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Showing posts from August, 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Today started with a false start, much like yesterday. I started early and landed up, prepared to queue up, at the Indian High Commission at Aldwych. There were no one around, except for a few odd souls like me standing around in search of a queue, and we all realized, only after a few minutes of private wondering, that the High Commission is closed for Eid. The guy who so helpfully enlightened all the lost souls did indeed pass on a rather tacky leaflet printed with Indian tri-colour, and informed us that he is a visa agent and he can help us without a need of a return visit.

Later at work, the discussions turned to India. Rather unexpectedly, as my previous suggestions to my colleagues were almost always ignored. The fear of India is understandable: It is exceedingly difficult to do business in, particularly for smaller companies. For all the excitement about India, very few foreign companies have actually made money in India. The reasons are varied, and primarily because the lack o…

A Day's Work

Nothing happened today. Well, almost. The usual happened: I returned to work after a few days break - full of aspirations to get things done - but, unsurprisingly, end of the day, had most of my to-do list sitting pretty untouched. The small things I expected to finish were just too small to attend to, and the big things, too big. My time was eaten away by whatever I don't remember now. I came home rather late, struggling to finish a spreadsheet that must go tomorrow, and missed my commitment to go to swimming every day. Consistent with the day of false starts, that was my only consolation.

Indeed, I make it sound too gloomy. There were good things too. My application for Overseas Indian citizenship has finally arrived the Indian High Commission in London and I shall pop over tomorrow to pick it up. This is closest I can get to dual citizenship: This allows me to stay in India as long as I like and work if I want to, even get back my Indian citizenship someday if I manage to stay …

How I Got Here: 1

My parents came from two very different families, and my childhood was defined by the differences.

My father's side of the family was rich and entrepreneurial, mostly self-taught, fiercely independent, disciplined and hardworking. My father, the first to go to university and with his teaching job at a college, was as much a misfit in the family as one could be. The family, led by the family patriarch, my grandfather's eldest brother, was apolitical, somewhat elitist and focused on building a great business. My father's popularity as a teacher and his superb musical skills would be fondly referred to, but his profession was almost treated as a hobby.

My mother's side was exactly the opposite. They were not in business: They were in politics and public service. My grandfather went to jail fighting for India's freedom, and my mother's elder brother was a leading light in the extreme left movement in Calcutta in the early Seventies and died a premature death when t…

Back to Idealism

I am at an interesting phase in my life. In the last 18 months or so, my life has completely changed. Old responsibilities and attachments have died, and new configurations have emerged. My plans for return, which I felt about so intensely at the time, have receded to the background; but I rediscovered my attachment to India. And, overall, after spending many a year in waiting, almost in hibernation, I feel ready to go out and try what I wanted to do all my life.

I have indeed made no secrets about what I want to do: I wanted to set up an educational establishment which fuses creative spirit, technology savvy and enterprise thinking, in a truly global context. Also, I am an unashamed idealist, and therefore think that this institution should strive to engage with global problems, poverty, climate change, intolerance, inequality etc., and the learners should emerge with an urge and a commitment to make the world a better place.

In a way, this is not new. All my life, almost all the thi…

Corruption and India: Is Lokpal The Solution?

Indian media, and the global media has caught up lately, is completely obsessed with Anna Hazare and his Lokpal bill now. Indeed, Anna Hazare has caught the public mood by picking up the issue of corruption, which is all pervasive in India, and he is the man of the moment. His struggle at this moment symbolizes the rift between the new India, the India of the young people, and the old India, of the Raj mentality, of privilege and unaccountability, and this is why he is suddenly so popular. The government, inept and clueless, has made the matters worse by arresting Anna Hazare. Farcically, the reason given for arrest was a bungled attempt to impose conditions on the protest - the government wanted to have the power how many people can come to protest, whether they can come by car or by foot, how long they can protest etc - and they had to make a swift about turn when the comical nature of the arrest became clear. Now, the momentum is completely with Mr Hazare and the government is pani…

Does For-Profit Higher Education Serve A Social Purpose?

I am interested in Higher Education: I believe that expanding Higher Education opportunities, through private sector participation if necessary, is key to create opportunities of social progression. I am not alone in this - this is possibly the most commonly held view in the UK and the United States - and this allows me to think favourably about what I do. Even if the Private Higher Ed is run for a profit, I argue, this performs an important social function, and helps change the society for better.

At this time, however, I am trying to question this deeply held belief - does it?

The reason I question is because I am at that time in life when I feel like questioning everything I took for granted. In a way, I am starting a new life. I am out of the burn-out I was suffering around this time last year and have a far more positive world view than I had before. Despite the series of deaths in my family, I have lost four very close people since this January including my brother, and indeed, …

Capitalism's Final Triumph

If the stock markets are to be believed, the US and the European economies are on the verge of a double-dip, a second recession in three years, which will possibly, inescapably perhaps, lead into a long great depression, the second time in modern history. Whether or not that really happens, one thing is clear: If we thought the recession of 2008 would be a short-lived affair, it turned out to be far more persistent. With governments and central banks across the OECD countries frozen into a rudderless chaos, as against their initial strident response with big stimulus and matching rhetoric, we can only expect the worst now. And, if this happens, this will transform our societies completely and reshape history, remember the last great depression ended in a global war and ensuing detente lasting over six decades, and these days and weeks would go down in history when we brought this upon ourselves, through our collective senselessness.

The warning signs were all there. In 2008, we knew t…

New Opportunities in British For-Profit Education

British Higher Education is set to change beyond recognition in 2012, not just in terms of rising student fees, but also in terms of the structure and offering of the sector. It is fair to argue that as the country moves from public funding of higher education to a tuition fee led provision, one inescapable consequence is to broaden the scope of participation of the private sector Higher Education. This, despite the resistance from the certain sections of the academic community, is already accepted as a policy direction and new players are set to position themselves to gain a share of the newly opened up market.


This is also a time when what constituted British For-Profit Education industry is at a crisis. The government has introduced significant changes in the student visa regime, limiting the access and the privileges that the Non-EU students had to education in Britain. Introduced with a clearly protective slant, these policies are designed to be temporary, but effective enough to …

India: A Moment in History

Today, as India celebrates its independence day, let us return to the derelict house in Beliaghata in Kolkata, where Gandhi took refuge on the day of independence of India. There he was, frail and all of his 78 years old, not in a celebratory mood. The independence, celebrated with pomp in Delhi, where Nehru read out his famous speech, delivered in English, was nothing alike what Gandhi visualized.

This is what Faiz Ahmed Faiz would write in his 'Dawn of Freedom', which assumed a different view from Nehru's awakening of a nation:

These tarnished rays, this night-smudged light --
This is not that Dawn for which, ravished with freedom,
we had set out in sheer longing,
so sure that somewhere in its desert the sky harbored
a final haven for the stars, and we would find it.
We had no doubt that night's vagrant wave would stray
towards the shore,
that the heart rocked with sorrow would at last reach its port.Friends, our blood shaped its own mysterious roads.
Wh…

Global e-School, anyone?

First of all, who would want to be a global entrepreneur? Finding local opportunities and building business on that basis is what entrepreneurs usually do, leaving the international trade bit to the big and the bold. But at the heart of entrepreneurship today, lies the n=1, r=g equation, that near-romantic idea of finding the best ideas and solutions from around the globe for that one, the one at the front of the till, special customer. I shall argue even small enterprises need this; otherwise, in the copycat world, they can't go on surviving. Competitive advantage is not just for the big guys!

For me, entrepreneurs are a different set of people. They are the new alchemists, if I can borrow an expression. What's important in that label is not the gold part, I am not sure alchemists ever made Gold, but the search part, the dream part, of an Alchemists' life. They are the people who believe in their own capability to turn an idea into gold, okay metaphorical one. And they pu…

The Trouble With Peace

There is this interesting idea making rounds to make the whole world leave in peace for just one day. This is a brilliant idea: Once people know how it is to live in peace, violence will never be the same again. Lots of violence in the world is because some of its participants never knew how it is to defer to another person's point of view, how to have compassion and how to set aside their own ego at times. Also, indeed, they never understand that the greatest show of power is not to do what they could have done rather than doing things to prove that they can do it. This is the point about recent London riots, where a perpetrator was saying that they had done it to show the rich what they could do. So, a day of peace, just a day, would require everyone to stretch and do all those things completely alien to them: This, I would believe, would be so magical that they wouldn't be able to return to violence the next day.

I am usually an utopian enthusiast of such wild ideas, but I …

What Riots Taught Us

London has been burning, quite literally, for the last few days. A mob took over its roads and attacked its shops and people. Police, stretched thin across the city, rushed from place to place, ineffective in the face of the new generation rioting coordinated on Twitter. Fire Services, struggling with a number of major fires in the city and the suburbs, were out-manned and out-witted. Politicians, London's Mayor and Britain's Prime Minister among them, had to cancel holidays and fly back to London. Strange images of burning houses and littered streets emerged in the world media. The usual bliss of London life disappeared: An unusual unease reigned.

This may turn out to be an inflection point of sorts in history. The riots are unexpected, because this was not prompted, despite what was initially claimed, by anger of a particular community. Yes, this started from the shooting an armed black young man in North London, but the violence elsewhere was crowd-driven, coordinated throu…

Reinventing College

I am on my journey to create a world college. The idea is to draw students from all over the world, to campuses all over the world, learning different cultures and ways of doing things while doing the core curriculum of a kind. This will be education through 'walking 10,000 miles, reading 10,000 books' : Not quite though, but in a somewhat similar method.

I shall argue that our current system of college education is too narrow, too technical. There are lots of debates whether people learn anything at all while in college. I think they do, but mostly wrong things. These are usually the best years of people's lives, and they spend it learning outdated things in an outmoded way. They mug up shallow texts and ideas, in pursuit of selfish goals and prepare for a world that does not exist. I think college should be a far more exciting time than that.

This is a time when students should see the world and learn its diversity and its enormous possibilities. It is the time when they d…

My Goals for 2012 and Beyond

I am in the goal setting mood already. Usually, one leaves it for the end of year; so I did every year. However, this year, I failed to do this: 2010 ended with me in a disarray, and my brother's untimely death in the New Year completely threw me out of gear. In fact, since the start of the year, I have lived a hibernated life, not doing much at all, just trying to keep things going.

It is a bit of a shame that I lost these 7 months in that mode, but I feel ready to move forward again. However, I gained tremendous experiences in teaching and managing teaching organizations, and read widely around the area. My professional credentials also look better with the acquisition of the Masters in Education, which I should complete by this December. The taught portion of this course should finish by September, which will free up quite a bit of time for me. I shall surely have to do the Dissertation in the Autumn, but since I am focusing on the growth of Open Learning worldwide, it should be…

A Presentation at a Youth Conference

Yesterday I was speaking to a group of extremely bright young people about future, career and aspirations. If anything, this was a humbling experience. I seemed to have started from a point, that of undermining their intellectual capabilities, but was soon aware how motivated, aspirational and knowledgeable the audience was. This is a far cry from the usual crowd I get to speak to, but this is the crowd who we intend to appeal to when we open a new college offering courses in Business, Economics and Entrepreneurship in the next few months.

There were a number of presentations from other equally accomplished people, coming from different career streams. Some worked in politics, others in Media, public services and banks. This was indeed quite a Hindu thing, arranged by Asian Voice, a newspaper for British Asians, and the City Hindu Network, which is a forum for young British Asian executives working in the City of London. Indeed, the audience drew from all kinds of age groups and religi…

On Dying and Living Online

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