Feb 6, 2010

First Impressions of a Returning NRI

I lived in Bangalore for 6 months in 1999 before I left for the USA. I am back now after 10 years. Although I have visited India regularly, it's very different to actually live and work here.

It's been just one week here, but it feels like a lot more as I have seen so much in so little time. So much positive change has happened in India, it's unbelievable! I had heard about many things but what I saw just blew me away.

Youth Power: The first day when I walked into my office on Outer Ring Road, I saw a sea of people working on a sprawling work floor. They were occupying a previous call center and were all sitting arms length away from each other in really compact work spaces. And when I looked more carefully I was having a hard time spotting anyone over the age of 25! It's amazingly empowering to know that half of india's population is under 25. Although we have come a long way in the last couple of decades, I just can't wait to see how this demographic will transform India in yet another decade.

Startups: I met several startups in just three days. They were doing a variety of interesting things in the mobile world. From Babajobs to Ziva and several others. And so many others mentioned in all kinds of mainstream media from The Times of India to India Today. The Indian entrepreneurial spirit often talked about in the US and elsewhere is easily visible here.

Diversity: Another thing that I witnessed for the first time was a lot more diversity. There are quite a few folks from all over the world doing full-time or part-time stints in India. Even more interesting was the CEO & Founder of Babajobs. This guy is an American who moved to India with Microsoft Research and then quit to found his startup that helps Indian employers find employees for household jobs ranging from drivers to ayyahs (maids). It is amazing to witness this kind of diversity arrive in India.

Retail: This is one area where there has been a dramatic shift. Sprawling malls and giant stores that are filled with people from a broad economic spectrum. Department stores, movie halls and restaurant chains that are available all over the city, not just in one part of the city as it used to be 10 years ago. Global retail chains like Staples and several others in the food industry have made presence here. Talking about cars, there are SO MANY makes available wih each brand offering upwards of 5 models. (Another reason behind all that traffic!). The Indian consumer is finally benefitting from the massive growth that the country is witnessing.

Infrastructure and Real Estate: While there has been good progress, there's a lot left to be desired. The positive signs are the magnificent Bangalore airport, several new fly overs, lot of new real estate for commercial and residential needs. However, the fly overs under construction have worsened the traffic situation. The roads are terribly crammed, buildings that are 2-3 years old look like they have been around for years. Roads and other properties need a lot of better maintenance. Lots more work to be done in this area.

Chaos: Something that I had expected to encounter was chaos; and the country didn't let me down a bit!! Finding a quiet spot is extremely hard around here. And once you are on the road, chaos goes to a completely new level. Jam packed and excruciatingly slow traffic. And I had forgotten that there is no concept of personal space :) You walk into a mall and there are LOTS and LOTS of people. Buses and airports are packed more than ever! But to my surprise the chaos extends into all aspects of life. My onboarding was a good example of how it creeps into professional world. There was nothing prepared to get me started at work. I had to chase down everyone from getting an access badge to a phone line. And it was common for people to pass the buck to someone else. It's typical for people to not return calls. And when someone says 'it will be done in 5 min', it still means an indefinite amount of long time in India :)

There's so much excitement and buzz all over the country. Progress is happening on so many fronts. And, of course, there are problems that come with that progress. But in short, all I can say is India has finally arrived!

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