No way back
There are moments when choices have to be made. This is perhaps one of those, for me.
Ever since 2020, I kept my life in a holding pattern. Not thinking about the future, living a day at a time! It worked well - it was the right mode for the pandemic. But now I am getting tired of not dreaming.
I must concede that the year has been extremely productive for me in a variety of ways. It's not just about overcoming my earlier entrepreneurial failure - which I have been brooding over for seven years and still dealing with its consequences - but also about learning a few things about entrepreneurship itself.
As a result, I live a very different life now: I have gone back to being a company man I once was. Along the way, I became conscious of my baggage. I now have a clear idea what success looks like - how singularly focused, totally unconcerned about nuances one needs to be - and how my fundamental assumptions about business life were always too idealistic.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, with close contact and active supervision of my grandfather, a hardworking man who built a successful business ground up. But my ideas were those of a Bengali businessman - as anachronistic as it sounds - one that deals with money not as an end in itself, but a way to meaningful life. All those principles I grew up with - hard work, commitment, the duty of care - might have worked at a different time, but not at this particular moment of gravity-defying money supply and rentier rule! Basically, my main-street world-view was totally out of date.
But I have tried and failed to be a company man as well: I got tired and left it midway. I was modestly climbing the ladder and learnt the art of manipulation - which some calls management - well. I realised I could survive - but then did not want to. I left the company where I could have made my career, not once but twice (once for an entrepreneurial stint and then again to migrate). In a way, I self-retired from corporate life.
Until now, that is. I got back to it as a sort of emergency response and enjoyed recently the action-oriented days. But, now, the penny drops: As the pandemic recedes (in my mind, it has become a logistics problem), I am able to look at the future with somewhat more certainty, I feel the need to get off the holding course. Besides, it was my birthday a few days back and I feel older, wiser and more in a hurry.
Which means it needs to be all-change in my life, again. I haven't put a date to this, but soon. I would rather stop doing all the mediocre stuff that I do, all the daily compromises I make and start moving towards that one big goal that I have in life. That of creating something new and beautiful, a life up from scratch. I have lived a life of conformity - that was what I was taught and that was what I had to do - and I feel I have lived an entire lifetime conforming.
There is, also, this question of going back. This popped up in my head from time to time, a type of sweet nostalgia to be back where I started. I still remember the moment - on a January evening years ago - when I packed my bags and promised to myself that I would be back really soon. This holding course of the last year is just a part of that bigger holding course - living out a suitcase, never giving up on that idea of return - and I must also put that idea to rest.
But, I am conscious that there is really no way back. As you can't step into the same river twice, what I left, has left. I may be able to close my eyes and see the house of my childhood and all the sweet smells (and street-food, as one must remember) and lights, and the cool breeze of Northwesters and the cooling shadow of trees in the blazing Sun - but that's all really inside me! Ahead, there is no way back.
So, perhaps, ahead of me is Europe. In the years that passed, I developed a deep Teutonophilia, of that flawed nation that could accept and live with its flaws. Having lived in Britain for so long (seventeen years this summer), I know of the ugly unresolved imperial confusion at its heart (something that was clearly on display in Brexit). This has become less of a place to be cosmopolitan of my quest. Besides, the Anglo-American opportunity capitalism is tearing apart the world and, though this is what I do - sell 'western' education to fawning students - I am acutely aware of its limitations. Therefore, I am looking to change my base as well as my work, and perhaps start a new stint as the pandemic recedes.
Indeed, I wanted this for some time and half-heartedly worked towards it. But I never let go of the idea of return and therefore, never felt the desperation. Brexit, the destruction of the idea of India back home, and the widespread 'failure of civilisation' in the face of the pandemic, spurred me on a different course. I know there is no way back; what I need to return is not to a place, but to myself, to a freedom of thought I long lost.