Quentin Crisp once said ''Never tell your mother anything.'' Luckily that worry never reigned my head as I did not have the opportunity to know my mother, let alone having to tell her my private thoughts and ambitions. Had she been around, her motherly concerns would have probably led her to lock me up in a room in the city of Calcutta most of the time. For I am an explorer. In every sense of the word. Every time I read that Sagittarians are born travelers, my eyes sparkle with affirmation. My mother would have been appalled at her strangely unorthodox Indian son. Indian. I still do not know what possessing Indian nationality signifies. I have always felt so very un-Indian with only rare flashbacks of nostalgia for things from the sub-continent. At the age of fourteen, I felt twenty five. Daring and adventurous were my personality straits. I turned twenty five last month, so you can imagine how old I must feel now. Nine actually.
After having spent two years in New Delhi as a miserable and lost schoolboy, I had decided it was time to return to Bengal in the summer of 1998. In comparison to Calcutta which remains an intelligent and captivating metropolis, Delhi appeared cruel and cold. My yearning was to get on a plane to Europe and see the wider world. Had I been given a choice, I would have traveled to Paris but no such boons were on offer in my North Indian neighbourhood. So Calcutta it was.
Bookcases in my father's house were filled with books by Derrida and Foucault. Biographies of Picasso and Toulouse Lautrec were among countless art related publications. That year was particularly memorable as a fourteen year old because soon after my arrival in Calcutta, I had discovered that I had a gift for learning languages. I enrolled myself at the local French cultural and language centre. Three months later, I found myself conversing in reasonable French with fellow students over Indian versions of steak bake and black forest cake at a popular café in Park Street. While they were discussing their plans to embark on a career in hospitality, I had no clue as to what my future held. But I was determined to create an adventurous journey, whatever the paths may have been. I certainly did not want to end up as a doctor or engineer working in Mumbai.
By summer of 2000, the winds of change had blown so rapidly in my little pond that I realised some of my precocious dreams had emerged into reality. I had a partner whom I was joining in one of the truly last frontiers of the world - Papua New Guinea. Her Britannic Majesty's High Commissioner was my partner's job title. To say I was completely uncertain as to what my new life comprised would not be true. I was highly eager to learn and understand as much as possible in a short space of time. Going to school in Port Moresby brought much discomfort. It felt like a waste of my energy - both mental and physical. The desire to create and prove myself able and responsible grew stronger.
Leaving school felt like a sensible idea. I felt a great sense of freedom when I finally acted upon that decision. Now the challenge was to find myself something to do in Papua New Guinea. Not an easy task. You may call me mad but I decided upon opening a cultural relations organisation promoting Britain in the South Pacific region operating out of a room in our official residence.
The three years that followed saw the likes of Janet Street-Porter and Benjamin Zephaniah visiting Papua New Guinea, giving talks and performing poetry. I hosted several film festivals, exhibitions and concerts in different parts of the country including remote places in the highlands and coastal areas. The audiences would chew betel nuts and sacrifice pigs for our guests. What always struck me was the excellent standard of English people in PNG spoke. The young minds I had come across in my three years in the country were thoroughly keen to engage with Europe. Australia dominated their culture. And that was not seen as such a positive contribution. One of my fondest memories is the Queen's Golden Jubilee portrait project in 2002 when I commissioned twenty artists to make a portrait each of Her Majesty. The winning portrait was presented to the Queen herself by the then PNG High Commissioner to London. I felt proud to have played a little role in promoting PNG-UK ties.
After three years of directing cultural diplomacy in the South Pacific, I re-invented myself as a wild gypsy boy in North Africa. Morocco felt home. More welcoming than any other country I had ever visited. The city of Marrakech was intoxicating. Irresistibly addictive. But like all drugs, it can damage you. Marrakech had stopped me from dreaming. I became far too relaxed in the surroundings of exotic ambiance. My reality felt surreal. I had lost my sense of purpose due to the allure nature of most incidents and encounters. I helped run an international arts festival which injected some much needed ambition again into my brains. Five months later I got on a plane to New Delhi to run its first British-Indian media and literature festival. The only non British/Indian guest was Goldie Hawn who came in her guise as an author having just written a book on her life. Clare Short MP and Hawn got on incredibly well at the festival. Not often you see American film stars developing friendship with British ministers in Asia.
My primary task has been to connect the cultural worlds of different countries though celebrations of ideas for its people. The fulfilment I get out of understanding a country and its race is astounding. Falling in love with a Lithuanian has given birth to a new feeling of wanting to understand Baltic history and particularly the Lithuanian culture. In this ever increasing complex world, if travelling to different corners of the earth and being able to host talks, debates and discussions to create understanding are not some of the greatest gifts given to mankind, then I don't know what is.