Monday, July 27, 2015

A Year of Travel

July and I complete a year of travel. I spent most of the year on the road, travelling mainly to India and sometimes to the Philippines. This was some kind of reset, just as my project in global education seemed to have stalled, which, at the least, allowed me to regain the confidence that ebbed in the midst of a failure. When I launched the previous project - where the cardinal sin was optimism and we set out despite knowing we were underfunded - I told my business partner that i felt confident that I could rebound from a failure, if it might come. This last year was just that, my effort to rebound from a failure, and I feel reasonably satisfied with where I am now.

Satisfied but not content, which is a curious feeling, as I know how much is still to be done. So, I am not counting the chickens yet. However, I needed to test some assumptions, restore faith in my own abilities, and clarify some of my own objectives, all of which I have done now. This meant three weeks of travel every month, experimenting with life quite a bit and losing the discipline of physical exercise and regular diet, which I regret. But, this was, as it appears at this vantage point, a great opportunity to imagine my life all over again, and knowing what I really want to do.

I have lived through periods like this before. Particularly as I did when I came to Britain and having no references or relevant experience, had to settle for a job at the end of the food chain. That was a year of reset in my mind, and I can still vividly recall the feeling - how I would count the number of days as I walked up the stairs to the office near Old Street, and promise myself to find something more meaningful in a certain number of days. I kept my head down and opinions to myself unless asked, and survived, with great success, in a rather marginal role which bored me to no end. This is one experience I cherished after it was over, not because of the content of the experience but as it bore testimony of my perseverance, that I could survive and work my way out of meaninglessness. And, indeed, what I really felt good about is that even under that circumstance, I did good work and built relationships - I would maintain long-standing relationships with people I worked with, and one of them, my Line Manager, would eventually become my Business Partner.

My big claim, when I thought about those years between 2005 and 2006, was that I could maintain my focus solely based on my sense of duty and professional commitment, even when I do not necessarily see a future in a particular job or commit myself fully in an endeavour. This is not a flow experience, like the one I had between 2010 and 2013 while building the educational institution in London (or earlier, between 1998 and 2004, in various roles building up an education network in Asia), but I have managed pretty well without the same for rest of my career. 

This one year, in other ways, was helpful though. For example, I can just look back at this blog and know what changed. I believe I made two key decisions during the course of the year. The first is that I am not going to return to India in a hurry. While I started the year, and the new engagement, with an objective that I should be back to India by the end of 12 months, and said as much, ground realities set in as I started engaging full time. I tried in all sincerity and discovered that I have to be better prepared to return. And, that is indeed the second thing - that in the course of the year, I concluded that I indeed want to return to India, as that is home, at some point of time. I set that date 4 years from now - and this gave me clarity about what I should do with my life.

I also went through a see-saw of emotions regarding what I do. I came to it having failed to continue much further with the enterprise I was setting up, and this made me think at various times whether I should pursue a career in Higher Ed. I deliberately worked myself in it for last several years, but my lack of institutional conformity, which life in Higher Ed is always all about, kept coming in the way. As I stand right now, I am doing the same short and long term thing as i did with where I live. I realise that I must play to my strengths about ed-tech and innovation, and keep my institution building aspirations for now. And, indeed, the moment of that will be the moment of return - when I return to India, it would be for Higher Ed - but everything else for now would be a preparation.

This year is also a year of friendships lost and friendships found, and those two must remain in different boxes. This is because the new friendships, as one always finds on the road, can never fully compensate the regret over the lost ones. And, particularly of those which one never wanted to lose, and where the essential goodness of heart transcended even the drifting apart, goodwill lived even when the contacts withered, and the regrets, sad and nostalgic, came just because it was lost but never wiped away. And, the ones I found, of those who subscribe to my aspirations and dreams, ways of looking at the world, must indeed be celebrated, but only in the backdrop of the fragility of context, in full knowledge of temporariness of all endeavours and therefore of all connections, and of the profoundness embedded in even a moment of human connection, however trivial that may appear at first. 

So, indeed, I read Montaigne as I turn the year, of his lighthearted but deep reflections on affairs of men, and he becomes my companion, just as he was to so many others before me. With him, I come to see that the great affairs of human beings are always about other human beings, connecting as the end goal of life and being connected, the supreme realisation of living. The loneliness of travel, being away from what one would call a daily life, where jetlag and changing perspectives scatter away the usual cycles of day and night and daily routine, and bestow an unchanging silence in the cover of ever-changing noise, brings up the essence of connections and conversations in sharp relief. I, for one, know, with no doubt, that life is a solitary endeavour, but at the same time, see what makes it worth living.

And, as the year turns, I imagine my life anew. Already broken down in those immediate goals and long-ranging ambitions, I crave for simplicity. I hope my year of wandering would be over soon, nay I want it to be over soon. It is that point again when my desires of wandering reaches its conclusions, of a boring, predictable life, but with something meaningful to do. I have always been divided between two aspirations - that of seeing the world and of being able to stand still - and this year of travel reconcile them perfectly. The world zips by as seen from a running train, and at this very moment, I see what is left in my heart. A picture, still, solitary, even melancholy, frozen as the essence of all those movements, silent to capture all those noise, sad to embrace all the gaiety. It is this moment when standing still becomes all the movement, my messy, book-laden working table the centre of my world, my guileless mediocrity the fountain of all possibilities. This moment, this year, this thought start all over again - but I have moved, taken an infinitesimal step in the unending journey to the center of the universe, but found it right here.



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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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