This does not happen often, so this is special. I read a book from cover to cover in a flight. The flight was late, by an hour, as the SpiceJet workmen hovered around looking lost for a long time before my flight to Bangalore departed from Kolkata. But that's not the reason I could read: It was one of those books which I could have a conversation with, that kept me awake and busy, despite an early start in the morning.
This is a book about coming back to India. Written by Shobha Narayan, whose writing I have not read before, but could easily connect with her crisp, well-honed, journalistic style. Indeed, I should have been disappointed: This was an impulse purchase for reading during the flight, but I expected a story of what happened when one returned to India. Instead, this is an immigrant's chronicle of deciding to move back, the doubts, the debates and the challenges. In a way, this was better, closer to my lived experience, and not just an empirical list of disappointments and wins after the plunge, which is still theoretical for me.
There are many differences indeed with the writer's world and my own. She wanted to move back to stay close to the parents, who did not want to come and live in America. While I go through similar tribulations with my father, he openly says that he wants me to live in England, because 'there is nothing to come back to in Kolkata'. To be honest, here is the second difference between the story and my real life: I have now committed myself to Education, and India seems to present the biggest opportunity for education innovation that there is anywhere in the world. [In the story, Shobha's husband, Ram, was in Asset Management, and India was a mere backwater compared to his position in Wall Street]
True, India is daunting and difficult: The combination of tight regulation and failed implementation have ravaged India's education sector. In fact, education, particularly post-compulsory education which is my specific interest area, seems to be last bastion of babu-raj in India, and almost impregnable because of its joint ownership (between state and union governments) and comparative low priority given to it so far by the policy-makers. But, India's low enrolment ratios and growing population create a tempting case for intervention and innovation. There are some stellar enterprises in the sector, but none very innovative, because India's attempts to get world class higher education was, so far, about importing the disease - cost disease - that ails global education. Indian institutions tried to rent reputation (which comes at a huge price and does not work) and fly in various big name professors by paying them exciting salaries and perks, all resulting in a quick cost climb up. [On the other hand, not much has happened in building reputation, and rather, reputations, such as IITs' and IIMs', have been leveraged in various towns, with a great risk of brand dilution.] This presents a great opportunity for anyone trying to do something innovative, though the challenge will remain in how to stand up amid the cacophony of mediocrity, where tall claims are being made and little delivered.
This possibly reflects the biggest challenge in India, particularly from an outside-in perspective: That most people do not care about doing a good job. Shobha Narayan also laments the lack of civic spirit among Indians, recounting, memorably, an imaginary case where an Indian will trouble to carry home-made food for a distant relative and turn up at the railway station at an ungodly hour just because his/her train is stopping by at the station, but then have no qualms about discarding the packaging right on the station platform without caring to look for a trash can. While I read this, the thought flashing across my mind is that this is a problem that can be fixed with education, but I know that would be counter-intuitive in India.
Coming back to the book, I have this conversation every day with myself, and reading this book just accentuated the thoughts. Indeed, I love this country and would want to stay near my father, whatever sacrifices he may want to make for the sake of my happiness; I love Bengali books and literature, and would want to enjoy the expected revival of bengali culture industry, as and when it comes, because of the opening of markets in Bangladesh; I love Kolkata as a city and would, some day, want to make a photo feature walking around Kolkata's streets and retelling their stories; and above all, I love the house I grew up in and enjoying an quiet winter morning standing on its terrace has always been the pinnacle of my ambition.
But this book reminds me of another thing, too: That return is another journey. Indeed, I never left, or never left with finality. I left my books untouched and constantly reminded my father that they need to be cared for. I tried to build another flat in the city, not to rent or sell, but to live if I need to. I only wanted to have a bit of adventure, study abroad and expand my mind. However, eight years is a long time and life grows around you: Friends, family, habits and possessions have rooted me down in a way I never foresaw. So, return is another journey, which has to be plotted and planned, and lived through. And, it is hardly easy - something that this book brings out vividly and all its complexity.
I have my usual criticisms too: Parts of it sound too cliched, one can almost see an editor's hand in highlighting some portions to appeal to an Indian audience. The fact that the author spent time with gay artists but when confronted with the prospect of a same-sex marriage in a friend's family, started thinking that this would be averted if only she lived in India, is a bit over the board for me: In fact, she might as well have thought that if her child turns out to be gay, she might have faced much greater social problems, exclusion and even legal persecution (the incident was several years ago) if she chose to live in India. But, despite a few things like that, she writes in a very practical way I could connect to: She talks about taking on an American passport just as taking life insurance, so that one could come back if things don't work out, a practical discussion most immigrants will do. She talks about the identity issues with her children, the conversations with Korean Dry-Cleaners, Polish shopowners, all of which could have happened in Britain, and I could have been her.
So, I shall recommend this book to all my neighbours and friends now, those of us who talk incessantly about going back, but never sure how to do it.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
Italy recently apologised to Libya for its occupation of the country between 1911 and the Second Word War and offered an investment deal of $5 Billion over next 25 years towards reparation. This is largely symbolic, and investment deals could have been done without adding this moral halo . But the apology itself is an important step. The key question is one of principle, indeed. It is about whether the occupying countries do accept that their colonial exploits did enormous harm to the occupied, and whether they are ready to accept the responsibility. As the world becomes more sensitive towards the wrongness of occupation [even George Bush was heard saying that occupation of Georgia by Russia is unthinkable in the 21st century!!], and the world justice system gears up to try the leaders causing genocide and violence, paying for past crimes - including occupation - becomes ever more relevant and important. There are several issues which are still hotly debated - slavery, for example,
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.