It’s been three weeks since I left home. Three weeks since I stitched together another reality in a different country, with different people using Skype and Gtalk as a way to keep the thread of my other reality going. Three weeks that saw two natural disaster events in the US—an earthquake that I did not feel because the bus was trundling around a bend. And a hurricane that left New Haven, Connecticut, largely untouched though Fox News did try its very best to panic those not panicked. I found myself filling water and buying candles after watching the panic-stricken anchors. Three weeks that had India emerge from middle-class stupor, a hunger strike, partly erudite debates in a Parliament that worked on a Saturday into uncharted territory where nobody really knows what will happen next—the existing rules look fuzzy. And three weeks at the end of which, the world is pretty much where it was when I stepped off it for a while.
But it is a changed world that I step out into. That the world is changing was apparent from the beginning of the journey. When was the last time an immigration officer in India spent time trying to get a crash course in mutual fund buying from a passenger trying to leave the country! My daughter swears that I subconsciously nudge people into talking about money and investing. The last time the hair dresser began discussing her mutual fund portfolio, she snorted from the next chair, wrapped in a white tent, grinning her point across through the hair. Seems she’s right. It was only when the people in queue behind me began to shuffle and officer’s colleagues began to turn to see what this conversation was about that he let me go. But not before I got him to repeat livemint.com three times. Buy funds out of Mint50 I whisper as he hands my passport back. At the minimum I got Mint a new reader.
Also Read | all of Monika Halan’s earlier columns
Zurich airport is sleeping at 6.30 in the morning. Used to buzzing airports in Asia, this was a bit of a shock. The loos were still to be cleaned, the shops were shut, and not a human body in sight that could guide me to the Swissair lounge. After wandering around for an hour looking for a lounge that, I’m finally told, is shut for repair, I give up and queue up for a croissant and cappuccino. I hand over a $20 bill. “Take your change in Swizz franc,” the counter lady advises. “Ze dollah, it will be worthless soon. And ze franc, why it’s rizing!” I am this close to asking if they keep rupees as change. But desist.
By the time I hit immigration at the US, I know that my daughter is right. It is 4 minutes before the conversation at JFK New York at immigration turns to… Um yes, money and investing! Immigration officer sees my Indian passport and asks how long I am here—four months. Why not longer? Why would I stay here, I counterquestion. We’re growing at 8%. OK, so how do I buy Tata Motors? I get him to repeat livemint.com three times and tell him that non-Indians can soon buy funds and he can read more in the paper. Buy funds out of Mint50 I whisper as he hands my passport back. One more reader in the bag.
The strong smell of change accompanies me in my first interactions with my Fellows cohort that come from 16 countries. I honestly did not expect to discuss Ambani, Tata, Hazare, Sonia Gandhi and Nandan Nilekani in my first few days at Yale.
Seems they are equally well known in this slice of the global population as they are at home and are a part of a global list of well-known people. If the associations I battled just short of 20 years ago as a student in a class from across the world were of Indian stereotypes, I am almost embarrassed by the sort of expectation that India will take a lead in global issues. It’s almost as if managing 1.2 billion people in a democracy that has neither an imperial DNA nor a propensity to bomb others in planes or otherwise, and also manages to stumble through to grow at about 8% is reason enough for the world to cheer. Looking outside in at India from here, it looks like a hop, skip and jump into a deeper global role. There is no clear leader acceptable from the East that gets its political and human rights piece right. The West is in disarray and navel gazing at the most basic of questions about morality, happiness and the role of the corporation. The global stage is set for change. Change that looks at a wider sharing of the global agenda beyond the winners of World War II. Change that finds a way for economic growth along with human values. For going beyond profit towards happiness.
Certified financial planner Monika Halan is editor Mint Money writes on issues of financial literacy and investor protection and is currently at Yale as World Fellow 2011. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org