To India or Not To India

That indeed is the big question that featured throughout the 10 years I have written this blog! What started as a brief educational trip - my stay in Britain - ended up becoming semi-permanent, as one thing followed the other, but my picture of ideal life, deeply attached to the city of my birth, Kolkata, continued to surface at regular intervals. There is a mix of sense of duty, commitment, of finding the zone of comfort - and this drives my thinking, and reinforces my sense of impermanence. However, as expected, this does me no good - and one of the key things I want to do now is to figure out what I really want to do.

Apart from my desire to be near my father, and my attachment to my childhood home, there is another, more practical, reason to be in India. It is indeed the most exciting market for the sector I chose to specialise in, Higher Education. Britain, with its declining number of college goers, does not seem to be an ideal location to be thinking disruptively about Higher Ed, whereas India, with its vast number of young people, is possibly the most potent in the world to start something new. On the other hand, however, precisely for the same reason - seemingly limitless demand - Indian Higher Education is not open to innovation. So, if my objective would have been to create an attractive Education offering, from the sales perspective, and sell it to millions of people, India would have been the place to be - and indeed, I possibly would have migrated back to India quite some time back. However, my work is based on my belief that we need a new model of Higher Education - because of the twin forces of globalisation and automation - and this is not a conversation to be having in India, where the whole Higher Education conversation is dominated by a narrowly technocratic vision of the business, mostly corrupt and inefficient, and almost always unfailingly mindless. Therefore, the question - to India or not to India - persists.

What complicates this further is that somehow my knowledge and understanding of India, gathered over a decade of working in the frontline of IT Education, has come to be seen as my key skill by potential employers. I am also equally guilty of indulging in this conversation through this blog, and the conferences etc that I helped to organise in the past. But this is also a stereotype that I strive to escape. I have, over the years, consciously tried to accumulate knowledge and skills with a global perspective, and I hate to be boxed as an India expert, not because I do not know the country, but there is a whole industry of that which I want to be no part of. Indeed, I may have failed to project another, more compelling, area of expertise so that all conversations lead back to India, for me. But equally, because I took an unusual road and tried to develop a more holistic perspective of the sector (rather than becoming a teacher, technologist or marketer, or something specific), India Expert is perhaps the most convenient label to slap on me. 

And, surely, I have taken advantage of it. Of my eleven years in Britain, I have at least spent five years taking on roles in which India was a big piece. This is indeed because I needed those roles at those specific times, and surely I knew a few things about India that would have helped my employers. But, to add to my general sense of impermanence, these roles were a throwback from my past - not presenting opportunities to do anything meaningful and not presenting any learning - and to me, were more of transitional opportunities than something to look forward to and settle in. 

In 2015, therefore, I wanted to put this to bed and come up with a plan that gives me some visibility of the future. And, to do that, this question - to India or not to India - had to be answered first. Given that I have been spending a lot of time in India over the last few months, the answer was really easy. I did not want to go back to India in the near future. The point of migrating out was, for me, to gain global expertise in my chosen field. This is not something being in Indian Higher Education will offer me, I know now first hand, because the conversation there is well behind what is happening in the developed world. Indeed, I shall continue to engage with India - my current job provides ample opportunity and projects always come my way - but I realised that I am not yet ready to return into a box and give up my quest for world class expertise. 

Indeed, this is not a resolution never to go back - India will always be home - but rather the commitment to a plan that would require me to stay abroad for at least another five years. I wish to spend these years pursuing specific projects and learn and develop certain expertise, and continue to engage with India but also other countries across the world. That way, I believe, I shall be able to do more when I eventually return. I feel happy to have resolved this and my mind is now clear and my conversations in the future will perhaps be more to the point. Such clarity, hopefully, will also help me make better decisions about my commitments in India, both in terms of my projects as well as my family engagements. I am hoping that this new kind of thinking will help me prioritise better, focus better and do better, and even prepare me better for an eventual return journey.  


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