Thursday, November 19, 2009

Private Notes: What I learnt in 2009

I am not yet in Christmas mode. Really. I still have a very busy six weeks to go. In fact, these last six weeks appear all important - as important as the last few pages of a novel - where a conclusion must be reached. So, I am not in a summary mode yet. However, I have indeed reached a moment of reflection - a point when I can look back a bit and start thinking what I learnt [and what I still haven't] - which may make these final six weeks more meaningful and interesting.


Contrary to my previous expectations, 2009 did not turn out to be my worst year yet. Instead, it was, like for many people across the world, a lost year. In my life, if it did not happen, it almost would not have mattered. That is a frank admission - I almost sleepwalked through the year, expecting that things would be worse than it actually turned out to be.


So, I gained nothing and am standing, at the end of the year, where I was twelve months back. I can easily project back to a year back - the days before 26/11 in Mumbai - when I was talking about fixing our business model and gaining new skills. Except for a few missed deadlines, I am standing pretty much at the same position today.


Don't get me wrong though - gaining nothing does not mean learning nothing. That's the only thing that kept me going, indeed. It was an year back - on the day of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai - I discovered blogging. Well, no, I did not start blogging that day - that happened back in 2004 - but that was the day when I really needed to talk to someone and blogging provided me the route to do so.


That was a time when I just discovered my love for Mumbai. Funnily, I never spent much time in the city till about middle of 2008, when I suddenly started going, one week every month. Staying at my brother's house in Powai, I became familiar and fell in love with the city. This is quite strange - as I thought Mumbai isn't my kind of city - but I discovered the noises, the life, the aspirations and dreams, of Mumbai quite soon. And, then, the attack happened.


I would not have known where Colaba is even a few months earlier. But, I returned from Mumbai just a few days earlier in November, and the news, first a rather cryptic 'gunshots heard in CST' on Rediff News, hit home immediately. When I mentioned this to my father on course of a phone call, he still did not know about anything happening: He just knew that my brother took his usual train out of CST earlier that evening and returned home. However, in a few short minutes after that, news has hit home: it was all over the news channels, and I would be frozen in front of the TV for next 48 hours. That time, when I felt frighteningly lonely, I discovered the connections that this blog gives me: nameless, faceless people from all over the world who care about similar things and feel a similar horror.


So, one big thing for the subsequent days, and throughout 2009, was my commitment to blogging.


You see, I started blogging to practise my writing. When I started, it used to be a private affair, a sort of morning pages, sort of unedited private thoughts which I wrote as a practise. I kept the access restricted and did not even share it with family: Not that I was up to something sinister, but I did not want to put on a show, be conscious while writing. That changed since the beginning of 2006, when I decided to make this a more public affair, but without the expectation of any general readership. I expected to put up a few photos and comments, and an occasional diary post, to connect back with friends and relatives. So, from morning pages, the blog morphed into a sort of exile's letter home; it was only in the aftermath of Mumbai, I realized the 'social' aspect of the blog, the joys of connecting through thoughts instead of connecting by chance, and started taking it more seriously.


This was one big lesson of 2009, as I went on and on. This will be my 224Th blog post in 47 weeks this year, that makes it 4 posts a week - some feat when you consider (a) I travelled for more than 120 days this year, and (b) I had about 100 comments in all for all my blog posts during this period. Someone observed that I must have discovered a real love of blogging because I manage to go on without much external support anyway. To be fair, the number of comments should be supplemented by the emails I received, which is enormously valuable. Some of them are from long-lost friends who I always wanted to keep in touch and some from people who I respect and would love to follow. In short, it is not the quantity of the response, but the connections itself, was my big takeaway from blogging.

I spent the whole of 2009 pinned to the dilemma about what I should do next. Now, many people got it wrong - this dilemma has nothing to do with the joys and sorrows at work. To be absolutely honest, I have quite a good job, which pays me well, allows me complete freedom on what I do and lets me the world. I also work with agreeable, nice people, who I like personally. It is indeed possible, provided I become more compliant and tailor my expectations a bit, I can spend rest of my working life working with the same organization. The problems are, as it always was, mostly in what I want to do rather than what I have. I have been searching for a purpose in life, all my life, and can't say I got it yet. This is why I keep moving on, thinking about 'next'. I always had enough confidence in my ability and never wanted to work for fear - of losing job and livelihood. And, hence, even in the middle of this recession, I am still searching for the purpose, which, I have now come to realize, is outside the kind of work I do.

This is another thing I learnt in 2009: That I belong to some other kind of work. Work that makes a difference for others. Yes, indeed, earns me a living, without which I can't manage, yet. But I have realized that I should indeed look for a career shift - to that of a writer and an educator - and leave my commercial past behind. There are many values of the world of business I shall take with me - that of discipline, of accountability and of continuous quest of value and better ways of doing things - but I am zeroing in on a more knowledge-based career than one I have today.

Which helps solve another ongoing tussle that I had to handle: Where do I want to live rest of my life? I was inclined to leave England in the next few years, and return to Calcutta. However, I now realize that I need the freedom, of space and of perspective, that this life away from home offers me. I still need this for a little while longer. Yes, indeed, I shall need to settle down some day, with family and all that, but I can possibly give myself another three to five years before I start thinking about that.

So, in summary, that's what 2009 got me. A purpose, which I need to explore outside work, to become an educator and a propagandist of some sort, to make a difference in other people's lives. A sense of community and friendship through my blogging. And, a certain love for England, which allowed me the freedom to think and do what I like to do, and a plan to live here for next few years and use this opportunity to see the world. That's a lot, actually, for one short year: In fact, it may turn out to be the most meaningful year of my life.

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