Finding my calling

The last year was chaotic for me. My father passed away, and this resulted in a profound shift of perspective. For the first time in my life, I felt disconnected from India. I did not know before what India meant to me. Like other immigrants, I saw it as a source of nostalgia; and like others in International Education, I saw it as an economic opportunity. I wanted to go there once in a while, but did not want any of its dust and grime. My father's death made nostalgia a source of pain; the real life business engagements in India, which I am in the middle of, reminded me why I left the country in the first place. But, I forgot what India is really to me: My root! As I indulged in the mental drift away from India, a deep uprootedness took over. 

I was oblivious to it, though. There were other things happening in my life. Somewhat contradictorily, I was discovering my romantic, twenty-something self all over again. I was able to write, first time in many years, and found beautiful friendships. This was almost my lost life, which I gave up, somewhere in the first years of my college, when I felt the burden of responsibility of being the eldest son. I wanted to make my mother happy and comfortable and realised my imaginative wanderings would not help in earning money. But I did not give it up - the Bengali disregard for money and other superficial things - but hid it somewhere. One particular encounter suddenly brought it all back to me. It was inconsequential - it was just a glimpse of what life could have been - but that made me more Bengali than I ever was. The sense of tragedy, a touch of magic, transformed how I thought about myself and of my relationship with the world. 

I am now in the looking back time. My grief is adjusting to the necessities of being alive; my new self felt just like the old one in the real. But those realisations and failures are not bad: I know that I can't go back in time. I can't unfeel and hopefully who I am now is at least a wiser version. Hence, this weekend, when I became unsocial by design, I am rethinking my priorities and replanning my future. Of course, daily life rages on all around me. The social-emotional demands of conventional life - a pursuit of happiness without defining what one's happiness could be - define my everyday, and it is almost impossible for me to figure out what to do next without shutting it down at least for a little while. Hence, I tried: To read and to write, to forget my disappointments and to detach myself from who I have become.

It became a very uncomfortable exercise. For example, I realised how rootless I become when I let India go from my mind. I saw that despite the painful end, my father's smile - when he saw me at his deathbed - would be the most precious memory I would hold onto all my life. I realised my aspirations to be loved need to be grounded by my material and physical realities; poetry has its charm but not universally! In fact, I started realising that my world is an elaborate deception, because I am wishing to be deceived. The question someone asked me recently - do I respect myself - came back to me hauntingly, and in many-layered significance. For all my soul-searching, I saw, I was looking for validation of my self from the outside, whereas I must find my roots and my realisation of life by discovering my calling. 

It was obvious that I have a sense of my calling but have abandoned the same somewhere along the way. It was perhaps because I wanted to be someone else - an executive - and reprioritised my life. But now I have discovered myself: It's not the acceptance of my business idea but in rediscovery of my creative self is my greatest achievement of the year. It's not the departures that should define where I am, but this validation that peeled off my various layers of pretension and self-love. It is the plunge into my material and physical reality, seeing myself through the eyes of someone else, knowing my repulsive aspects through the lens of rejection, told me who I am and (as I am always optimistic), who I can be. The poverty of my self, once I disconnect from my roots, was too plain for me not to see. 

I am here therefore to make some pledges. First is not to let India go, but to double-down on the mission of understanding where I came from. Also, never to lose my creative self again, and to return to writing with all seriousness and commitment. I have to accept that the business executive's life is not for me - not because I can't do it but I find its speculative and value-free nature disgusting - and instead return to the scholarly pursuit which I was on just before I lost my way. There is no easy escape for me and I am not seeking one, but I must transform my facile world with more substance and greater commitment. This would start with re-architecting my everyday life and how I spend time, but also with some big plans and commitments.

The biggest change that I have to make is to take my current project more as a day-job rather than my calling. As I do something in the creation of which I had a role, it is easy for me to confuse the two. But I don't think my calling is to create a global edtech company; I see establishment of a college, to prepare a new generation of students for democracy and freedom, is what I should do. I have always thought what I do as a means to an end, but I am all too conscious of the annoying habits of the means to turn up dressed as ends in themselves - and that is what exactly happened to me.

This reflection takes me back to my PhD application. I dusted off my old files (which were waiting to be opened for three years now) and started writing again. I had several thoughts in the meantime and one of those were to find a subject away from Indian history. But I could now see that this was mere escapism: I shall never be embarassed about being a Bengali. Going back to my originally intended exploration of Bengali cosmopolitanism is the smartest thing for me to do. I am, therefore, going to refocus back on my subject - evolution of the Indian university system - and turn in my PhD proposal shortly. This is my way back into the life I have lost (or given up).

There is another interesting decision that I have to make: Whether to publish some of my Facebook poetry? Some friends are advising me that I should and now, I may even have a publisher who may want to do it. But I also feel that those poems were personal: It was meant for people, someone, and I am only half of its creator. I am more inclined to brush up my graduate work on the history of Calcutta University to publish it. This will help my PhD work and establish my outsider-insider status in Higher Ed. There is no reason I can't do both, but I think the professional work ought to take priority at this time.


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