Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Way To Return: 1

I wish to return to India and I am trying to chronicle my preparations for return here. This is not an immediate plan, indeed this journey is as consequential as the one of leaving India and hence need preparation, but this is one thing I would like to do. I have always stated this to be my intention, but let the life take its course, not forcing the agenda in any way. But, now, a break point of sorts, I am inclined to make a deliberate attempt, even over a period of a few years (as it must be), and intend to keep a record of this journey on this blog, so that it helps me to get into a conversation with others planning a similar journey.

I have indeed written about both about Reverse Migration in general (see here, Reverse Migration: India's Chance, and later, Reverse Migration: Is India Ready Yet?) and my particular desire to return (for example, Reverse Migration: A Personal Note, The Question of Return, The Never-ending Question of Return and in Being Non-Resident) over the years. Indeed, in this conversation spanning the years, I have come across people who have gone back, and many more who wanted to go back but can not for one reason or other. I have read books, like Returning to India by Shobha Narayan or the beautifully written India Calling by Anand Giridharadas. I also debated the merits of such a plan with neighbours and friends who wouldn't ever want to go back, for a good reason, and putatively planned my return several times (see The Return Path).

But, so far, this was a longing, a wish - a deep one but I haven't put much real effort behind it. The only moment I seriously tried, immediately after my brother's untimely death when I was not sure what I should do, I came to realise one sad fact about my chances of returning to India: Many, in fact, most of my business contacts in India, valued me for not who I am but where I lived. So, my phone calls saying - you know I wish to come back - were usually answered with - oh, but we do business with you because you are in the UK. This was a hard truth, but needed knowing: I indeed became wiser that returning to India isn't about just continuing my life as it is from another location, but a complete reframing, requiring preparation, just as one would do if migrating again. Indeed, the realisation that some of one's own relatives and friends also have a similar view - they value the relationship for my relative exotic-ness of being a foreign resident - came on top of this, but this was less of a shock after being exposed to the idea in business conversations previously.

However, even if this is a big leap, I am at a point of committing myself to it. The only difference the bigness of the enterprise makes is that instead of just packing my bags (and books) and going back, I know better to prepare for it over a longer period of time. My original project, conceived many years ago, to come to study, has now been completed (I attend the award ceremonies in August this year). My other, implicit, goal of seeing the world and being cosmopolitan, has also been met, at least partially. I am no longer the person I was before I set off in this journey. However, I must now prepare for the next phase of my life, just as I once did for this one.

But, before I set out on this journey, one thing perhaps needs to be answered: Why take the trouble? India is complex, confounding, difficult. Life in UK is so much more streamlined, comfortable. I can develop my business or settle into a job. Being a British national, I have as much right in this country as anyone. If I consider my own wellbeing, going back to India seems like an unnecessary rocking of the boat.

Admittedly, all the above are perhaps true. This is not about how good or bad life in India is compared to the life in Britain. It is fundamentally about who I am. This is the bit I did not understand before, and hence, engaged in debates about the merits of the decision. My change-the-world idealism may just be incurable, and I am better off making peace with my character. So, my approach will remain this: India is difficult, but that's the opportunity. I am too Indian at heart to become anything else anyway.

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