Esc Update from India

by Rob on February 11, 2010

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Roly Bagnall – our 3rd ever Esc Hero from October 2009 – has kindly shared the following update with us. He left his London-based job with BNY Mellon in 2009 and moved to India to spend some time working in micro-finance. Check out his recent adventures below:

“Arriving in India had its challenges before I had even picked up my luggage. Nothing can prepare you for a new country, city, climate or lifestyle and at first your senses are heightened to absorb your new surroundings. The heat and humidity, the catastrophic din of the thundering traffic, the unfamiliar smells that rise from the gutters and the awe inspiring sights that behold you around every corner had to find its place in my mind beside the ordered and familiar world I had left behind in London. This adjustment can take weeks, even months and still I see things every day that surprise or appall me.

“After a some weeks of traveling and learning as much about this wildly diverse country as possible I had returned to Mumbai to face the challenge I had set myself – to immerse myself within a new industry.

“It would have been far easier and I expect a lot more fun to continue hostel-hopping around the country from beaches to hill stations to backwaters and tea plantations but that would have been too easy.

“After a two weeks sharing a bathroom with a pigeon and a dormitory of talkative Indian men I had at long last shrugged off a particularly stubborn chest infection (one of the perils of living amongst the smog of such a vast city) and managed to secure an interview after several applications to numerous Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

“Having been offered a position with a probation period of a few months I now had a reason to get up in the morning and out of my dilapidated hostel. However getting to work was to prove a daunting daily challenge and not for the faint hearted. Nearly 2 hours utilising nearly every mode of transport the city has to offer including the notorious Indian trains which are very practical but not particularly comfortable when shoehorned in until it would seem the carriage would burst. At times ones feet lift off the floor buoyed by the heaving mass of limbs and torsos as if suspended in water. The only answer is to hang tough to the handles and keep your head above the swell.

“A rickshaw driver may, or he may not take me the last leg of my journey depending upon which side of bed he got out of. Sometimes refusing me a lift or worse taking me half way only to spit me out to cross a mine field of faeces, left fresh that morning by people on their morning constitutional. Once in the office it’s business as usual until I have to do the same journey in reverse. (I have saved you from the details of the rest of my journey).

“I hope to stay out in India just as much as I am loathe to return to work in London whilst sentiment is so dire.”

What was the final breaking point that made you up and leave your previous job? Was there any defining moment – someone saying or doing something that made you think – right I’m off?

Having spent a couple of years nestled amongst grey filing cabinets, Formica desks and glaring at a bright monitor day in and day out, tapping keys whilst gripping the telephone with my chin to my shoulder, things didn’t look any brighter once the full effect of the credit crunch came to effect.

Prospects were few and far between as most people clung anxiously to their desks in fear of redundancy. I was tired of treading water waiting for the hot soup we were all wallowing in to rise and spit me out of the cauldron.

All these months on how do you feel looking back – was it as difficult as you thought? All the things that prevented you from doing what you wanted – fears of financial security etc. – are they real hurdles you had to overcome or are their other more daunting challenges?

In hindsight, there were plenty of doubts and just as many friends and family full of foreboding. Primary concerns included career progression, financial stability and strangely enough what would be in store upon my return. Earning a salary brings comfort in knowing what you have to play with each month, to put aside for a rainy day and to cover bills etc. but when half of it goes on rent and another slice goes into the pockets of utility companies there is little left to fill one’s cup, or beer glass.

Aside from the friends made in the office and the modest quarterly bonus there was little keeping me from taking the plunge and with it came a sense or euphoria coupled with the excitement and anxieties of what lay before me. The only thing to do was get cracking on visas, insurance, flights and travelers cheques etc. Once my fundament and both arms had been punctured more than a popular voodoo doll, I was set. I was on my way to India for about as much ‘change’ as I was likely to find anywhere.

I might add however, that nothing has given me more satisfaction than hanging up my boots on my own accord and stepping out of my comfort zone with so many ‘what-ifs’ and variables ahead.

What advice would you give to people getting itchy feet? Plan ahead and then leave or take the plunge and then get planning afterwards?

Itchy feet can only be cured with a good scratch. My first consideration would be my ties to my job, family or mortgages for instance. Of course only you can decide whether this is the right move at the right time for your own reasons, but if you have an objective then that helps to justify the cause. I had decided to learn about microfinance whilst enjoying a change of scenery and lifestyle – not all of which would be pleasant. I would refrain from a loafing about on a bummel especially if you are deliberating as to whether this is a justifiable decision.

As soon as you have lost momentum in your current position I should make up your mind as quickly as possible. Do your research, book flights if necessary and that way you are partially committed. The rest will follow.

Many people will be skeptical of radical decisions like this but I think that if you have an objective that can be justified then there you have nothing to lose. You’ll only regret what you don’t do.

Is it important to do something rewarding as far as making a positive impact on the planet or simply to go ahead and do what you want – live your dream?

In my opinion I feel it is important to have something productive to do. I wouldn’t recommend flittering about on the breeze when you could achieve so much and gain an awful lot from participating in something new and exciting, be it charitable, fund raising, conservation, teaching etc. Any of these things can take you to the ends of the earth and can provide an abundance of challenges as well as its rewards.

At the end of the day you will have to answer the critics if / when you return to your line of work.

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