Arguments With Myself: A Story in A Year
What an interesting contrast this end of year makes with its beginning. For me, 2010 began with an email, from an ex-colleague who I knew and respected, writing to me about his inability to join me in a project which we have been discussing for months. By then, I was all set to end my commitments with my the then employer and almost certainly knew that it would not be a painless parting. The project in question was the only thing I was looking forward to, and the colleague in question was the guide and mentor I needed: I knew it was almost impossible for me to pull it off alone. So, the mail, which I appreciated for its candor, told me that he would be unable, for a very valid reason, to join me in setting up the venture. For me, that was it though: The complete darkness. Stuck in a painful job that was going nowhere, with the racial stereotyping that came with it, I almost could not think of anything else I could do.
In a way, that was a point exactly as I experience towards the end: A point when your plans and assumptions cease to exist and you have to start all over again. I knew I had to move on, and I did. The best advice I ever got about managing bad times was that I should start to live by the day, not worrying much what would happen tomorrow. This is what I did. I would think only a few weeks after getting that mail, which told me that the project I was planning to start in Higher Education was over, I told my employers that I would be leaving (which was a done deal by then) and go back to India. And, I tried: I wrote to a few colleagues who I thought would give me a job once I am back in India, and spoke to my family in India about my intention to go back.
This led to second lesson, almost immediately after the first. No one wanted me back. The people who I thought valued my skills did indeed value it - as long as I am in Britain! They had no use of me if I was back in India, and so no jobs for me. My family did not want me back: They got used to my absence and liked it that way. They wanted to see me on and off, passing through Calcutta for a few days, but my shifting back a lot more problematic. The expression I learned that time is 'Uprootedness', which was indeed a choice made by me at a stage of my life, not knowing that it could not be undone. However nostalgic I felt about my childhood dreams of enjoying the winter sun, all my life, on the broad terrace of our family home, I may not be able to go back ever. [The only consolation is that winter does not happen in Kolkata anymore]
I sure needed this complete demise of identity to start constructing another. I must admit that I felt despair, but no anger. This is well after the time I argued in this blog that reverse migration presents an opportunity to India - that was not self-interested, just nostalgic - and was told off by the Indian professionals that they do not want people to return and take the privileges they should be getting, away. In a sense, identity is a bit like hangover, and you know that only when you are out of it. By April, when I was completely uprooted, I knew this. This is also the time of Ash Clouds and the time when my company took away my phone number (which they paid the bills for but the number belonged to me for many years) and tried to grab my 'contacts'.
Everything happens for a reason, a friend says, and everything, I started believing, is a part of grander narrative: You see it if you want to see it. Sometimes you don't want to see it though: When I was stuck in the series of disappointments that I mention above, I was living a day at a time without worrying about the narrative sense of it all. I could ill-afford any such reflection then, and I am glad that I left such reflections for an idle Saturday like today, when I have nothing better to do other than making a narrative sense of my experience.
I must say the middle class life can be wonderfully trivial and can consume all our imagination through its appeal of the unimportant. So, while living through a time when one is forced to surrender one's identity and face great uncertainties can be potentially life-destroying, it is not: One can spend enough time debating about the real intents of a distant relative or play Kingdom of Camelot to keep away from thinking what happens next. The only pain that may ever occur is from the dreams, of world beating success, but it is easier to leave those thoughts out of the door and immerse oneself in the banalities of middle class life.
It is interesting to see my other disappointments at the time as a part of this narrative. I wanted to give my never commenced project and trade it for a job instead. I went to someone I knew, who would not want to have a reference to employ me and who I came to know as a kind and friendly man. But, at this very time, his business faced a suspension notice and was about to go down. On top of it, while we still arranged to meet to talk about a possible job, he went to Morocco on holiday and got stuck there because of the Ash clouds. All separate events, all alive with game changing importance for me personally, all part of a strange narrative built around the common involvement of my own life: I came to understand that narratives are not formed just by a string of events but a common core narrative, in this case my loss of identity and efforts to regain it.
I must not claim I was heroic or calm. I was afraid that I may not be able to pay my rents soon. I was trying to cut all expenses. I knew my ex-employers wanted to destroy me for my obduracy of turning down their offers and choosing to walk out: They wanted to take my phone number to ensure that I don't find another job quickly. I was seething with anger, but could do little. They blocked my tax papers, again to create problems for me to find jobs: I could do nothing but to turn self-employed. I mention all this to disabuse anyone reading that I claim that narratives are neatly tucked into real life: It is being able to see the constructs beyond the messiness of daily life that actually can make a good narrative, as this year did for me.
So, I kept faith, went unemployed, stayed on in Britain, kept my head low and took a job where I was initially treated as a Junior Clerk. I did not mind this at all: I was ready to go back to work in warehouses as I did when I came to Britain first time, and this was much better. I had to go self-employed and complicate my life, but that was part of the grand narrative in a sense. I decided to contain all my entrepreneurial ambitions within the context of the job I was offered. There was an element of gratefulness in me - I knew I was burnt out and needed a redemption - but also a temperate readiness to wait. I started telling myself that almost what I had done for last three years have been undone, this ceased to exist, and I have to get started again. I expected nothing more than what I received six years ago, as a just-landed immigrant in Britain: I turned out to be better off as a result.
As the year ends, time comes a full circle. All the things I started earlier, in my attempts to escape the life imposed upon me, ends or restarts. My involvement in India comes down to a minimum, my disillusionment with the rogues I got involved with in the process near complete. My dreams of building a new Higher Education college, offering new age programmes of high quality and high value, become closer to reality every day: The year ends with my colleague and mentor finally deciding to join the project I started. My continuing learning efforts, to understand the nature and process of education, open up new doors and ideas to me. I feel like that imaginary World Citizen that I wanted to be while I was young, not just because I live in a country other than the one of my birth, but because I have been emotionally exiled, suffered an exclusion which can not possibly be ever undone. The lost wallet goes with my remaining hangovers, cards, mementos, pieces of identity and bills bearing the proof of my earlier consumption, and a new start is forced on me. All this, the redeeming part of it, seems like a story, carefully constructed, cleared of its messiness, by my imagination. It is as if I have lost a full lifetime in a space of twelve months and was given the ability to discover a story in lieu.
It is a gift for me to keep.