To the land of Serendip

I always knew - I am one of those three princes of Serendip. Amnesiac, or perhaps lost in reincarnation, but in a perpetual journey to I-don't-know-what. Because like those princes, once I left the port, I never knew where I would be going, or if I would ever come back.

Just transpose this strange feeling onto a somewhat idyllic, somewhat forced, and unprecedented holiday at home - in Calcutta - for 28 days! I have never had a holiday that long since I started working, that was a quarter of a century ago, and never stayed in Kolkata at a stretch for such a long time. Halfway through it, I counted the days and the penny dropped! I was obviously trying to dodge the Christmas-induced astronomical airfares more intently than I was thinking about anything else.

But then this holiday was anything but monotonous. The first half of it was a big family gathering, a four-day event around the Hindu celebration of coming of age of my son. Some of my friends indeed saw the 'threading ceremony' as casteist, a Brahmin ritual after all, but for me, this was the only opportunity to compel my relatives and friends, whom I have not seen in years, to come together. The second half afterwards was tragically different, sudden illness and demise of someone very close, and marked by another cycle of events through the hospital to the cremation and funeral ceremonies. I never expected such intense exposure to life in India in such a short period!

And, then, the drama of private life was co-equally matched by public affairs. Just as I arrived in India, the Bollywood-style politics of India was entering a predictably absurd phase. The government's selective humanitarianism for minorities in neighbouring Muslim countries was outed as an obvious act of political opportunism and the country was sufficiently roused into a storm of protests. Therefore, my first week in India was internet-less, as the patriarchal state in India, learning after China and other African dictatorships, has learned the best way to keep the people straight is not to let them speak. This threw my life into chaos and showed me my one true addiction - the Internet! For all my dislike of corporate power, seven days without Google were indeed surreal. And, if that was the story of my Christmas, the New Year was marked by fascists breaking into the hostels of one of India's best universities and beating people up. The government was silent and its various apologists spun out stories ranging from a communist conspiracy to full-throated support of communists being beaten up. I almost knew this, but it was different seeing the Nazi turn in real life.

So, indeed, the past was a different country and my India visit turned out to be an act of adventure rather than of nostalgia. Even those conversations I restarted and connections I restored, they were entirely different. It was a fresh new start, befitting a whole new year. Psychologically, I was in a different place too: Such dramatic change of circumstances obviously allowed me to see my own life, the fragility of my achievements, the enormity of my shortcomings, all over again. And, in a new light too: My indulgences, my pretences, my inauthenticity, were all there, in full display! They were there to tell me what as a Prince of Serendip I should have known: Not here, not here, upwards and onwards! I have not arrived anywhere, I am not going anywhere, so I must go on. There was, nor will be, any homecoming for me; but rather, my life will be sliced and split between the many places and many possibilities, just as the mythical Hindu goddess' body was thrown over the entire known world by the dance - one of rage and atonement - of Shiva! I have indeed never felt more Indian, and yet, I have never felt the desire to take on the road more intensely before. 

Into 2020, then: As I return to London, my life is reset. This is like 2004 all over again for me. This time, though, I am less dreamy. I am not looking for a life abroad - I never will as I lost my innocence - but rather I am on a journey to be authentic to myself. I know that journey never ends: It's not the end, but the act itself that I am after.


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