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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April, 2005, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
India's IT prodigals return home

By Harsh Kabra
BBC News, Pune

Sean Narayan
Sean Narayan - happy to be back home

In the 13 years that Sean Narayanan lived in the US, he earned a masters degree from Oklahoma University, worked with a top consulting firm and served at senior positions in technology companies.

Three years ago, he sold off his 3,800 sq ft plush house in Virginia and returned to India.

"India today offers the best of both worlds," Mr Narayanan says.

"Global experience seems essential in the infotech industry and there's no better place than India to get it."

He now works as a major division head at Cognizant, a Nasdaq-listed infotech services provider.

'Brain gain'

Santanu Paul is another Indian who spent 13 years in the US, obtaining a doctorate in computer science from Michigan University, working with IBM in New York and leading two technology start-up companies.

Firms like Infosys have been enjoying huge profits

In 2003, he decided to return to India to become the general manager at a Hyderabad-based software services firm.

"Right now, India feels like an exciting start-up company, while the West feels like a plodding large company," says Dr Paul.

Less than a decade ago, people like Mr Narayanan and Dr Paul would have been rare exceptions in a generation that fancied the West as the land of opportunity.

Today, they are among the over 25,000 expatriate Indian infotech professionals estimated to have returned home in the last four years.

That figure comes from the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), the premier trade body of India's booming infotech industry.

Around 40% of these professionals are believed to have returned last year alone.

The American Electronics Association, the largest hi-tech trade association in the US, has described it as America's brain drain and India's brain gain. The trend, it says, is challenging America's technology leadership.

India's booming economy, promise of an affluent lifestyle, the emotional satisfaction of staying closer to friends and family, and the desire to bring up children closer to their roots are what is fuelling the movement home.

Rajesh Panicker, vice-president in a Mumbai (Bombay)-based company, spent four years in the US.

"It was like living in a five-star hotel, but it wasn't home," he says.

'Breathless excitement'

There is a pattern in the choice of companies that these professionals want to work with after returning.

India feels like an exciting start-up company, while the West feels like a plodding large company
Santanu Paul

Nasscom estimates that nearly 30-40% of them are working in offshore infotech services set-ups.

The 'reverse brain drain' is not limited to infotech alone.

In 2002, Arjun Kalyanpur, an assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, returned home to set up India's first company that provides hospitals with tele-radiological services.

"There is breathless excitement in India today," he says.

"The technology gap between the West and the East has narrowed."

The returnees do regret the creaky infrastructure, corruption and lack of cleanliness back home.

But they believe it's only a matter of time before India overcomes such irritants.

As Cognizant's Sean Narayanan puts is: "It's never an apples-to-apples comparison."

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