Avik Pal arrived in San Francisco in August of 1999, excited about the new horizons—literal as well as professional—that stretched out before him, though anxious about leaving India for the first time. The fabled natural beauty of California’s San Francisco Bay Area and the Golden Gate Bridge that spans where the bay embraces the Pacific Ocean only served as poignant reminders that the 23-year-old was worlds away from his previous life in Kharagpur. “It was not easy in a new country,” recalls Pal. As homesickness threatened to get the better of him, Pal, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur, instinctively reached out to a familiar source of comfort: fellow IITians.
Meanwhile, in another part of the Bay Area, Shan Bhattacharya, another IIT Kharagpur alumnus, and his wife were coming to terms with the absence of their young son who had left to study at Princeton University. Bhattacharya was pleasantly surprised to hear from Pal and recalls being moved to respond out of parental concern. “Our son was in a similar situation, so when we received the e-mail from Avik, my wife said, ‘Let’s go meet him,’” says Bhattacharya. The couple drove across town to meet Pal and invited him to spend the weekend at their home. By the end of that weekend, Pal had gained not just two friends, but the gift of a brand new TV set. Bhattacharya thought the TV was a good way to keep his young friend’s mind off being homesick. “My roommates were thrilled,” says Pal.