Saturday, November 12, 2011

Re-imagining Me

I came back from India eager to start fresh, yet again. India always have that effect on me: I always come back with a strange combination of nostalgia, optimism and disappointment. It has been similar this time. However, there was something more: Seeing India up close had this humbling effect on me. Earlier, whenever I plotted my return to India, I would have imagined some kind of pampered expatriate existence, that companies would line up for my 'global' skills. However, engaging beyond the euphoria whipped up by mass media, I could feel the twin forces that are shaping the new India - the rise of the middle India and the businesses that serve solely the Indian consumers - and know that globalization, unlike what I previously thought, is only the context but not the cause of this massive shift. I could see the immense learning opportunity India offers to an engaged observer, and that my experiences on the fault lines of globalization may be valuable, but only if I can muster the humility to learn India afresh.

One may indeed ask why return is so important. This is indeed because I have never left, and despite spending a decade living outside India, I am still very much Indian, in taste, beliefs and appearance. I have never made an effort to change that identity and I remain comfortable, even proud, of my Indianness. Indeed, my India is shaped around the liberal values of inclusiveness, the ones we grew up with during our rather placid school years in the eighties, and this is a faraway land from today's get-rich-quick jungle capitalism that India somewhat embodies. But that extinct India, which claimed to have been swept away by the magic wand of 'liberalization' unleashed on India by wizards of World Bank in the 90s, lives on, as I came to discover, in the shops and streets of Middle India. That inclusive vision of India, that pride in being austere and rather spiritual, that spirit of being welcoming and accommodating, is central to the India that is driving the Indian dream at this time: It is quite the opposite of the American-style haughty Exceptionalism that the shiny India of the modern cities have come to claim. But the powershift, from the export to domestic markets, from metropolises to small cities and villages, from the tycoons to the shopkeeper, will come to force the inclusiveness. This is the India I indeed feel comfortable with, even if this means that I have to give up my little hope of being pampered as 'foreign returned'. Coming face to face with this India makes my dream of return look a real possibility.

This indeed means I reimagine my life from this point onwards. I am in the middle of a great shift, when I plan to leverage the knowledge and experience I have accumulated over the last few years to build a career in research and writing. I am hoping that the launch of U-Aspire, a business which I conceived in collaboration with a long-standing colleague, will allow me to focus my energies on educational research and design. Apart from this, I shall now revive my project of writing a long essay on New India. As all these elements come together by the first quarter of 2012, I am hopeful that the way I spend time now will change. I am conscious that I have to start traveling again, and as this experience in India showed me, I am slightly weary of travel these days. I am out of habit perhaps; I am now feeling tired and worn out only after a few days of train and plane journeys. However, I may have no choice but to travel extensively through 2012 and may be even longer, as we try to establish the new business and also create linkages with colleges worldwide for my current employers.

So, on that note, I sign off today, with the pledge to live a different life. After a couple of weeks absence, suddenly my usual Saturday shopping trip or the swimming at the gym seem unfamiliar expeditions, which I must get on with now.

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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."

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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.

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