May 19, 2018

Returning NRI guide !

So, it has been about 5 months since we left Dubai & moved back to India (Trivandrum )  after more than 6 years abroad . It was a decision that we took after much deliberations to leave a place that has been quite good on a personal front and move back here. And just thought of sharing a few perspectives that I feel could come handy for NRI's planning to come back

*  There is never a "perfect time" for you to come back. When you look at your bank balance you may feel , well can I stay for couple more years. But the more you stay abroad, your kids will find it more difficult to come back

* Things won't be smooth.. You will be exposed to troubles that you are not familiar with. Internet would break, unruly traffic, low quality goods - you'll experience all that..And you'll realise that there are alternatives to all those.. You can easily take up backup internet connections, you find out times / roads where traffic is smooth, you learn about brands you can trust..It has been a learning process and it'll take time.

* Problems means there are opportunities. In almost all cities of India, you find a vibrant young generation trying to solve those problems & find business opportunities out of it. Entrepreneurial energy in India has grown up by leaps and bounds compared to time that I left India ( 2011 ) .

* Sales process in most consumer facing businesses in India is not matured yet. That has been my experience through buying a car / asking for the right credit cards / picking the right furniture.. Sales professionals are not yet ready in general to meet a customer who comes well researched about what he/she wants..They try to sell the same thing in same way.  And you'll  find that a bit frustrating, especially if you have the habit of researching about what you want very well and approach an institution.  The concept of unbundling the product , selling many of those as ancillaries has taken hold in India - but most consumer facing professionals are not much aware of the product details and not well trained in the art of understanding the customer's needs

* Indian taxation and associated laws are still 20 years back from an NRI - Resident transition & vice versa..They still think that once you are an NRI you stay there till your retirement . The idea that someone can come back for a few years and then may chose to go back is not really distilled into the taxation rules & laws. You'll end up spending quite lot of time and effort in doing all these.

* Education - In general you' & your kids miss the well oiled process & teaching abroad. But the long term value in India I feel is that your kids will be exposed to different people from all strata of society ( rich / poor / ) and that should help them in the long run

* You can experiment with a lot of things without much problems.. Plant nurseries, composting ,  museums , short trips , travel to relatives ...That visa / passport concern from a travel perspective will be largely gone

* As you have seen the developed world, you tend to quickly realise the things to change , the opportunities and much more. Certainly ,  having seen & experienced multiple cultures is a very value added experience while returning to India.. You tend to discern things better. You tend to bring a new perspective to many conversations.. You tend to realise & correct the dogmatic things present in many people

* You would do better for yourself if you stop the habit of converting currencies & comparing it.. You are in India now & INR is the only currency that your should bother about unless you are travelling abroad.

* There would be times when the doubt kicks in - Whether the decision to return was right ..Remember that there are no perfectly right or wrong choices. You make a choice based on best available information and go all for it !.. Don't look back even if you are tempted to!

Above all, I think the most wonderful thing being in India is that you'll have plenty of opportunities to work on problems - be it industry / academia / govt - that can shape the destiny of the country going forward. Your international experience would be a valuable asset for that.

Jan 3, 2018

Travelogue - Washington DC

"I have a dream" Thundered Martin Luther King Jr standing in front of Lincoln Memorial on 28-Aug-1963 . He did have a dream..Everyone who flocked to America had a dream. What makes the United States a land of opportunities ? To feel the answer, you have to visit Washington DC.

I visited Washington DC before NewYork . Yet, I chose to write about New York first and then DC.  Thats because to illustrate USA, the best metaphor is NY. But to understand why USA has been so and so, there is perhaps no better substitute than Washington DC.

Lincoln Memorial

The answers to that is present in the National Archives building made famous to the young generation by the movie National Treasure. In there lies three important pieces of history that has defined America - Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Constitution . To most visitors, Declaration of Independence is the central piece of attraction here. To me, it was Bill of Rights.
Everyone picks up a copy of Declaration of Independence, I picked up a copy of Bill of Rights.

FDR Memorial

Korean war memorial - 19 soldiers scanning 360 degrees
Written by James Madison in response to the demand to safe guard individual freedom and liberties, Bill of Rights is the set of first ten amendments to the US constitution. The first glance at Bill of Rights is sure to give you an 'ah its so out-dated' kind of feeling.  While that feeling to a millennial won't be unsubstantiated, the essence of bill of rights is that United States placed individual liberties as of paramount importance even above the constitutional limits.

These set of amendments gave foundation to the thoughts of inspiring leaders like Martin Luther King Jr to challenge the state, Rosa Parks to challenge the black-white segregation in public places, it gave countless others the belief to challenge the status quo and fight for a change through lawful means

Wright Brother's Aircraft - @ Smithsonian National Air 
and Space Museum
In this age where the national boundaries are getting more firmer through the political events happening around the world, Bill of Rights ( which has to be read in conjunction with the 'Federalist Papers' )  is a wonderful and inspiring pointer for the lawmakers today towards a set of questions - What should be the central philosophy of lawmaking - Nation  or People ? What exactly is Nation ?  Does it make sense to preach the concept of Nation to a set of population which is deprived of basic human necessities ?

DC houses some of the most visible symbols of United States - The Capitol ( Parliament equivalent ) , Whitehouse ,  a huge number of memorials and museums.

Touching A Piece of Moon @ National
Air & Space Museum

The FDR memorial is  one of the recent ones as well as most impressive ones. Dedicated to Franklin D Roosevelt who led America through the tumultuous part of 20th century inspite of this disabilities,  this place captures various phases in his life and career through a series of quotes.

Smithsonian museums are treasures of humanity .  This is a place in America where you should take your school going kids to.  The air and space museum explains various aspects of aviation so beautifully. You could see the original aircraft that aviators like Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh used . You can even touch a piece of moon! And all these are free for public (Read the story behind Smithsonian here )

The cold war era has got two outstanding memorials here -Korean War and Vietnam war memorial. Korean war memorial is an architecturally and symbolically interesting place. 19 soldiers scanning 360 degrees around them. The reflection plus the original 19 soldiers refer to the North 38 degree parallel which separated North and South Korea.

A thought is left at the end of national archives referring to Vietnam war - Why did these mistakes happen inspite of having such robust and well debated bill of rights and constitution ? Thats something worth examining in detail for someone interested in modern American history.

At the end of the day after experiencing DC, one can't help, but acknowledge that this city on the banks of Potomac River is indeed the guiding philosophy behind the fabled American dream

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Dec 31, 2017

Travelogue - New York

Immigration Officer : What is Your Name ?
Boy Doesn't answer.
Officer : C'mon son.. What is your Name ?
Boy Doesn't answer.
Translating Officer : Tuo Nome ? ( Italian )
No answer..
Officer looks at the card..
Translating Officer :  Vito Andolini from Corleone
Immigration Officer :  Corleone.. Vito Corleone

Godfather Part - II,  backdrop . - A young boy, Vito , from Corleone arrives as an immigrant at Ellis Island, New York..  To countless immigrants in the earlier part of 20th century, Ellis Island was the gateway to a land of opportunities. It was an age where people immigrated to the United States through this place. While Statue of Liberty was the symbol of hope for an immigrant, Ellis island was the ultimate test.  Immigrants got screened here for a variety of diseases, went through multiple rounds of paperworks and went into the place where capitalism cut its teeth - Manhattan.

Over the last few years, one profession that I've started to admire is that of a tour guide. Thats an area where I've seen people scoring in  8 - 9 on my ten point scale of perfection. From Jess who took us through the world war and cold war ruins in Berlin to Nobu who narrated the poignant stories in Hiroshima,  Adam in New-York was just as good as them. Passionately narrating the stories behind Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty, there was never a dull moment with him.  Few videos embedded here

The modern sky-scrappers that adorn the NewYork skyline is built on the sweat and blood of immigrants who flocked here from around the world.. True to that spirit, the five Uber rides that I took here where manned by drivers from five ethnic origins . -  Sierra Leone, Ecuador, Colombia, Fiji , Jamaica.  As you walk through the iconic places like wall-street , WTC memorial, Times Square , Central Park,  you hear that cacophony of ethnicities and cultures.. You hear about bitcoins being used as ransoms, you hear about the anguish towards new immigration,  at the same time you hear people openly criticising ( or at times, abusing ) the new political order.  Yet, a common thread unites everyone - a free spirit.. A free spirit or freedom to express yourself, a don't care - come what may attitude, a firm belief that you can challenge anything - thats omnipresent.  And thats perhaps what's made NewYork what it is today, the rock-bed of free markets and trade.. Thomas Friedman's 'World is Flat' finds its essence in NewYork.

Downtown Manhattan for a tourist is perhaps one of the most densest populated parts on Earth today.  Crowded subways, sky-high hotel room rates, a series of hop-on-hop-off buses - but none serving the purpose as traffic is too crowded, impossible to get parking places,... As you cut through the bylanes near Times Square & mid-town, you wonder about what is so magnetic about the place. Madamme Tussauds as they say is better in London, Gulliver's Gate meets its match even in a city like Hamburg, Burj Khalifa is higher than Empire States building... The success of New York is its crowds..More crowd bringing in more excitement , and that works as a self reinforcing model.

As we waited in a Panera bread outlet, I saw a young Indian origin man placing his order.  I see his surname on the display board. I hear him introducing himself  (first name ) in a confident manner over the phone to some business contact... Out of curiosity, I searched for him on LinkedIn. And the his profile made me - wow!.. True to the spirit of free markets and trade,  the best of the best flock here. And that'll drive NewYork and America forward for years to come , regardless of the political order.
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