Monday, July 02, 2012

The Return Path

Today is some sort of anniversary, 8th, of me living in England. When I first came, I used to keep a count of days I was here, and expected this to be a short trip; now, I keep counting down the time I still have to live here before going back to India. 

That's a serious thought. It is no longer an expat's itinerant dream, of which I wrote about before. I have taken the decision that I must, for a host of practical reasons, find a way back to India. That was the plan anyway, when I came here first: I wanted to live and learn, but never wanted to settle for good. But there are other reasons which have arisen since: I obviously do not want my father to live alone, as he is doing now, after my mother's, and then my brother's, unexpected death. And, finally, I see India as the great canvass of opportunity, where I can possibly make a difference: I always thought that way.

What changed recently is my view that I would only go back to India if I can go back to Kolkata. I have now realized, mostly from the narratives of other people who tried to return to Kolkata, that it may not be the best place to start. If anything, it has become more inhospitable to new starts after the change of government last year. It comes in the way of staying home for me, but being in India would still be better, as far as spending time with my father is concerned, than living in England: With my plans to pursue a career in Higher Education, I could travel to India only once in the last two years.

Once I open my mind to life in other Indian cities, the decision becomes much easier. Cities like Bangalore and Pune, not to mention the large metros like Delhi and Mumbai, are buzzing with activities and ideas. What makes me more optimistic is the reshuffle in Indian cabinet, with Pranab Mukherjee being retired upwards as the President and the Finance Ministry returning to Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, a job he has done before. Mr Mukherjee was a stumbling block to any serious attempt to change: Being a politics-first man, he was playing politics with India's much needed economic policy changes. Though Dr Singh will possibly have the portfolio only for a few months, before he finds an appropriate replacement, Indian economy may gain some momentum it lost.

I indeed don't see a red carpet homecoming in India, but another journey, just as tough as the one I made when I came to Britain. I am cognizant of my age - India is a young country where people of my age don't generally start off - and the fact that most people are weary of returning migrants. I am careful to keep my expectations low.

I am also allowing myself time to prepare for this return. It is not my intent to try to return this year, and not even in the next. For me, it is two year project for which I intend to prepare starting today. This means building connections and a life back in India. I have not lived in the country since I left it in January 2003 for the last time, and even then, I was just living intermittently, between my travels to Dhaka and elsewhere, for two years. I need to get used to again with the trains, the street food, Hindi and all that. But, most importantly, I need to connect back to people. Over the years of absence, I have lost touch with many friends, though some of it happened as the contexts changed. But I have earned others through exchange of ideas, mainly through this blog, and one thing top of my list now is to start those conversations again.

My idea of return is centred around the idea of creating a college in India, one that prepares young Indian graduates for life in global business, which fuses creativity, enterprise and technology. The idea draws upon all I learnt in England, both by working in Higher Ed as well as studying it, and what I am trying to establish at this very time in London. I can see how interested British universities are to attract Indian students; on the other hand, I can see a gap in Indian market for good education. In India, the market for higher education is vast and expanding, with 5 million more students expected to enter college in the next 3 years, but the Higher Education sector is failing them. The public sector, apart from a few top institutions, are chronically underfunded and unmanageably large; the private sector so far is mostly a mechanism for money laundering. No wonder that despite the demand, seats in management colleges are under-subscribed. I see an opportunity in this chaos, and believe that Indian Higher Education, particularly the private sector part of it, is now coming of age. This is indeed the time to do something innovative.

I have spent time last few months looking at funding options for our business in Britain and know that it becomes so much more easier if the plan is bolted on with an 'India play'. This is what I am planning to do now: A part of the plan that happens in India, and I would happily go and live there. This is the best possible opportunity for me to return: I wish to spend every minute preparing for it from now on.

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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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