India. We found out how things had changed in the years we had been away, how things worked here and how to make them work for you and how life was different from the US. We understood the pros and cons of life in India and returned to the US to prepare ourselves for the life ahead of us. It was a clinical process and I recommend anyone who is thinking of returning to India after having spent a significant time (> 5 years) abroad think of doing this.
Having made this transition how are we doing? Very well, thanks for asking! No I am not sugar coating it. I honestly think we are doing just fine. If I wanted my life to be smooth I would not have fallen in love with and married the man I did. I would have stayed a million miles away from him. He is a bundle of what I used to perceive as complications! But I didn’t have an option. What I mean is that there comes a time when the reasons for doing something just stack up and you have no option but to do that thing. You don’t even have to make a decision. The decision flows from the reasons and naturally guides you.
There were a million teething issues after we moved. I was probably clinically depressed for the first 6 months I was here or something! But never once in the 6 months did I wish we had not moved to India. Because I learned that the issues that life throws at you, can come along with the rains of Mumbai or the snows of New York. Where you live has nothing to do with it. Oh yes in India the lines are long, the traffic is obnoxious, there is corruption, things move slowly, there are potholes and pollution, you have to learn to adjust with people, but I’ve discovered that you cannot let the chaos in the world around you get into your head. Of course this attitude is tested every day. But that is what makes my life interesting! Something different happens on most days and that’s what keeps me on my toes and awake.
The best part about living in India – the people. My people inspire me every day -their struggle, their strength, their love, their generosity, their intelligence, their initiative and their hard work – all of it. It gives me perspective and allows me to grow every single day. The worst part about living in India – the damn people! They are everywhere, forever in your face and in your business, not giving you a moment of peace for yourself. Their cunning, their stupidity, their sloth, their lack of energy and initiative, their judgement, their nosiness – all of it bothers me everyday. On balance though, people are good because each one is different and I learn something from every one of them.
Finally of course the master stroke in our plan – living on the campus of an IIT. Some would say this is an artificial world, cut-off from the real India. Yes, of course it is. But this my prerogative. I am choosing this corner of the country to live in, just as others choose their own corners. Being in IIT Bombay gives us an opportunity to be in the great city of Mumbai while being tucked away in a little corner so we engage with Mumbai on our own terms. This campus with all its facilities and resources and the students is the most energizing part of this experience. We live at the cusp of the old and the new, a place of incredible beauty and depressing ugliness, a place of tremendous energy yet unbelievable incompetence, a place where you get to see intelligence and stupidity as bedfellows every single day. A place at the cutting edge of technology and plateau of antiquity simultaneously. They can make really small electronic devices but take forever to construct a good apartment building. But this is the how I know I am alive. You are constantly thrown out of your comfort zone. For me, this is the only way to move forward. Otherwise I would stagnate.
I was not working for several years in the US. Since we didn’t have our green cards it was very difficult for me to find a job which interested me outside of my own area of communications engineering in which I didn’t want to work. But here I’ve found work which is flexible (having a young son) and at the same time motivates and excites me. This freedom to work where I want – constrained only by my own capabilities – is very liberating for me.
There are days when I hate it. When I hate that little things have to become a battle. Those days I go and look at the Powai lake which borders the IIT campus. At this confluence of earth, sky and water where life spurts green at the first sight of rain, when the breeze hits my face, I know I’m doing alright.
Actually better than alright. Because the little things abounded in the US as well, but never did I have this sight to lift me.