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Indians find they can go home again

NYT News Service

Several Indian cities with their Western-style work environment, generous paychecks, and quick career jumps are becoming magnets for Indians from the U.S.

Saritha Rai

STANDING AMID the rolling lawns outside his four-bedroom villa, Ajay Kela pondered his street in a gated community in Bengaluru. One of his neighbors recently returned to India from Cupertino, California, to run a technology start-up funded by the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers.

Across the street from Mr.Kela is another Indian executive, this one from Fremont, California, who works with the outsourcing firm Infosys Technologies. On the other side is the top executive of Cisco Systems in India, who returned after decades in the San Francisco Bay area and New York. Also on the block is a returnee from the United Kingdom who heads the technology operations of Deutsche Bank.

Small sample

Mr.Kela’s neighborhood is just a small sample of a reverse brain drain benefiting India. The gated community in the Whitefield suburbs, and many others in the vicinity are full of Indians who were educated in and worked in the United States and Europe, but who have been lured home by the surging Indian Economy and its buoyant technology industry. “Nothing unusual about this lane at all," said Mr.Kela, 48, who moved from Foster City, California, to Bengaluru last year and is president of the outsourcing firm Symphony Services, which is based in Palo Alto, California.

Nasscom, a trade group of Indian outsourcing companies, estimates that 30,000 technology professionals have moved back in the 18 months. Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and the suburbs of Delhi are becoming magnets for an influx of Indians, who are the top-earning ethnic group in the U.S. These cities, with their Western-style work environment, generous paychecks, and quick career jumps, offer the returnees what until now, they could get only in places such as Palo Alto and Boston.

And now they offer something else; a housing boom. Homes have tripled in value in Palm Meadows over the last 12 months, and rents have quadrupled. “Expatriates are returning because India is hot," said Nandan Nilekani, chief executive of Infosys Technologies, India’s second-largest outsourcing firm, which recruited 25 returnees from top American schools for its 100-seat summer internship this year. “There is an increasing feeling that significant action in the technology industry is moving to India,"

While most returnees are first generation expatriates, second generation Indians living in the U.S are also moving to India, said Lori Blackman, a recruitment consultant in Dallas. “Among them I sense and altruistic pull to return to India to help build their home country to a greater power than the country had ever hoped to achieve," she said.

But the trend is raising fears among American specialists that it could deplete the U.S.of scientific talent and blunt its edge in innovation. “The United States will miss the talents of people of Indian origin who return to India," said Brink Lindsey, vice-president for research at Cato Institute in Washington, adding that the moves could create greater possibilities for trade between the two countries.

For many returnees, the newly challenging work environment in India has tied in neatly with personal reasons for returning such as racing the children in Indian culture and caring for aging parents.

“But now they all want to get on the plane home," said Mr.Kela who returned with his wife and two children. Once a regular at Silicon Valley job fairs, trying to boo Indians back home, Mr.Kela no longer need to sell India. He receives 10 resumes a month from people with decades of work experience in the U.S. yearning to relocate.

The passage back no longer and ordeal because much has changed in India. Where as watching a movie in a dingy hall was once a weekend high point, now fancy multiplexes, bowling alleys, and shopping malls offer entertainment, and pizzerias and cafes are ubiquitous at street corners. Indians who once could choose between only two car models and fly a single airlines find they have returned to a profusion of choices.

Gaps narrowing

Even as the lifestyle gapes between India and the West have narrowed rapidly, salary differences at top executive levels have virtually disappeared. Annual pay packages of a half-million dollars are common in Bengaluru, but even for those taking a pay cut to return home, the lover cost of living balances smaller pay checks. Starting salaries for engineers are about $12,000 in India where as $60,000 in Silicon Valley.

Living in their gated community, Mr.Kela and his neighbor Sanjay Swami, 41, who heads the Indian operations of Ketra technologies, face very little transition anxiety. Mr.Swami bought and moved in to a villa in the same community with his wife, Tulsi, a financial consultant and 8 year old son Ashwin.

The communities buffer returnees from Bengaluru’s bumper-to-bumper traffic unpaved sidewalks and warning neighborhoods. Mr.Kela, his 9 year old daughter Payal, and 6 year old son Ankur enjoy riding bikes on weekends, and they often play cricket, which Mr.Kela is passionate about. His daughter is learning Kathak and Bharatanatyam.

His neighbor Mr.Swami is immersed in building a Silicon Valley style team in Bengaluru, but with some local adjustments. When he learned that the company routinely received calls from prospective father-in-law of employees, asking to verify their ages, titles and salary details, Mr.Swami wrote a memo title “HR policy on Disclosing Employee Information to Prospective Fathers-in-law." “While I want to be entirely supportive of ensuring that our confidently agreement does not result in your missing out on the spouse of your dreams," Mr.Swami said, “I don’t want competitors to use this as a ploy to get sensitive information," NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE.