Thursday, January 21, 2010
Day 17: A Week Missed
I am writing after a week. I had no Internet access in between, which is a bit strange, but overall, not bad. I enjoyed a certain sense of calm, lack of noise, while I was online. I tried my best to restore connection, but I am in Mumbai and my residential address in India happens to be in Kolkata, and no one will give me an Internet connection. Not even pre-paid, I am told, unless I prepay for a full one year. I balked at the Rs. 18,000/- price tag, which will actually buy me a nifty HP Netbook. On top of this, I have checked into a not-so-good hotel, one of those which wants to create a premium image by charging premium but offer shady services. So, queries about wifi access in the room raised a few eyebrows and suggestive looks at the reception. I am now reduced to surfing from an one off computer in the lobby, reminiscent of the early days of my business travelling, but feels good in a certain way.
I am enjoying India, though I haven't got much done in the last few days. I have seen this in India - it almost takes a week for things to fall in place. I think my first set of serious meetings will happen tomorrow, and all I am doing is prework to that. But, I am hoping that this is a visit that I sort things out for the business I was running and attain a business model which is sustainable. I am close to attaining that by all accounts, though I have come to hate the fact that I am always at a very weak negotiating position in these things. I have this feeling that I am almost handing over a very good idea for nothing, just because I have no money to get this going. In summary, the overwhelming feeling is I am wasting myself, helping others to create an winning business model without any reward for myself or the company I work for, just because I have failed to garner enough commitment from our end behind the business as a whole.
Driven by this sense of regret, I am currently focused on doing the minimum, something that I give away free but will be valuable enough for the partner to take and run, earning me a reprieve from my self-assumed responsibilities of getting the business going. However, I know that this will fail - as I have publicly said before - if the partners don't commit themselves to create value continuously. And, one has to probably learn, particularly in British businesses, that creating value is not about assuming an imperial superiority that anything British will sell at a premium, but assuming a more humble attitude and learn from the customer. I have noted that this is missing altogether, so far, in the transactions I have done. I can only hope that one would wake up once the business gets going, this time with a strong Indian partner leading it, and demanding the value to be created. It will be after I am gone: So be it.
During this visit, I have also understood the reasons behind a fundamental dichotomy I face in my life. Whenever I keep thinking about coming back to India, I wonder what I shall do next. I think about various ideas, starting a business of my own, getting into a writing career, etc. All of these seem great ideas while I am in Britain, but the moment I set foot in India, they seem to become unrealistic ideas. During the current visit, I chose to discuss my ideas with a few people I met and realized the obvious: If I come back to India, I may need to settle in a corporate or professional career, because the space for those kinds of work are really limited. Small businesses are not valued in India, as one of my contacts put it, because the community mostly scrape by with breaking the law. That may or may not be true, but it is undeniable that barring a few pockets like Gujrat and Maharastra, the society in general do not value, and do not support, entrepreneurship in India. So, if I am going to come back, my best route is look for a job in a company which values internal initiatives and has an open culture, and try to make a difference from inside the company life rather than being in the outside.
This resolution helps me to understand why some of my colleagues sometimes appear so dispirited when I talk about them starting off their businesses. They know that they will be looked down upon socially, the act of entrepreneurship will be seen as a failure to make it in the corporate life. They will face obstacles at every stage, no bank loans, no government funding, no easy loan options for housing or even a car. Besides, they will face an extremely competitive market, which is easy to underestimate if one is coming from abroad, where anything may need a significant capital investment to go anywhere. It isn't easy to live the life of a small entrepreneur in India.
And, surely, this is a regional thing in a way. It is far more difficult to pursue the entrepreneurship route in Kolkata or Hyderabad, than in Mumbai or Ahmedabad. But being an outsider in all those very entrepreneurial cities, my path back to India may be through an employment opportunity than anything else. This helps to clarify my thinking, and despite my aversion to a job after my recent experience, it seems that I should start searching for a serious and professional employer back in India. I indeed have to see what I bring to table in context of an employment. My experiences are too varied and my thinking is a bit too unconventional for any employer to like me. But, then, I can contribute quite a bit - because some of the new age skills, like storytelling, integrative thinking, comes rather naturally to me. In case I do come back to India and seek to restart my career, I may end up sticking to training, education, e-learning sort of industry or work, so that my international experience remains valid and helpful. This isn't blue sky thinking anymore: I am serious and may start search quite soon.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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