Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back from India

I am on my way back from India - after a rather extended, almost 4 weeks trip. I am now quite used to write the blog posts from the Emirates Lounge in Dubai, as I am doing now, and know exactly which seats get a good wi-fi reception. I am no longer hungry for lounge food, and rather tired of my travelling routine. But, there is another thing new - I felt at home in Calcutta, after many years.

This is new. I always go to Calcutta with the expectation of going home, but come back to disappointments. It is just the gap between perception and reality, the abstract notion of home and the actual comforts and habits one carries with him. As I know now, home is not a place but a habit, or expectation of habits, and everytime I go to Calcutta, I find the great disconnect over and over again.

This time, indeed, was no different. While I was travelling, the whole drama of Tatas exiting Singur was played out. Bengalis fighting bengalis to eventual loss to all isn't something new, and it happened again. There was a bit of disbelief on the air - about the exit, about the consequences. It felt unreal that such a hope was dashed. And, the political parties continued their game of denial - Ms. Banerjee continued her desparate search for 'issues' and CPIM took credit of letting Tatas go and not allowing Mamta a political platform. And, life went on a slow motion.

It was no different at work, too. I was confronted by the usual lack of imagination, the dire desparation of Calcutta businessmen to live on crumbs, trading margins. I met Bank Managers who wants to hoard money, civil servants who want to rule, and academicians who would rather have more holidays than teaching hours. I walked on the streets - a first in a few years - and realized a fact: It isn't the desparate poverty which is revolting about India, it is the sheer indifference to poverty which other people display.

But, also, at the same time, I confronted racism for the first time. Of course, I get treated as a Second Class Citizen, a refugee and a terrorist every day in England, but I have gotten over it. I have reasoned that it is only a few people who do not know about the world [even if that includes the administration] and time, eventually, will correct the perception.

But this time, it was different. I was face to face with a classical western disease - the inflated sense of entitlement that westerners carry. Yes, I can sure reason that it is few bad apples yet again. But, this is real and close to home - when someone quite obviously believes that being white means that s/he should be treated differently from everyone else. I have not faced this yet - the tightly contracted jobs in England are so different from the cross-cultural setting that I got to handle, and so little understood - and this is going to be one of the key learnings that I shall achieve.

And, this is why I suddenly feel home. At ease with the village boy who was sitting next to me at the aircraft and was coming to Dubai perhaps for a construction job. He could not speak English, and was uncomfortable dealing with the airhostesses, and even me. He was clumsy, and ill-dressed.

But, today, I felt comfortable - took out a bengali book out of my bag [a first in many years, again], and knew my identity more clearly than any other time.

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