I’ve retained this page from my 2001 version of the site and will keep it up to date. I think the amount of information on this page is excessive and creepy but whatever…
In this section I talk about my life so far, focusing in on the main events and skimming over the rest. Finding out more about my past has been an interesting experience for me, and I hope that by keeping this timeline current I can keep things in perspective. I’m also hoping that people who have similar experiences can drop me a note so we can reminisce (especially old friends from Kuwait… I’ve actually heard from a couple of them since I put this website up!).
My parents were born in a small village called Gokarn in South India in the state called Karnataka. One of my grandfathers was an officer in Customs and Central Excise and the other was a well-respected teacher at the local high school. My father studied Chemical Engineering and my mother studied the ancient Indian language called Sanskrit. My father eventually got a job in Palo Alto, CA and my parents moved to the US. And that’s were my story begins.
I was born in 1979 at the Stanford Medical Center. My family spent a year in Menlo Park / Palo Alto and two years in Los Angeles before we returned to India. In a year or so, my father got a job offer from the Kuwait National Petroleum Company in Kuwait.
Soon, we left for Kuwait and settled into a large apartment complex that was built to house foreigners. In Kuwait, foreigners could not own houses and women could not drive. However, the company paid for absolutely everything and there was an incredibly diverse population. I was educated in the Al Nouri English School and learned some Arabic as well as the fundamentals. I spent my free time playing soccer and playing games on the Commodore 64/ 128.
When I was six, I decided I needed a sibling, so my parents gave me a sister (how’s that for a gift?). On July 26th 1985, Sneha was born. She is the pride and joy of our family and my pet/best friend.
We would often spend our summers traveling, with my dad’s company paying most of our expenses. We traveled to Greece, Cyprus, India, Australia (we once considered moving permanently there), France, England, Germany. However, in the fateful summer of 1990, we were in Kuwait watching CNN as trouble was brewing on the borders of the country.
Through CNN we had discovered that Kuwait was being invaded. We believed that this would just blow over, but soon it was evident that this was for real. The neighboring country of Iraq headed by Saddam Hussein had been in a serious war with Iran. Despite being so close to these two warring nations, Kuwait seemed secure and peaceful. However, on August 2nd 1990, Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait and took over (as part of Saddam’s self proclaimed “jihad”). We were frightened. The Kuwaiti dinar that was once worth three and half US dollars was now almost worthless. The banks were all closed down so no one could withdraw or convert their money into the liquid foreign currencies such as the dollar (in order to protect their value). We were in deep trouble. Day after day we hoped for an escape out of the War. Saudi had closed its borders to refugees and it seemed like their were no escape routes. We heard many stories of people who attempted to escape, but were stopped by Iraqi soldiers and were sent to Iraq.
The Iraqi soldiers were not too troublesome for us… but the local hooligans who took advantage of the situation to steal had become a major issue. Our apartment complex began a protection program where the adults would take shifts to guard our families. Meanwhile, the other kids and I would clean the enormous basement of our complex to prepare for any bombing raids. Food was becoming scarce, and my parents reduced their food intake to make sure my sister and I had enough to eat. My parents were also afraid that I would be taken into custody as I am an American citizen. Saddam was using Westerners as hostages, and Iraqis had searched our complexes for Americans and Europeans.
Finally, after six weeks, we got word on CNN that Americans (along with their families) were being airlifted back to America. Although we could only take one suitcase of stuff (and we packed mostly food since we had no idea what the future would hold… all the rest of the possessions we had as well as our money would be lost forever) for all four of us, we were ecstatic. After a nerve wracking journey that took us to the capital Baghdad, we wound up in London and then Raleigh in South Carolina to Houston, Texas.
America was in a recession when we arrived in Houston, and we had no money. My father needed a job when unemployment was high. After a few quick phone calls and an interview, my father landed a job as Process Engineer with a well-known engineering company. I began my sixth grade education in the United States about five weeks late. I had a few problems adjusting to the changes in the new environment, but I was a star. People liked me because I was a Gulf War refugee and that was just too cool. I really enjoyed that because I missed the dozens of childhood friends I had left behind in Kuwait (I had no idea where they were or what happened to them, especially since many were vacationing away from Kuwait during the Gulf War).
However, the following year we had to move again… we were about to purchase a house. I waved goodbye to my new friends and on the one year anniversary of the Gulf War, we moved into our new residence in Sugar Land, Texas. Sugar Land was still being developed as we moved in, and my sister became part of the first class of students at a new elementary school. We were directly behind the school, and she merely had to open our backyard gate to get to class. I took the bus to my middle school (First Colony Middle School) and had to start all over again socially. It was very difficult this time, because the novelty of being a Gulf War refugee had worn off, and I was now nothing more than an overweight Asian boy who couldn’t play American sports. I took an immediate liking to basketball, and I would watch the Rockets play all the time. All in all, middle school was not fun. High school though, was fantastic.
Clements High School was great for me because I began to discover many new interests. I discovered that I loved to run and I enjoyed being a part of the school’s Track and Cross Country Team. I also discovered that I loved business through an organization called FBLA – Future Business Leaders of America. I got my first true leadership experience through that organization and it was exciting but not altogether fruitful. I enjoyed it thoroughly though, and it got me interested in future leadership opportunities. I spent a lot of my free time with my friends playing basketball at the elementary school playground, which had 9ft rims that we could (sometimes) dunk on. I also spent a lot of time volunteering, which is something that I am really passionate about. I enjoyed all my classes, especially English, but I squandered too much time on the Sciences (hoping that I may someday be a doctor or engineer, the “typical Indian” path). I also studied French, and chose Jean-Luc (as in Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise) as my French name. After applying to several schools, I finally decided on joining the Business Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin, an opportunity that I am eternally thankful for. Go Longhorns!!
I fell in love with the University of Texas during the orientation program. There were so many people from so many walks of life, and there were so many new things to learn and experience. For the first time in a long while, I rediscovered the nerd within…. the person that wanted to study everything and get lost in the information. And there was a sea of opportunities for every possible adventure I could imagine.
Although I always had tickets, I never went to a football game till my sophomore year. After I went to my first football game, I could not stop. It was incredible!!! I saw waves and waves of orange in the audience which is always composed of 35,000 screaming fans. The chants and cheers and spectacular plays (Run Ricky run!!) will inspire me for years to come. We’ve always been lucky to have a highly ranked team, and we finally won a championship with Vince Young in 2005
Academically, I really enjoyed my classes at UT. The Business Honors Program was very challenging, and the professors are incredible. However the true merit of the program is the type of people within it…. extremely driven, motivated individuals. A lot of them aren’t just my friends, but they are also my role models. I also enjoyed taking classes in disciplines other than business, and partaking in all the opportunities outside of class. I got involved in several organizations, and I believe that they gave me experience that could not be attained in a classroom. I also continued volunteering within the community and was able to found and participate in many landmark community service projects.
In my college years, I also had the opportunity to work with several great companies. My freshman year, I worked for a start-up in the Austin Technology Incubator. The following year, my incredible roommate at my dormitory hooked me up with a job in Florida working as a web database specialist for NASA. His amazing family let me stay with them at their beach house. It was truly my best experience ever! The year after that, I got a job with IBM as an e-commerce consultant. I enjoyed spending time with my coworkers and stayed with IBM for an year.
I joined the Peace Corps shortly after I graduated for many reasons. I taught business and computer classes at a small college while maintaining a network of nearly 150 machines. The computers were all donated by foreign governments or purchased with ridiculous amounts of aid money and while some of them were prehistoric, many were the latest and the greatest. My students were all my age but had the maturity level of post-pubescent teenagers and the desire to be like the street thugs that they saw in terrible gangster movies and poor action flicks from America. My computers were even more unstable than my kids due to electrical problems and humidity that killed any electronic device within a year. The suicidal tendency of geckos to rest overnight in computers for added warmth led to both unpleasant odors and the morning death of many good PCs before their time. My students would only acknowledge the brilliance of email to the other side of the room rather than on a global scale, and while I loved being worshipped as a demigod of technology in the Pacific, I was often disappointed that I seemed to be the only one who remembered that washing keyboards with the laundry and labeling the wrong side of a CD with a machete was a bad idea. The job was very challenging at times, but I loved every minute of it.
My relationship with the setting was a little more tumultuous as I never ever knew what to expect! Sometimes I would wake up in my straw hut to find out that someone important had died and that I would have to wear black for a couple of months, or that the king had just declared another national holiday and that we’d have a parade instead of regular classes. Sometimes I’d wake up to discover that everyone in my community had just gotten cell phones, when the day before we all had to take a bus into town to make a call. I would tell a prospective volunteer that I was in the safest country in the world and within a week I would end up in a hospital bed after being beaten up on a main street. Many days I would have to sit in church for hours listening to services I could not understand, and spend nights sitting cross-legged with a circle of village elders silently drinking kava (a substance that tastes like mud water but has the effect of a general anesthetic from your neighborhood dentist). I never had any privacy, but I would rarely ever feel lonely. When I got hurt playing rugby or working at the plantations, people would laugh at me and when I mispronounced words or used them out of context (very easy to do as a single word in Tongan can have many meanings… the word for organize is the same as the word for diarrhea etc.) they teased me mercilessly! However, the minute I needed help, I could count on the entire village to assist me. The sense of community was incredible!
The relaxed attitude towards work was also very different as almost nothing ever got done. Most people would not have a job and would spend every day just hanging out. No one feared starvation as everyone was related to each other and shared food. When I described the rat-race in America, they couldn’t relate to it at all. Many people thought that I was one of Britney Spear’s cousins and that I could talk to George Bush every day. Many people also believed that dinosaurs roamed the streets of New York, and that I could fight like Walker Texas Ranger! While they listened in wonder to my stories of life in the US, I enjoyed my own breathtaking tours of Tonga’s island groups. I got to explore lush rain forests and climb volcanic mountains. I sunbathed at stunning private beaches and swam in sulfur lakes. I kayaked to amazing little islands and snorkeled through stunning coral reefs. The natural beauty of the islands was untouched by tourists and was unforgettable.