Saturday, May 09, 2015

Approaching India

I am on my way to India, again. This has now a two-week cycle for me. So, all this, Sunday morning breakfast at Gatwick, midnight queues at Indian airports to scan my body for African diseases, the familiar food in Emirates, feel usual. I am already tired from journeying so much (an experienced traveller told me, only those who don't travel think travel is glorious!) and the journeys now are marked by a strange combination of boredom, tiredness and total lack of enthusiasm, which is unusual for me. 

Particularly because I am going to India, and as it happens, I would spend a few days in Kolkata this time, a city I still consider my home. Notwithstanding the fact that I am so disheartened by the illiberal turn in India, Kolkata never fails to attract, amaze and make me feel comfortable. Yet, it is one of the cities which are too ensnared in its comfort zone - and surely it attracts because if is my comfort zone too, one thing I try so hard to escape all the time - and it fails to move, progressively sinking in a spectacular stall that crushes its young. The tunes that play at every traffic junction are now so artificial, so politically decadent, that rather than showcasing Kolkata's lively culture, they invoke the spectre of an irrevocable, cancerous decline, pangs leading to a quick and painful death. The options available to other cities that may have come back from the jaws of such decline - leadership and enterprise - seem to have escaped this city which once was one of the first to reach a million people (the other was Tokyo) in Asia. These days, it's spirit has been overcome by a Resource Curse, the mineral rich areas around Kolkata fuelled an elite made of commodity traders and money launderers, and devoid of its political significance and social hope, the city's life has settled into a desolate search for its identity as rest of the country moved on.

The conflict, then, in me, is between the aspiration of building global and the tiredness of life on the road, exaggerated by the tender love for my home city and the sadness in its decline. This made me resolve to write about my travel, something I did not do for a really long time, just to keep a chronicle of  all my love's labour lost, of my brush with reality and search for social hope, my conflict of commitment and pragmatic self-interest, my own middle class hypocrisy and the ideals I grew up with. This, fittingly, I write sitting in Gatwick North, with a strange anticipation without expectation, written at the twilight moment, as far as my approach to India is concerned, between the moments of giving in and giving up. The time for me is to reimagine my life afresh, of moving beyond what most will see as a silly sentimentality about a city and a country I love already left, and of committing myself fully to the possibilities of a new, global, life. And, hopefully, this narrative, entwined in travel, is both my quest and my answer.

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How To Live

"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

Last Words

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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