Leaving India…

I had some trouble writing those two words in the title. The move has been brewing for a bit but it’s time now. In a couple of weeks, I am going to say goodbye to India.

Motherland. I feel a tug to that word and to that concept but I don’t really know what it means. I’ve never been one of those “I love my India” types. My love for this piece of the planet has never been very external. Ever since I was a young boy in the Loco Colony of Kanpur, I would leave the India around me often by getting lost in books. Driven by an “english-medium convent” education and easy access to the Wheeler’s book store on the Railway Station meant that I always had my nose buried deep in books. I was lost in the Sherwood forest with Little John or following Javert in his pursuit of Jean Valjean, or hopping onboard Chet Morton’s old jalopy to help the Hardy boys solve a case, or strolling the streets of Riverdale watching Reggie getting thrashed by good old Moose. Around me, it seemed that everyone was trying to escape. There were stories about the uncle who had moved to Australia and was doing so well there. Or there were aspirational tales about becoming an IAS officer with a “lal-batti” car. The India around us had to be escaped, by relocating in geography or status.

I am home here. I love it but I also see its warts. At multiple times I’ve whined about how bad things are here. The red tape you deal with while running a business or just living your life. The quality of air and water that you just can’t escape. I use the word “whine” because I’ve hardly done enough to actually improve the situation. Sure, I’ve paid my taxes, I’ve followed the law of the land, made the odd donation to an NGO but we all know that India needs more. Parul and I’ve often talked about the fact that if you’re in India, the most important thing that you can work on is India. Yet, our dreams and decisions take us elsewhere.

The green that greets your everywhere in Bangalore

In a couple of weeks, I will say goodbye to Bangalore. The city has been so much to me. It has been the “Karmabhoomi”, the place where all my life’s work has played out so far. While I was technically an adult when I moved to Bangalore, I think I really grew up here. I started my professional career here with the awesome people at Tejas Networks. Parul and I got married here and Abir was born here. I founded and sold mygola here. Made some really great friends here and these relationships will last a lifetime. This is the city where I truly grew to understand and love coffee. This is the city where we discovered a whole new family of comfort food. If you can get a Podi dosa, all your troubles can wait. And the rains, always the rains. How the rains just transforms this beautiful city. Sitting in your balcony, sipping some hot coffee and just watching the rain fall, painting Bangalore with a brighter, more vibrant green is one the best ways to spend a sunday afternoon. It’s been 14 years for me here and boy, what a time has it been!

In a couple of weeks, I will say goodbye to mygola. Anshuman and I started mygola, a travel startup, way back in ’09. Way back when startups weren’t really cool in India. It was a hard decision for the family to digest but Parul backed me up and I took the plunge. Nothing has been as personally and professionally transformative for me as the time I spent building mygola. I learnt immensely working with Anshuman. He is one of those incredibly awesome people, who combine super-smarts with insane energy to make stuff happen day after day. If any of you get a chance to work with him, jump at it! And then there was the mygola team. I’ve said this earlier but I am amazed by the folks we were able to get together at mygola. Sharp, motivated, compassionate, fun-loving, they are an amazing bunch. Folks who are now at Makemytrip, after our acquisition, are building the next big accommodations business at RightStay. Nitin, Sneha, Gaurav, Bhoomit, Shobhit and everyone else — go win the game! Folks who moved out, are now doing incredible things in their own right. This is stuff that I really like bragging about!

Fully color coordinated team, circa 2013

Kadam is building the hotel chain for today at Treebo Hotels
Deep is building home automation magic at inoho
Rahul is reimagining group conversations at BakBak
Ranjan is reimagining smartphone utilities with AI at Synapse
Debnath is building a marketing agency for today at MarHack

And many more who are doing cool stuff at some of the best companies in the world. What is really amazing, is that every year, at our annual parties, almost all our alumni join us. While the mygola episode might be getting over, I feel that the series is still going strong and this cast of characters will keep bumping into each other to create more awesomeness.

I will also be saying goodbye to Makemytrip. It was a short time for me there, a little over a year but it has left a mark on me. I’ve talked about why we decided to go ahead with Makemytrip during our acquisition. I spent a fair bit of the year as part of the leadership team, or L-team as we called it. What was incredible to see is that even in this high power, super accomplished leadership, everyone was a team player. Egos were checked at the door and folks worked on solving problems with open minds. Even as one of the youngest people in the room, I never felt out of place. I think this flows from Deep and Rajesh, who set really high standards on our work culture. At Makemytrip, I worked really closely with Mohit, or MG everyone called him. MG runs all the online business at MMT which, if you google, is a lot. But what stood out for me was his extra sensory perception about people & situations around him. He could sense and talk deeply about stuff that I was myself just starting to feel myself. MG is one of those people who you can talk about anything from life issues to scaling businesses and you would always come back with ten new insights. I know that I am going to pester him even after leaving for a lot of hard stuff that I face in life.

While this is also a time to say goodbye to family here in India, it is family that will bring us back. Our parents have been the backbone of our lives. Especially so when both Parul and I were getting immersed in our careers. They stepped into our lives and helped us shoot for the stars, like they have always done. None of this would be possible without them. It is incredible to see the grandparent-grandchild chemistry play out and often I feel that I am not really invited to this party but it is still so much fun to see it. Just the purity of these moments is what makes me realise, yet again, how important family is.

The move, for us, was triggered by the awesome work that Parul and Gautam are doing at Springboard. After Parul had made her nth trip to SF to grow her startup, we realised that enough is enough and we had to make the move. We are going to be based in SF, which is where both Parul’s office and Abir’s school are going to be.

Abir and me goofing off somewhere in Bangalore

I have, intentionally, not decided what I am going to get into professionally. This is a big change for all of us, so my focus is to make sure we get comfortable in this new setup. Then, there is a big desire to spend a lot of time with and connect a lot more deeply with Abir. Over the last few years, while we’ve had our share of fun, I have felt that I want to do more with Abir. He is such a cool kid and I’ve realised that the time we spend together is very fulfilling for me. I’m amazed by both his curiosity and also his ability form patterns and learn fast. I can almost feel the neurons exploding in his brain. He is also an incredibly generous boy. Whether it is sharing his food with others, or stopping mid way in a race to point another kid in the right direction, he has done it all. Even though, like with most in his generation, we have to continuously keep negotiating on screen time, I am glad that he is turning out to be a book worm like his parents. I want to spin some weird tales, listen to music, build more stuff, read books and travel with him. He is five and half and I feel like my time with him is running out. Very soon, he will be out in the world and I’ll be a fringe character in his story.

Shot from our balcony, early one morning. Will have to find an equivalent spot in SF.

This is also a time to introspect. Think about what life has been about so far and also what I want to make of it going forward. I realise that a lot of the basic itches have been scratched. It’s time to get to the next level but I can get to the answers only with introspection.

So, goodbye India. We’ll see you again, soon enough.

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