Going forward I’d like to provide some highlights and takeaways from my travels as a way to share some things I’ve taken in and learned during those trips. The posts will also serve as a sort of journal for me.
So what better way to begin than in the car I’m traveling in now on Mumbai’s famous Marine Drive en route to a meeting in Worli where I am to meet for the first time an investment manager who may become a client.
My affair with India
It began while I was a student in London. December was just around the corner and many of my friends were about to head home to see family.
To my parents’ dismay, I had no plans to return to Washington DC. Instead, I had decided to go traveling. Somewhere East.
And so one day after class I walked into an on-campus travel agency.
On the shelves were colourful pamphlets and brochures for various exotic destinations across the globe, each calling out to me. And while a few of them made my top 3 list, one called out to me with a seductive voice, India.
“Take a seat,” said the agent. “Do you have a destination in mind.”
“I want to go to India,” I said.
“Got it,” he said and began typing away at his keyboard.
Anticipation and anxiety took hold while I waited to hear the next words that came out of his mouth. Anticipation at the prospect of visiting a country I’d been dying to see since I was a child. And slight anxiety that the price of the ticket would be beyond my budget.
“Looks like there may be a charter flight to India,” he said. “Wait.”
Oh no. There was probably nothing available.
“It’s your lucky day. I have a flight for you at a very attractive price,” he said. “It would fly into and out of Goa.”
He turned the monitor toward me to show me the details on his screen.
“Book it”, I said.
As the days passed and my departure date grew nearer, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement, which was magnified after a visit to the High Commission of India in Aldwych.
Nothing could prepare me for what turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. My faithful backpack and I experienced Goa, Mumbai, Varanasi and Rajasthan. We took 30-hour+ train rides. Witnessed early morning holy rituals on the banks of the Ganges. Met, spoke to and smiled at, all sorts of wonderful people. And saw a country with more shades of colour than I knew existed.
Since then, I’ve returned to India many times, for both professional and personal reasons, and expect to continue to do so for as long as I can.
Last month, I found myself in the sub-Continent again. Mainly for work. I try and visit contacts and investors I know there at least once a year. Though I may speak to them on the phone or e-mail them regularly throughout the year it’s always good to sit face to face over a meal or a tea. Or a masala chai.
For this particular trip, meetings were scheduled with a few investors, including a longer catch-up with a very large Family Office. Also, I was officially introduced to a new potential client, a very successful and reputable investment manager. Should talks progress, I would help them structure a partnership with a capital partner from Europe or the Middle East.
Lastly, it was not all work and no play. There was an element of fun to my trip. I made time to pop over to Jaipur at an opportune time to check out the renowned Jaipur Literature Festival. Anyone of you traveling around Rajasthan in January should consider stopping by. It’s an experience and a half. Trust me, chances are it’s unlike any other organised gathering you’ve been to. It’s part circus, part festival, part gala, part fashion show. And entirely unique and memorable. Interestingly, also, for those of you interested in the business side of publishing there is The Jaipur Bookmark that’s worth checking out. I sat in on several talks and obtained some useful insights into the workings of a number of major publishing houses. After all, I need ideas for my next novel, The Jewel of Rajasthan.
Last but not least, I also met up with friends, including Persis and Danesh. Dinner with them at the Cricket Club of India was, as always, an immense joy.
What are you waiting for?
Haven’t been to India yet? Put it off no longer. Book yourself a ticket.
Do it for the dishes you could never have imagined. The architecture that holds your gaze. The unending variety of variety. The sights, scents and encounters that disorient you in magnificent ways. The journey that defines your first trip because everyone’s first is an unforgettable journey. The indelible mark Varanasi will leave in your memory when you sit by the ghat at sunrise as holy rituals take place. To the pocket change cup of chai served on the side of the street which will give you immensely more pleasure than an overpriced glass of wine from a Michelin-starred restaurant. To the Golden Temple of Amritsar. The blue city of Jodhpur. To the Dabbawala lunchbox delivery system in Mumbai. And so much more.
For you readers who are more business-minded let me remind you that in India you have a rising power, with a large proportion of the world’s population, with a growing middle class, lots of innovative companies, highly talented workforce and a rich cultural tradition to support its rise.
For as long as I remember I was drawn to foreign lands, curious to know what went on far away from home. Yet as much as I read the international sections of various newspapers, little sunk in. Even though I invariably sought out and read newspaper articles on businesses in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, I struggled to digest and retain much information. That is, until I visited one of the countries. From then on, I had a real connection to a nation. That served as a foundation. I went on to build up a knowledge base from there.
Following my first visit to India I took a greater interest in India-related news and happenings. Articles, business or political, on the sub-continent made a stronger impression on me. Because of my visit, I was armed with some contextual background, however little it was. And with time, and more visits, I took greater interest and made more sense of events and developments in the country. Later, when I began meeting with Indian businesses, my interest and growing knowledge of the country made an impact. I would never proclaim to be an expert but I had evident interest and enthusiasm, which came across and was appreciated. Don’t be under any illusion, a few trips to a country won’t make a person an authority. But with time your knowledge grows. That’s what you want.
So if you haven’t been then go. It’s too important a country to ignore. And if you’ve already been then go again. And if you’ve been many times then consider yourself lucky to be a guest of that beautiful country.