Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Day 2: Still Frozen

My current mood was best displayed on my car's windscreen this morning: frozen on both sides. I am okay with cold, but this extreme winter is somehow playing havoc on my mind; this became amplified when I realized that I not only have to clear the snow that covers the outside of the windscreen, but inside it is frost too, frozen vapour, if that expression is valid. So started my day, struggling to get the car going after a cleanup, while my hand was feeling the freezing cold from inside the gloves.

Work life has, however, began at all earnestness. While my email is still down, and this gives me a feeling of emptiness of some kind, I realized that there are two kinds of feelings all around me: Those who are giving up and those who are starting fresh. There are lots of people who are in the process of giving up: They somehow survived till Christmas in the hope of a turnaround in the fourth quarter and can not go on any more. I received calls from two close friends, coincidentally one after the other, who have been laid off. I knew them for years and know that they are both exceptionally capable people, and somehow the circumstances overtook them completely. It felt sad, because I had ongoing interactions with both of them, and have benefited in the past through the association. Those two calls returned me from the Christmas Holiday remoteness to firmly on the ground, of post-recession hangover.

However, I would think it is more about some companies, and people, just giving up than the economy turning south. I know the retail sales during Christmas were strong, and the fears that some of the stores will go belly up just after Christmas will probably prove too pessimistic. But, I say this as I read the 'never knowing undersold' John Lewis stores chain, that overpriced British institution, and Marks & Spencer, a dated icon, have both done very well. And, if they do well, so will the grocers and the other retailers [I never see my local Primark store an inch vacant] - and the economy will survive. One can also see that the house prices have a modest rebound - up about 5.5% after the fall of more than 15% last year - and this will help brighten the sentiments. After all, Britain has become a nation of house-owners after the shop-keepers closed their shops or sold it to East African Gujratis.

This leads me to believe that there are many people in the second category, who are starting afresh. The other set of phone calls in the morning was about Merger and Acquisition activities, which seemed to have picked up. I learnt about a training company buying out an Further Education college, an important development, and an e-learning service provider. This makes the whole thing an interesting combination, almost a possible open college, in line with what I am working towards. I am obviously not one to see this dispiritedly. When the markets are too narrow, one fears competition. When markets are as new and as wide open as we have now, every competitor is a possible collaborator.

Besides, though the banks are still foot-dragging, giving out loans very miserly and at a very high rate of interest, there seems to be a new appetite for risk emerging among private investors. I have been discussing about a half-million pound deal with someone with very modest expectations, given the frozen state of the markets, but was pleasantly surprised that he was upbeat about raising the money from private investors, particularly from his middle eastern clients. I was instantly reminded of Dubai's troubles, where the Burj Khalifa will remain as a symbol of their humiliation, not aspiration or achievement; but it seems that Dubai's trouble may work out to be London's gain, with some money making their way back to Britain.

In the end, I spent the day thinking, somewhat in a sombre mood, on how to get the new businesses, both the one in corporate training in India and the other in the education space in Britain, off the ground. I have unintentionally slipped into a bit of a waiting mood, and looking forward to the visit to India in a few days time. I love hands-on busyness, and somehow this work-from-home in London is not very helpful. In the past, I discussed options of being closer to our HQ, but resisted the option of going over to Northern Ireland primarily because I did not see much avenue of growth after I relocate, and not many learning opportunities in my preferred space, that of technology enabled learning. After much thought, I did not want to bury my career into a very strange place, where more than 50% people work for the government and most of the daily life is unusually bureaucratic. In a way, I am responsible for my current despondence, but I don't regret it: I don't even think I could do my job any better if I retreated into the shell of isolation in Northern Ireland. Besides, every time I almost bought the idea, certain things happened - experiences of racially motivated behaviour - and I backed out again, carrying with me the impression that racial integration will possibly take years more in this small island of prejudice.

Today, I am reading something which is immensely interesting - Narendra Singh Sarila's The Shadow of The Great Game - a narrative of the partition of India based on the documents of British archive released in the recent past. It makes fascinating reading, and opens up a relative unexplored angle in the whole partition episode: That of British consideration of Geo-politics and the containment of Russia. It is interesting read, particularly when the Western powers are trying to contain the menace of Islamic fundamentalism arising out of Middle East. It is amazing to read about the British calculations to keep the North Western India out of the reach of the Indian nationalists, and under control of compliant Jinnah and the Muslim League who had no real connection with people [and exclude those leaders, like Sikandar Hiyat Khan in Punjab and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in North Western Frontier Province, who did]. All of this, regardless of its human costs, was done to secure British interests in the Middle East and contain Russia. There is an embryonic thought in my mind: 9/11 was the end of the world as British imperialist knew and imagined it, and we are now in an age where we must imagine afresh. Subject of a future blog post, may be!

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