The Grass is Green…. the other side

They say that the grass is always green….. on the other side. A very old adage that is very very true. This is a tale of two smart, young men around 30 years old. I have interacted with both  and there is great similiarity between them. Both are  logical, data oriented, great at analysis & number crunching. Trustworthy & reliable. Not prone to job hopping, have spent long stints in the same company. Rare qualities to see in todays middle management workforce. For the sake of convenience lets call them Ram & Shyam.

Both were born in simple middle class families – Ram in small town Kottayam in the midst of God’s own country. Surrounded by serene backwaters and the swaying coconut palms. A land where every second house has an NRI.

and Shyam from Indias fastest growing state,  the land of  thepla, Garba & Dandia – the land of diamond merchants and stock brokers – Rajkot.

Both did well in school and completed their graduation in Commerce. The similiarity ends here.

Ram decided to move to Bangalore and joined a MNC in the finance function . After 5 years he changed his job and moved to a second large MNC . He did well and decided to change track from Finance to Business Intelligence & Product Management – which is what he currently excels in. In the interim he also completed his CA.

Shyam took a slightly different route. He decided to do an MBA from Paris. Took an internship at a large MNC in Paris and went on to become an employee of the same company in London. He has been at the same company since then and is responsible for  Business Intelligence for the entire region . He is on top of his work, and an asset to the organization.

Both have done well in their careers , are respected & valued for their contributions and would be among the top 10% when compared to their industry peers.

Both have bought a house at a young age and have a bright future ahead.

Now comes the dilemma. Given a choice Ram would like to move from Bangalore to London or Singapore or Dubai while Shyam is equally desperate to come back to India. I spoke at length to each of them and was able to empathize with them since I had to take a similar decision in 2002 , when we came back to India from Dallas. Lets look at the reasoning of Ram & Shyam.

 Top Reasons for Ram to move out from Bangalore 

1. Tired of the clutter , chaos & cacophony of Bangalore – Power Cuts , Garbage , Q’s . Not just Bangalore every large city is a mess. Would love to go back to small town in Kerala but there is no scope for livelihood there.

2. Financially I think I may be better of working for a few years abroad. My saving potential will be better.

3. My brother is in Singapore and my wife & me would like the experience of going abroad for a few years. Kids are small so there is no challenge at this stage.

4. The exposure to the work culture & professionalism in UK & Singapore would be a great learning.

 Top Reasons for Shyam to come back to India (Bangalore)

1.  Have done the same job for too long – monotonous, difficult to get a change. People here are expected to do the same job for eternity

2. Professionally feel a little aloof at times, cultural integration is an issue even in 2012 in the global world

3. We have to do everything by ourselves  – no Maids.

4. We miss the family and when we have kids we would love for them to be surrounded by relatives.

But somewhere deep down he does not want to sell his house in London suburbs.He still wants to keep some of his investments in GBP – and he did wait till he got his citizenship before evaluating coming back. In other words a safety net … just in case things did not work out in India.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if there were no Visa Restrictions for Indians. Would there be mass exodus ? Would Punjab , Harayana , Andhra , Kerala become ghost states ? Would 100 M or 200 M or even 500 M people rush out of the country ?

But for every youngster who wants to go there are many people coming back. Yes the folks coming back have established financial security and will probably come back to a world of fancy villas, multiple maids, drivers & International Schools.

What would my advice be to these two people? Tough one since they have compelling arguments to justify the change the seek.

It also makes me wonder which is the ideal place to settle down for the future  – what does one want  – Fresh Air, Clean water, Non Stop electricity, Good roads, Good Efficient Public Transport,  Public Health systems that function, Low Inflation , Affordability , Peace , Good schools, safety and security  – and I ask myself do we have this in India or Bangalore or any other city ? Do we have hope that we will have this in the next 10 – 20 years. Going by precedence things if any have gone worse, there was a time when as kids we could drink water from the railway station tap and cycle down the  road to buy vegetables & biscuits. Our kids today cant even step out of the road to the shop outside. We are lucky to live in a bubble . Education system is messed up and if you don’t have MONEY or POWER life is a struggle.

We need to ask ourselves why would millions of India rush out if there was a Visa free regimen ? So my answer to my young friends is quiet apparent. Think rationally , think of the future of your kids and take the right decision.

These are all Rational thoughts and if  you start bringing in the emotional quotient of family then the thought process does take a different turn. But each person has to do what is right for him.

So whats my recommendation – The final analogy is a harsh one – but truth is bitter. So here I go. You have two choices – Do you  want to live like a slightly underfed, slightly undernourished street pup that has the freedom to roam round in the city  or do you want to be a well fed, well groomed Alsatian on a LEASH. You decide 

All the best Guys !

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14 comments on “The Grass is Green…. the other side

  • Mahesh Laxman , Direct link to comment

    End of the day, what’s a good life ? its based solely on personal ideas, thoughts, perceptions and what you’ve always aspired for !… a million dollars worth mansion or a hut, … a water bed or a rope cot…. if a man dwelling in either can have a wonderful day’s rest or live a great life… what does it matter ?.. so it’s all in the mind !…. you can live anywhere, or do anything,… as long as you are at peace with yourself !.. that’s what it is all about !

  • ykmaheshwari , Direct link to comment

    Great story.. Ram and Shyam , both do not like the status quo. This reminds me of the crib and dissatisfied life of successful men in today’s world.

    My mom -living in a village never complained about the life -where she did manage the family and did same role – with great zeal. She would be up at 6 am everyday and would perform her duties – so well – we never had demands like 16% salary hike is too less.
    She is 83 yrs now, tomorrow is her birthday. She does her work even today and would like to help others.
    I think , a point missed out here is these are virtual reasons to be moving away from reality. Can you imagine AR Rehman – not composing a new tune, or Lata mangeshkar -not like to sing.

    My view is–> both are not working in right place – due to their passions. Both are going to hunt for kasturi – which is right there in their head, but they do not know about it..

    VAK – I love your article and anology ..You had rightly mentioned that – choice is between the street dog and Alsatian with a leash .. That’s a great thought..

  • ykmaheshwari , Direct link to comment

    Great story.. Ram and Shyam , both do not like the status quo. This reminds me of the crib and dissatisfied life of successful men in today’s world.

    I think , a point missed out here is these are virtual reasons to be moving away from reality. Can you imagine AR Rehman – not composing a new tune, or Lata mangeshkar – settling down in Sweden, since Mumbai has too much of traffic. and / or stop singing altogether.

    My view is–> both are not working in right place – due to their passions. Passsion of y’day is not a motivator anymore. Both are searching for “kasturi” – which is right there in their own “nabhi”, but they do not know about it..

    My mom -living in a village never complained about the life -where she did manage the family and did same role for 50-60 yrs – with a great zeal. She would be up at 6 am everyday and would perform her duties – so well –she never expected work rewards from my father with demands like 16% salary hike Y-O-Y.
    She is 83 yrs now, tomorrow is her birthday. She still does her work even today and would like to help everyone.

    VAK – I love your style of story telling ..You had rightly mentioned that – choice is between the street dog and Alsatian with a leash .. That’s a great thought.

  • C. R. Venkitachalam , Direct link to comment

    Dear Anand,
    I have spent only a few weeks in London and in NYC. During the very short span of time, I could realise that any action/provision by the governing bodies was in the interest of the public. Suitable arrangements in buses and other public transports , especially for old and handicapped persons. Good roads and footpaths, gardens, parks, etc.etc. Safety and security are given top priority. Tax collected is utilised properly. Whereas, in India things are much different.
    The justifications put forth by Ram and Shyam are correct when we look at from their angle.
    One has to take ones own decision.

  • Yams , Direct link to comment

    I have walked in the shoes of both Ram and Shyam. I guess when we are younger we all want to dicover news places, getaway from the familar and discover “green fields and pastures anew.”. Eventually when you “settle down” there is no place quite like home – the family, food, people and comforts of being in your own country is something irreplaceable and than makes returning home so much sweeter.

    Well written piece!

  • raju shah , Direct link to comment

    Dear Anand,

    You have very correctly said what if there would have been no visa restriction.
    Its like a choice between a life in a developed village of Gujarat-India or a City like Bangalore of India.
    Its all about life values. To some one its money, materialism and to some one its morals and happy momments with a family.
    Whats the defination of Satisfaction or Happiness.. Who is Happier..A son of a very rich man chewing a swiss chocolate and watching a TV or a child of a Building Labour jumping on a hip of Sand and playing with a toy with great laughts responding to his father..
    To me , A place which gives ANAND or a Joy SHOLD BE.

    Raju Shah.

  • Surendra Chhalotre , Direct link to comment

    First of all one has to decide what he does he want from life? Mental peace, sufficient time for family and social life or Money or Only a Change after every 4-5 years including the change of work, society, friends etc.
    End of the day what are we looking for? We are doing everything for what? I don’t think they will be happy and satisfied even if they are able to achieve as per their present wish.

  • Tejpal Singh , Direct link to comment

    Nice way of telling the story . Very nice.. The last line was representing a great thought .. well groomed Alsatian on a LEASH .. As decision lies with the one self and differ from man to man. The blog is really very helpful.


  • Daniel Bhaduri , Direct link to comment

    Respected Gentlemen :-

    How about the concept of LIVING BOTH/PARALLELY IN EAST & WEST ?? – and keeping TWO LEGS IN TWO BOATS ??

    Fix one safe/secure base for Wife & Kids – but roam around – and be BOTH a free streetdog as well as a free fat Alsation !!!

    And work out from Dhabas & Line Hotels – on NH2 and Grand Trank Road – on a 2nd hand HTC/Apple/Samsung (bought in Tianjin).

    Best Wishes


  • vak1969 , Direct link to comment

    Comment from Amit Chattaraj – Sent by email

    Anand – I read the case and stooped at that point where you say “What would my advice be to these two people? Tough one since they have compelling arguments to justify the change the seek.” Came back to this mail so I can write what I think and then go back and read what you think – not to be influenced.

    I would ask them to prioritize their goals for next 6 -10 years.
    If Ram’s kids are small and he wants to have a taste of outside world – great! Go ahead do that now before you have roots (schools/ etc).
    The more cultures you see (really see – by working, not with a Thomas cook trip), the more it helps you in whatever you do in todays global world, where few educated people can work only with same city/ same language/ same culture people.
    If Shyam had a taste and got tired of being a second grade citizen (Oh yes – irrespective of how many slangs you pick up and baseball score you learn by heart)..its better to come back.
    I would rather he came back now instead of waiting for citizenship – that would grow roots for him and bias his opinion.

    On the sides here is my experience.
    My 6 yrs stunt in US led me to meet primarily 2 communities – Telegus (they are every where) and Bengalis (I stayed in NY/ NJ area full of them). Also Tamilians many – but not so many as the telegus and bengalis. And here is my take on why they stay back in US
    a) Telegus – they need to save for a dowry for their sister/ then buy property
    b) Bengalis – because wife likes it in US – away from the mother in laws and many were housewives who will normally get bored at home but in US drive a car and feel independent.
    All bengalis said that they would return if they could convince their wives – which is amusing, but there were so many of them that it kind of skews my bias based on my personal experience.

    Anand – brilliant use of colourful pictures to tell your story – just loved it. Let me go back to reading your opinion. Mine was a 2 cent stuff – first reactions from the gut, if you will.

  • vak1969 , Direct link to comment

    by Mail from Kalyan

    There’s a topic here that NRIs never address, and people who live in India keep piling on. I have a very different take on Amit’s “second grade citizen” comment, and I hope I don’t offend anybody.

    I felt like a second class citizen growing up in India, and I don’t feel that in US. In India, when we had to bribe to get our house built, when we couldn’t take any action against the folks who threw rocks that injured my sister, when we had to make 16 trips and countless pleas to the local government office to get a simple letter, I realized that life in India is just harder when you don’t know people in power. I have met many rich and powerful Indians in IIT and after I moved to the US: people whose parents were diplomats, or ran businesses or knew local politicians well. They have had a much different experience growing up in India.

    As I reflect on this today, there are 2 reasons I feel that I grew up as a second class citizen: one had to do with being lower down the economic ladder than I am today, which I have no qualms about. However, the second has to do with the fact that one’s life in India is significantly improved via political connections, and we hardly knew anybody with power.

    In the US, I’m not partying with the richest and coolest. I doubt folks living in India are hanging out with movie stars either. However, I live in a nice neighborhood, the gora kids play with my kids and invite them over. I get treated fairly by the system – school, jobs, repairs, house-buying, legal system etc. At the day-to-day level, people with connections have NO advantage I can think of. This is a huge improvement over my life in India. (the rich have an advantage over the poor in US, and most other countries including India; but that’s a different issue)

    On the flipside, I hardly ever invite the parents of my kids’ gora friends, or hardly ever get any invitations from goras for dinner. This might be what some people in India term second-class citizenship. Maybe that’s because some people feel that goras have first class citizenship. Really?

    The Indians I hang out with range from architects to IT professionals to bankers and restaurant owners. It’s a pretty diverse crowd of people who vacation in Europe, read the latest books and watch Oscar-nominated movies, generally love sports, and have pretty fulfilling lives. You think the later generation Americans have better lives? VCs yearn to get invited to what is deemed “curry parties”, where desis trade business ideas and find funding from other desis. Several white parents ask us what are we doing to train our kids, where do they learn violin or painting and how do they also manage to excel at school. There is a lot of respect for Indian professionals and their values; we just all know we are different. In some cases, people are bridging the gap, and there are cross-cultural marriages or close friendships; but still I’ll say America is more a salad bowl than a melting pot (different people living together with mutual respect, but generally not mixing that closely)

    I think so many people living in India throw out the term “second class citizen”, because it justifies their decision to stay in India. I hope people realize that they are no more first-class citizens that their counterparts living overseas. More importantly, India will almost definitely be a major economic powerhouse at least on par with Western nations in the next couple decades. Folks who stayed back in a great country like India because of family commitments, love for the country, closeness to friends, known opportunities etc, should feel proud of their decision. …. And I hope that lessens the desire for otherwise smart people to throw out some inane comments about their friends’ lives.

  • Sirji , Direct link to comment

    CV, good thought provoking article. As someone who has truly been on both sides of the fence, I can attest that the grass does have different shades but color is in the eye of the beholder.

    I think Kalyan is very accurate in that I feel like a second class citizen far more in India than in the US. There is simply no recourse to any infringement on your rights here that is practical or viable. The law enforcement and the legal system are in most cases outside the reach of the average citizen (even the 1% like myself here who have no political connections). The apartment we bought was delivered two years late by the builder and short on certain key features, yet I just had to pony up my last instalment and take what I got because there is no way I can fight Unitech. If someone dings your car, prescribes you the wrong medicine, cheats you of your money, you just have to bite your lip and move on. If the road outside gets flooded every monsoon, if the power fails 10 times in a day, if traffic lights malfunction creates chaos, I don’t even think of finding the right municipal official to complain to. At a macro level we are a democracy and free speech and we fight for our rights and that is an incredible achievement for a diverse and poor country like India, but at the individual level, this empowerment is conspicuously missing. We live in tight social bubbles of friends, family and neighbours and relationships outside of that are transactional, opportunistic and depressingly selfish.

    In the US, the system functions pretty evenly for you as long as you are in the 99%! (In the 1% bracket, differences of money, power, connections etc. open up and you will find the mere 1%ers complain about the undue influence of the 0.1%ers! ) The challenge in the US is that while the system functions for you, your social life is something you have to construct yourself, unlike in India, where it is (for better or for worse) thrust upon you. It may be that with the security of the society at large, people lose the skills to develop the tight social circles that we do in India. Being an immigrant adds to the complexity-a lot of Indians automatically assume that they start at a social disadvantage because they are not white. My personal conclusion is that most people and societies are the same – xenophobia and prejudice are as much a part of every person’s psyche as are bacteria and viruses part of his or her physical being. Indians are no slouch in that department-I remember how we used to ridicule and essentially ostracise the Palestinian students at IIT! Immigrants in any country have a harder time integrating much more because they speak, think and act differently than because they look different. This may bother some people, but it’s a fact of life so it doesn’t bother me at all. You simply find those around you that think and act like you and share similar values.

    In India, the social life is very fulfilling and the constant human interaction (think how many times a day your doorbell rings in the US vs in India!) provides comfort and nourishment to the soul. In addition, there is great optimism that things are improving and that our next generation will do far better us, even as we have done far better materially than our parents. This optimism used to be the hallmark of western societies as they grew rapidly in the 60s and 70s but is now fading. It feels nice to be part of a economic engine that is just getting going and being recognised globally. This confidence shows on many of us individually and is an important part of our well being.

    Where does that leave us? In simplistic terms, you have a more structured life and are much more in control of yourself and your environment in the US. You are however far more dependent on yourself for emotional and material fulfilment. In India, you have much less control over your own time or environment, but have much richer social and emotional support.

    For me personally, the last 11 years back in India have been great – I’ve had the chance to be close to my parents, my children have had the chance to be educated in Indian culture and I can easily say I have spent much more time in the company of good friends and relatives than I would have had I been in the US. I now do find myself longing for more control over my day to day life, my time, and by implication, my future. When I was younger, I felt indestructible and did not worry about the ‘what ifs’ of life. As I grow older, I feel more vulnerable living in a system that I cannot depend on. For the last couple of years I do find myself looking forward to moving back. It is not as hard a decision as one might think because in today’s connected world nothing is that far away.

  • ram kumar , Direct link to comment

    i am a journalist, and have travelled abroad quite a lot. but invariably i used to look forward to my return. may be because my wife and kids were in india. i wrote an article in my newspaper after covering the US coast to coast, the thrust of it was that every town / city looked the same – almost. there was no colour, no vibrancy, no variety, no laughter. just look at the dress of indians, especially women. every one abroad went about his / her business rather mechanically. the same in the gulf countries i visited. there was no joie de vivre, spontaneous laughter, crowds jostling and bustling at social / religious functions… true, after every return i used to look forward to my next trip abroad. the sum of what i am trying to convey, as also what the other respondents tell us, is that we are not sure what we want! grass is greener on the other bank! In conclusion I want to say India is heaven , people especially this generation are the poison – ER Ramkumar , Former Dy Editor Times of India

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