Returning to India

I returned to India mid 2018. I wrote about it here for the first time — and here again — as a way to retrospect on how I arrived at my decision to move back. I was having a good time in the US — lived there happily and happening-ly for over 15 years — but who knew that that wasn’t enough. It’s hard to believe that soon almost half a decade would have passed since.

5–6 years has been my “itch” — to change jobs, to change locations. I lived in Austin for ~6yrs @ AMD as an engineer. By the end of it, I needed to change my job, my role, and even my country! I moved to the UK to pursue an MBA then returned to US to work for Google as a PM/BizDev guy in San Francisco. 5–6yrs later I wanted to move again and shifted to venture capital with A16Z but by then I was already set on moving back to India sooner than later. A year after turning VC, I returned to India with Lightspeed.

This is, frankly, the very first time 5 years have passed and I’ve not felt even the slightest tinge of FOMO — I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do. It’s a very… calming feeling. Things are never perfect, but when big, big pieces of your life settle into place, you suddenly notice that tension you never noticed before. Not because it’s there, but because it is not. Just like this quote by Gilbert. I recommend that feeling. I recommend chasing it.

So, how has it been? Whenever I tell people I love living in India, the response is often “yes, but at what cost?”. Cost is relative to what you care about. I should tell you up-front: I am left leaning, politically and fiscally liberal who believes in individual’s choices in religion, love, and life. I am also perfectly fine with high tax rates as long as they go towards fundamental needs such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, vs erecting statues and supporting outdated VIP culture.

I am also generally very suspicious and critical of the government — any government for that matter. I believe governments should get out of private businesses and focus on building clear and simple pro-innovation policies that allows citizens to take entrepreneurial risks while protecting consumers from fraud, misinformation, not just from other citizens but also from the government itself. I grew up in the military life where education and housing was ~free. My Kendriya Vidyalaya hindi medium education cost Rs 5/mo and we used to pay our fee of Rs 15 (0.5$ back in the late 90s) only once a quarter. But salaries, and therefore wealth generation, were ultra-low. I don’t have much consumerism in me — I wear pretty much the same jeans I’ve worn for 5–10years and shop 1–2 times a year for apparel. I only spend on flights, books, hotels, have recently picked up a hobby for fountain pens & Japanese inks, and bought my first Airpods & Bose headphone only in 2023 Jan!

So. How has it been? In a nutshell, returning to India has been one of the best decisions of my life. It’s been seamless and feels like home. India of 2015–16 was very different from India of 2018–22+. Pollution and traffic will continue to be an issue. Politics is what it is — a shit-show everywhere globally, though that’s no excuse. But I live ~15–30mins from office, and if you earn anywhere >30–40L/year INR, you can afford house-help and free up a large part of your day.

Let me tackle a few topics that keep coming up:

What do I not like about India? Frankly not a lot if you know what to expect. For example, if you are looking for perfectly walkable sidewalks all over the city, or wheelchair access in every building, I’d strongly suggest stay in US/EU. These are not wrong things to ask for, but it’s just not the priority for the country. The move to India for me was all about where the puck was moving and my belief in the India story has only gotten stronger over time. I see the change on the ground that you won’t see on any slide deck w/ facts and figures.

The fact that I often forget to carry my wallet for days and realize that it didn’t matter because everyone has UPI. Or the fact that I have traveled on Indian highways in far off remote states like my hometown in Odisha — and didn’t even notice how smooth and high quality the roads were because the journey was so comfortable. Or that trains and flights come mostly on time, when I recall as a kid there were trains that ran a full day late sometimes! Or that I’ve not been to my bank in 5yrs nor stood in a line to buy a train or a flight ticket or to pay electricity bills, or water bills, or buy groceries. Or fact that all (?) toll roads in India are now FAST-tagged. Or that people now get their passports renewed in days not months, and so many more examples… that’s the India story that doesn’t show up on slides.

Sample from the last 3–4 weeks alone in Jan’23

Isn’t the market really bad these days? Yes — globally. India still seems to be a bright spot in the global GDP growth story. That said, we may see some markdowns in private markets, we may see consumer spending slow down. We will also see a few companies fail. However, given the broader secular trends, the opportunity set for countries such as India on a 5 year horizon has never been brighter. Every month I get a lot of folks messaging me about how they are planning to, or have returned to India and making a dent. The next ten years are India’s to lose. Come home and build!

To read about other experiences of recent India returnees, we’ve curated a few of them here: https://www.comehomeandbuild.com/


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