Monday, December 01, 2014

r2i dreams - A Tale of Three NRIs

It is November and there is a pleasant nip in the air in Bengaluru. Even Chennai, that forever hot city, has a cool breeze wafting through the dusty streets. Winter is actually a welcome change around here. Sweaters, mufflers, scarves and ear warmers are out from our suitcases in Bengaluru.  Chennai's denizens have their monkey caps and mufflers out for early morning and evening strolls. I can't help smiling at this because for all the talk of winter, the temperature in Chennai is still in the 70s. I wonder what these good citizens will say to American mid-west winters with lows in the teens and highs barely touching 32 F.  For my part, I am thankful I am out of those winters now.

It has been two years since we returned to India for good. I spent the better part of last year writing my first book -- r2i dreams. Returning to India after a decade of life in the US has been interesting. Writing about it was even more so. It prompted me to examine my life, my choices and attempt to put them into words. Along the way, I remembered small details that I'd long forgotten and archived in my memory vaults. The first shock of America; the struggles of graduate student life; the manifold pleasures of working life in the US; the chaotic beauty that is India etc..

In these two years, I've had my ups and downs, navigated twists and turns, learnt some life lessons and ended up a little bit wiser. This r2i journey has also been one of introspection. Making a sea change in one's life always gives one pause. It forces you to rethink priorities, evaluate what is really essential and show you the compromises you can actually put up with.

Last week, one of my relatives who is still struggling to make the r2i decision asked me to explain logically why she should return back to India. I merely shrugged my shoulders.

"You either want to return or you don't. There's no right or wrong."

"But you must've considered all the pros and cons logically, right? You don't make such decisions blindly."

I merely smiled and shook my head.

Returning to India is like falling in love -- your heart leads and your brain follows. You do it first and then, because you are in love, everything just falls in place. Little nits don't seem like a big deal anymore.

Our stories in r2i dreams are the stories of millions of NRIs. Some of us come back, some of us don't. But the fun is in the journey. Come, travel with us and read our stories! Go pick up our book on or (if you are in India)! :-)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


A couple of years ago, we tried to separate a banana plant from its offspring. Growing banana plants in the midwest US is a rather difficult job. The plants have to be bought inside for the tough winter and therefore have to be in pots. Ours was a relatively young plant in a small pot. All we had to do was get the plant out of the pot, remove the baby and put it in a separate pot. Easy peasy, right?

Wrenching the plant out of its pot turned out to be quite a job. When the plant was finally heaved out, we were stunned. The plant had deceptively deep, extensive roots. No wonder it didn't want to come out.

Our move out of Lexington is sort of similar. I am discovering roots I didn't know I had until I tried to uproot myself. Some of it is rather trivial and relates to the human need for routines. For instance, I am used to seeing a neighbor take her morning jog at a certain time every day no matter what the weather is. Our next door neighbor always waters his lawn on a certain schedule. I am used to the neighborhood kids skateboarding and racing their remote-controlled ATV on the road during the summer. I know these people through their routines and I have them slotted into my daily life. Disrupting that life is stressful. But this can and will be overcome pretty soon.

What's harder is establishing a good team of service providers. Here, we have a go-to person for everything: realtor, cleaning lady, doctor, pediatrician, mechanic, plumber, painter etc...All of them have been vetted carefully and we have a level of trust that can only come with years of familiarity. To think of establishing all this from scratch back in India seems a bit daunting.

There's also the social aspect of it all. I know what to expect from my friends here. We have our patterns of conversation - kids, work-life, vacations, weekends, promotions etc..I wonder how it'll be back in India. Are people so different really? Aren't human concerns the same everywhere?

If there's one thing I know for sure, it is that it'll all turn out okay in the end. As a child, I was used to moving every so often and I always went through an emotional pattern in a new city - hatred, curiosity, grudging acceptance, familiarity and finally, fondness.

I assume I'll have the same reaction this time around as well. Except I am doing it after a gap of about 9 years and I've forgotten the feeling of moving. So this journey is going to be a re-discovery of sorts for me personally. I just hope it is memorable...:)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wasp's nest

I am not an intrepid person when it comes to tangling with nature. I'd rather not attempt "survivor in the wild" type stuff if I can avoid it at all. I have a healthy fear of wild animals, creepy crawlies and such. Mostly, I think it is ignorance. Who knows what a scared turtle might do when you go near it? I don't, do you?

A lot of people do know though. A couple of months ago, I took G to a pond nearby for a play date. I was chatting with my friend as we watched the kids throw rocks in the pond. Suddenly, a snake flashed past my right foot into some bushes. I ran screaming some 10 feet away. S, my friend, calmly wandered over to the bushes and started poking around to find the snake. He suspected that it was just a harmless water snake judging by its color but wanted to make sure it was not a copperhead. The copperhead is the only poisonous snake in Kentucky and it was mating season. See, that's the sort of information I never know and I'll never go poking round bushes. Snake = run is my simple philosophy whether it is poisonous or not. S, on the other hand, knows all about snakes, turtles and fishes. He could even spy a fish underwater with his bare eyes. All I saw was mucky water with some vegetation. Go figure.

Anyway, the point is, sometimes if you are ignorant, you do stupid things. Like photographing a wasp's nest up close because it looked so cool. I didn't know they were wasps. I certainly had no idea that bees sting when provoked but wasps just sting at random just because. Yikes. I spent a good 15 minutes up close with the wasps. Thankfully, got away unscathed and as ignorant as ever until I posted this photo on Facebook....:)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The things you can tell..

Our house has been up for sale for about a month and a half. We've had a lot of traffic through the house including multiple showings a day sometimes. The owners have to be out of the house when the house is shown. So we never get to actually see the buyers. But I get curious. So I look for clues when we get back. And its amazing how much you can pick up about people by just looking at the trail!

Most realtors leave behind their visiting card as a courtesy to the owners to let them know they were in there. They thoughtfully turn off the lights and lock the doors behind them. One of them was even kind enough to snuff out a scented candle I'd left burning upstairs and left a note about it.

And then there are times when you get back to the house to see all closet doors open, every single light ablaze in the house, doors unlocked and no visiting card. I can always find out who the realtor was that showed the house but still, it almost feels like an intrusion. I caught myself thinking I wouldn't want such careless people to own my house because that's pretty much how they'd treat it too.

Our realtor told us that leaving back visiting cards is an old-school courtesy that's fast fading amongst the new crop of realtors. I did notice that most realtors that left their  cards back looked middle-aged or at least old fashioned..:) A good thing, I think, in this case.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


There's an American kid about G's age who lives down the street. He has his grandparents, aunt, cousins and other extended family living in Lexington. His older cousins take him under their wing and teach him to shoot hoops, play ball and read books. He has the benefit of the wisdom of adults other than his parents.  It families should be.

I feel wistful that G would never have all these relationships if we continue to live in the US. No grandparents or aunts or uncles or cousins or extended relationships to help him through life. That's a melancholy thought if there's any.

There's a lot of self-righteous talk amongst Indians about how we value family and we're not like "those Americans". But, come to think of it, it seems like a lot of us Indians here in the US are the ones that have our priorities wrong.

Is living in a foreign land worth family and other ties? Maybe. Maybe not. That's a question we have to answer to our consciences when we go to bed at night everyday.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


...balance is in the air these days. Most working, young moms are pre-occupied with it. I've decided there's only work-life imbalance. How minimal you can keep this imbalance is the game of the day. Some days, the imbalance tilts toward work. On some, towards home. But I don't think anyone can keep it perfectly balanced. The sooner I accepted this, the more contented I became as a working mom.

There have been days when I've dropped the ball at home foregoing time with baby G. Those are the hard days when I feel guilty and sad that I've had to make this choice. But work-wise, those days were probably the most satisfying. I would've cracked a hard problem or written some miraculous code. The personal fulfilment that comes from that is hard to brush away.

Anyway, you can tell I am caught in the classic dilemma -- to work or not to work. And I don't have any answers yet. But one good thing has come out of my personal Motherhood journey: I truly, really understand the plight of working mothers from the previous generation.

These women, at least in India, were probably judged too harshly for opting to work. No matter how hard they worked in the office, society expected them to put in equal hours at home. If not, they were condemned to the "bad mother" or "bad daughter-in-law" status. So these women would put in 14 hour workdays, commute back home and immediately jump into making fluffy, white idlis for the folks at home. How did they do it? Hats off to them!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where is the professionalism?

I've gotten used to people knowing their stuff in the US. From personal trainers to dog walkers to house cleaners, most people know the ins-and-outs of their business and will confidently answer questions. In the process, they also educate you. In short, you come out of a conversation in the US feeling productive. 

In India, it shocks me how irresponsible professionals can be. I walked into SBI on some personal business recently. I took a seat with the nearest teller. The lady was busy writing something in a ledger. I waited for some sign of acknowledgement or welcome. None was forthcoming. She looked up, nodded, started sipping some tea and talked to her colleague next door.

After about 5 minutes, I was asked what I wanted. I told her and her first response was, 

"Last week, another NRI asked the same thing. We simply can't do that because we don't have the originating bank info."

"I transferred electronically. Surely the bank will have some means of tracking it down?"

"Last week, this lady asked the same thing. Not possible."

"What information do you need? I will provide it."

"Do you have the originating bank info?"

"Yes, I'll write it down"

"We can't do this."

I was getting exasperated by how this idiot lady was hung up on the problem, not the solution. I finally had to barge in on the manager, who helped me out. 

All this leads me to wonder:

1. How does this poor bank manager deal with daily work life with such stupid underlings? 
2. How does any business get transacted given this babu mentality?
3. When is customer service going to become more than lip service? 
4. Is there no pride in the job one is doing?

I am not one of those NRIs that constantly crib about India. But, as a working professional myself, it shocks me that people could work in an industry for years and not be able to grasp the basics of their job. Sigh.