Saturday, October 22, 2011

Going To India

I am going to India on Monday and looking forward to it.

First of all, I am going after 18 months. This is quite a change: I used to go to India almost every other month during my earlier job, an intense period of three years between June 2007 and April 2010. Due to a variety of reasons, when I left, I was tired of traveling and chose to take on a job which did not require travel. I wanted, for the first time in life, to stay home and have a 'regular' life. In short, I needed to restart. The fact that I feel ready to go now marks an end to that period - I am ready to return to the life I always loved yet again.

This time, India will be different. I would indeed miss my brother, my constant companion, someone who always stayed with me whenever I was in India. I didn't go home after his untimely death to escape from the reality of his absence, but I am going to face it now in all its bareness. I don't feel ready, and almost afraid. There has been three other deaths within my immediate family and the shape of it has changed irreversibly in these 18 months, so my family commitments in India will be quite different this time. In many a sense, this will be a fresh new start from me in India, a full cycle in my journey when I left India in 2001, wanting to stay away. 

India, indeed, has irreversibly changed in these 18 months as well. A year earlier, it was the time of hope, with a new government in New Delhi, being visibly led by a new generation of young leaders. In many ways, the mood turned now to one of disappointment, with endless stories of corruption. What seemed like new leadership has finally become like the old, and while new roads have been built and new gated communities have sprung up, some of India's favourite industries, software and outsourcing, have apparently stalled at the wake of global slowdown. The India story, which is still being told in an excited tone, started looking a bit tired. 

In a way, the fault is mine: I have started taking the new India for granted. This time, the glistening airports in Mumbai and Delhi will not surprise me anymore, but the usual lethargy in Kolkata airport will. I am doing a lot of railway journeys in India this time, going cross-country from Kolkata to Punjab, and then traveling back again through Delhi. This is my attempt to connect back to India of my imagination, the one I grew up with. I am almost hoping that while the airports have transformed my expectations, the railway stations almost remained the same: Traveling through them will disappoint less. 

I am also conscious that this trip may only be a prelude to more frequent journeys, a re-engagement of a kind with the country. Now that the glamour of export trade is fading, everyone seems to be discovering India's strength: Its people. When the New India has started failing the expectations, much like the airports and young leaders, suddenly the Old India is back in contention, all arise and awake, and ready to engage. 

In India, I am searching for new ideas in Education, which seemed be awakening the old country all over again. Finally, India is marking a break with Macaulay and trying to find a new identity all by itself. I am no longer touting the magic of English, but trying to understand the aspirations and identities of new Indian students, meeting some of them as I go along. I am visiting a number of Business Schools and Engineering Colleges, the factories where the new old India is being made. This is a different industry with a different mechanism, and I expect my visits to be very different from the ones I made before, engaging mostly with the Outsourcing company executives. This time, the people I shall meet is expected to talk and breathe India, being in touch with its students on a day to day basis, and surviving on its middle class aspirations. I am expecting this to be a very different visit.

Finally, a wish: I want this visit to mark the beginning of the project I always wanted to do in India. I wanted to set up a college, which defies the Victorian mould and fuses creativity, technology and enterprise together. In my mind, that's what we will need to go beyond Macaulay. The dead peer's greatest achievement was not about replacing Sanskrit and Farsi with English, but in creating a native Babu class, lured into subjugation by the promise of privilege and perks. It was about a Cartesian dualism introduced at the heart of education, where mechanical pursuit of knowledge precluded the promises of creative thinking, and this still dominates the education thinking in India. However, the world has moved on beyond that factory mode of Education and it is time that the revolution is brought home. This is perhaps my most important, and hidden, agenda while in India: Meeting its entrepreneurs and education leaders, and exploring the idea of setting up this institution that I have imagined.

In a way, this will be my return to my forever old homeland.


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"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

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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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