A Visit In Three Parts: India 2011

I am visiting India, reconnecting with it after a long absence. Indeed, such absences change perceptions significantly, and as I start again, I am rediscovering everything afresh. My family context in India has irreversibly changed with deaths and divorces within my immediate family, and there is quite a bit of emptiness I have to deal with now. The same spaces, which I grew up in and to which I automatically assign some meaning, have transformed - and each encounter with them is torn between the inevitable fresh messages that they convey now and the nostalgia I associate with them. However, India, so far, having an opposite effect to nostalgia on me: It is allowing me to feel the inevitable lightness of being.

I am being slightly eccentric this time, by choice. I have kept myself away from Internet, mostly, except this one day when I checked an week's worth of mails etc. I have spent a lot of time in our family temple, not out of a new-found religiosity, but a sense of duty in my grandmother's absence, and may be because I wanted to revisit my identity. Then, I took a 36 hour train journey across India, something I have not done for at least 10 years, may be more, to come and see my sister in an airbase in Punjab. Along the way, I met interesting people, whose names I did not ask, and know about their lives and preferences; I complained about missing hand towels, cramped toilets and torn bed sheets, watched the ticket collectors soliciting for bribes from passengers without ticket, the railway catering men overcharging unsuspecting customers for train food service, and was pleasantly surprised to see that my mobile phone mostly worked along the way. This was my way of getting back to the India mode as quickly as I can.

It is something I needed to do. I have stayed away for long but I don't want to do this anymore. Right at this moment, as I type away this blog post after a long gap, the normalcy of life in London seems desirable. But I am almost certain about what I want to do in 2012: Re-engage back in India, come more often, eventually working out my path to return. Indeed, I see immense possibilities in India - an education system right for transformation, where the skills and abilities I have acquired over the last few years would be useful. If I have to find a purposeful life, this seems to be the land of the possible. I have learned, from my previous experiences, that one can't do much in India while being away; this is one thing my new life intends to change.

I obviously know how difficult it is to come back to India. It is more difficult than it was for me to go to Britain. One may think this is about expectations, and it indeed is: But, this country has become a different country since I left. In the new millennium, India seems to have got onto the bullock-cart of prosperity and a generation, which has not seen the difficulties of independence and war, and which has no time for the trademark despair and lack of opportunity of the 80s, has taken over. The material progress, the urge to get rich quicker than one's neighbour, has transformed the country - changing not just its 'Hindu rate of growth' but its 'Hindu value system'. In it, there is no apparent space for someone like me, with a wrong age, wrong ideology and wrong sense of priorities. My approaches to friendship, life and aspirations, all too romantic and idealist perhaps, are out of sync with the very practical land of the white tigers. I know that I have to transform myself quite a bit to be able to adopt and survive in this new country.

Indeed, this country has not changed much as far as state of affairs go. For all the talk of new India, it is still mostly the old India, Babus, the old Business houses, politicians of very predictable nature, that reigns supreme. The talk of enterprise is still muted, and the model of education is still Victorian. The ideas of progress is still governed by the idea of narrow ideas of individual well-being, not unlike 1870s Chicago or 2007's Dubai. Admittedly, the privileged class has widened, but the barriers of entry has got only higher. I know I shall need a different survival strategy altogether in this country, and living here may mean giving up some of things that I believe in. But the opportunities are still endless: I have been a diligent student of Higher Education policies, technologies, and developments across the world, and I feel excited about the education innovations that I can work on in India. In summary, I see this as a country in need for change, where change is critical for catching up with its own rhetoric.

Today, also, this marks the end of first part of my visit, which is about reconnecting and revisiting. Tomorrow, I meet the students and the owners of a successful Indian business school, where I may get associated over longer term. After that, I meet another company in Delhi, who I wish to work with in setting up a design training project, and finally another set of schools and entrepreneurs in Kolkata, some from my old life but some new, where I explore the options of taking our new business venture into India. That's part two, before the final parting, which must invariably happen soon.


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