To Leave or Not to Leave

A couple of days back I filed my official resignation. Initially I had decided to take a Leave without pay for studies but then I had to change my decision for some other reasons. Whatever it is I was quite comfortable with the idea of resignation till the time I actually sat down to pen it down.

I must admit that writing the resignation letter was a lot more difficult than what I had imagined.In my state I should not have second thoughts about it and I dont, but resignation was not easy. A million pictures panned through my head. The days in undergrad college when I was worried about campus recruitment, the day I got my first job,the day I left my first job to join my current job. But then I have resigned why is it different this time? Well for a few reasons which I think I should list out

1) I am incurring a significant financial burden for my MBA studies.[50000 USD(cost of MBA) + 20000 USD(my Indian salary)]

2) I have been working for the last 5.5 years and a positive cash flow has become a norm. It is difficult to imagine myself without a income source.

3) The US economy has already slipped into recession and although the decoupling theory is doing the rounds, it is impossible to predict the industry state in early 2009 when we are scheduled to have our campus recruitments.

4) Although I am not extremely worried about landing up a job post MBA, the uncertainty is landing up with a job I really want or the one which is right for me.

People who love me always tell me not to worry about all these but I could not help it. There is no doubt that I am am happy about my decision to study and that probably better opportunities await me post MBA. But these last few days has proved yet again that I am still vulnerable to change. I am coping with it but it would be dishonest not to admit that this has not affected me in any way. Sometimes I feel that not many people understand what I am going through at this moment. Hope someone reading it will :)

Back in Kolkata

It has been quite a few days since my last post on this blog...Actually I was taking the time to settle into my new life in Kolkata.This is the first time I am staying with my parents while I am working and its really nice after having stayed apart for about 9 years.

A lot has changed in Kolkata and I am sure that the same applies across the other major cities of India as well. Shopping malls and highrises are being built all over the city and the landscape is changing at a rate unimaginable even five years back. Last week I went to my hometown Durgapur which is around 170 km from Kolkata and was again pleasantly surprised to see the change. Shopping malls, Spencer's retail outlet and more importantly the crowd thronging these places. I was having a bit of hard time relating to the same places where we used to spend time with friends munching away on peanuts or samosas.Anyways things change and havent we changed too from those times? We have.

On my way back I took the new Volvo bus service from Durgapur to Kolkata and it was a very nice experience too. Having spent close to four years in the States, I have driven to all possible types of places and driving was one of the things I felt I would miss the most on moving to India. But the new highways in India (part of the famed Golden Quadrilateral) is really world class. Agreed that the traffic on it is still not conversant with the rules of highway driving, yet the quality of the roads is commendable.

Infrastructure remains the focus area of the government right now since it is the primary vehicle of growth. I strongly believe that it is not just the money that the government spends but what it achieves which should be the indicator of successful infrastructure development policy of the government. These days most of the infra projects are being executed in a PPP basis and this is a good step.This helps offload the complexities of successful execution on the Private player which leads to better completion rates and timelines. The budget for the next fiscal is due at the end of the month and I think we will witness even more government spending on Infrastructure.

Let the changes keep rolling in for the better!!!!

Professional or Personal

It was a very emotional day for me at work yesterday. After slogging like anything for the last three and a half years, we had a party to celebrate the grand success of our project. A huge group of around 50 gathered to look back at the journey which was filled with innumerable challenges and had more than a fair share of difficulties and low times. But by the end of it one thing clearly emerged...we had been professional in discharging our work but we had been emotioanlly tied to the project and to one another and had crossed into the realms of personal.

We all know how cliched the word "Professional" is in a workplace. But yesterday i realized that no matter how much professionalism is important, personal touch is worth its weight in gold. Its the personal touch which keeps people from going beyond the call of duty to take up other's responsibility, to help each other in times of need and at times overlook the odd mistake understanding the circumstances they were committed. As we talked in length over drinks and then lunch, i was amazed at how much those small personal incidents are etched in everyone's minds.

The client program director delivered a very impromptu and very emotional thanking speech where she went through and thanked everyone present and singled out a few for exemplary contribution. I was singled out for having guided the client team through uncertain times and helping them through a very difficult integration initiative and for developing a innovative cost saving tool for them. Her voice broke when she said that we would all miss you....

In the evening, the client director for business and customer management came by to meet me on her way out to Canada. I have been working very closely with her for the entire duration of my stay here and we share an excellent working relationship which i would hate to call "Professional". We hugged and she cried like a child....i was so overwhelmed that i would not control my tears either. I told her that the world is a small place and we would definitely get to meet someday. People talk about fancy terms like networking and how important it is to know as many people as possible in B school. I think if you can establish that personal touch with atleast a few people i would say that its worth more that gold.

Its ironic that as we strive to be better professionally, we need to be better personally. Its that part of us that probably is very difficult to be taught or changed. Its a gift for those whom it comes naturally. I just hope that i come out of my next one year at school with a few of these wonderful personal bonds.

Dollar Dreamzzzz

The following is not written by me - but i thought i would post it in my blog as i found it so very apt.....

There are two ways to look at a foreign salary -- the Catholic and the Protestant.
The first is characterised by a missionary zeal to convert using the rupees-multiplied-by-43.8-times formula ingrained in every self-respecting Indian head.
Which is how $110,000 achieves the headline-grabbing status of 'Rs 50 lakh!'
But, protests the economist, how far does that Rs 50 lakh go in a foreign land?
What you have to look at, then, is Purchasing Power Parity. The theory of purchasing power parity says that, in the long run, exchange rates should move towards rates that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services in any two countries.
Duh. Despite having acquired, at some point in life, a BA in Economics, I have no idea what that means.

Purely in layman's terms, how much bang for the buck? Well, says the World Bank, $150,000 fetches you a Rs 50-lakh lifestyle if you reside in India.
In the US, the same $150,000 is actually equivalent to earning Rs 18.7 lakh.
The Economist's famous 'Big Mac index' makes it easy to understand. A hamburger costs $2.90 in the US, but $1.10 in India. Take that, you dollar-earning desi!

Of course, the real picture is far more complex. Despite what the Big Mac index might indicate, an 'upwardly mobile' lifestyle in India is more expensive.
If your family decides to have Kellogg's cornflakes for breakfast everyday in India, it will work out to about 4 boxes or Rs 500 a month.
An American family, on the other hand, would spend about $20 a month for the same breakfast.
Given that a reasonably well-to-do Indian family earns Rs 50,000 a month, it spends 1% on its cornflakes! Whereas the reasonably well-to-do American family earning $5,000 a month spends only 0.4% from the mahine ka budget. That's way, way cheaper.
So despite being a supposedly 'poor' economy, we have higher relative prices -- dollar prices -- for many commonly consumed goods. Food and petrol, in particular.
Although, conversely, we can afford bais and drivers, dry cleaning and nice haircuts. There is always a trade-off!

How much dosh you have stashed away in the bank depends on how you choose to live.
If you are earning a dollar/ pound salary and your objective is to 'save', you live an Indian lifestyle in a foreign land.
This means eating mostly at home/ shopping at Kmart/ Wal-mart; thinking 10 times before making an impulse buy (out pops the conversion calculator: 'I can get this cheaper in India. Forget it!')
This is an attitude typical of the just-set-foot-on-foreign-shore worker, especially on an H1-B visa. And there's nothing wrong with it. Four-five dudes share a cramped apartment, live frugally and save a pretty packet by the time they head back home.
And even though they may have lived in what the Chicago or London native might consider as Mira Road and eaten at the US equivalent of Udipi joints, the experience of living in the First World is reward enough the first-timer. Clean air, wide roads, 'systems' that seem to work.
But, should s/he decide to stay on longer, the immigrant will be tempted to buy in to the host country's way of life. You shop to 'feel good' about yourself and, eventually, being the thriftiest shopper in town loses its charm.
So one fine day you decide to buy the Polo shirt costing $100, even if your mom thinks you are crazy because you could buy five shirts for the same money back home. Earlier, you moved, geographically. Now, you have arrived, mentally.
That dollar salary will never feel quite as weighty again.

On the other hand, living in India -- even for the guy with the Rs 18 lakh salary -- has its own hidden cost.
Money provides some insulation -- but the stress of working in First World conditions but living in Third World ones is inevitable. You can fiddle with a Blackberry [suit] in the backseat of an A/C chauffeur driven car.
But you are in Saki Naka, stuck in a trademark traffic jam, with a beggar tap-tapping furiously at your window.
The airport -- which sees more of you early in the morning than your spouse does -- seriously sucks. As does the fact that a substantial portion of the taxes the government earns from you end up as employment guarantee scheme for politicians.
Par kya karen, yeh hai India. So we 'adjust', grin and bear it.
At least we now have multiplexes and megamalls to hang out at, no?

Of course, living abroad may result in a postcard perfect 'Big Picture'. But life is made up of a million little things. And, at that level, regrets remain.
A friend who has spent most of his post-IIT life in the US -- a good 12 to 15 years -- noted on a recent visit that he really enjoyed visiting Chinese restaurants in India. "Because you can taste the food," he said wryly. "Everything there is so bland... so American."
Another friend says she misses the sights and smells of the sabzi markets in India. "The veggies there are so fresh, it feels like abhi zameen se nikle hain." American tomatoes, she insists, are huge and red, but absolutely insipid.
On a more serious note, there's the issue of parents. Growing old and lonely, often not in the best of health. Move here, you insist. But they resist.
The world is a 'global village' where India is just a mouse click away.
You buy the folks a computer with a broadband connection.
And life goes on.

Is where you live about geography, or a state of mind?
Well-known journalist Thomas Friedman has just authored a new book on globalisation titled, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.
In an article in the The New York Times Sunday Magazine, he writes, 'Only 30 years ago, if you had a choice of being born a B student in Boston or a genius in Bangalore or Beijing, you probably would have chosen Boston, because a genius in Beijing or Bangalore could not really take advantage of his or her talent.'
Now, he argues, anyone with smarts, access to Google and a cheap wireless laptop can join the innovation fray. 'When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.'
With all due respect to Friedman -- a brilliant writer with a mostly credible theory -- emigration will continue.
Despite anecdotal evidence exchanged at cocktail parties about young people who would rather stay back in India than go abroad, the fact remains that every Indian who enrols at Penn State or Sheffield University is a potential immigrant.
The Japanese or Koreans are not.
The odd Westerner will make India his/ her home, often citing the warmth received from the Indian people.
The majority of middle class Indians, given a chance, will make the West their home, despite the cold reception.
Suketu Mehta, in his scintillating book, Maximum City, analyses the situation as only an Indian can.
'Every summer, waves of Indians living overseas come back or send back little pictures: of their son in front of the new 52-inch TV; their daughter sitting on the hood of the new mini van; the wife in the open-plan kitchen... the whole family laughing together in the small backyard pool, their 'bungalow' in the background.'
These pictures plant little time bombs in the minds of siblings left behind, he writes. 'They hold the pictures and look around their two-room flat in Mahim and, suddenly, the new sofa and 2-in-1 Akai stereo look cheap and shabby in comparison.'
Hope floats
In the 1980s and 1990s, the IITs were associated with 'brain drain'.
Now, reports of dollar salaries of IIM graduates hit the headlines. But the real story lies elsewhere.
These handful of graduates studying in near world class institutions will be in demand whether in India or abroad. There will be some initial heartburn -- bhala usko mujhse better paying job kaise mila -- but in the medium to long term, things usually even out.
And staying on in India -- where your company values you enough to put down a Rs 50-lakh deposit for a house in Napean Sea Road -- is a very smart option.

The real appeal of 'foreign' lies for those who graduate from the second and third rung institutes. Job mil jayega but not one with fast enough growth or large enough goodies.
Going abroad, for them, is the only means of achieving quick and easy economic salvation.
So, at great personal risk, they beg, borrow and pay their way into not-so-well known universities. And then fight for a job to recover the several lakhs 'invested'.
By and large, the strategy seems to work.

And dollar dreams will continue to pound in India's head.