An edited version of this interview (jointly conducted with the editor, but written by me) was published in South Asian Generation Next on 8th June 2010.
A man of many carefully chosen words, Rana Sarkar comes off as a composed, unruffled individual whose knowledge on politics is unrivalled. At first. But when caught off-guard with unexpected questions, he responds with “Oh gosh!” before revealing the man behind the cautiously constructed public mask.
Currently the President and Executive Director of Canada-India Business Council (C-IBC), Sarkar’s image is that of a confident, accomplished man who has achieved much in his short but illustrious career in the field of business and politics. Born in India, Sarkar chose to study Political Science as an undergraduate that brought forth horrified exclaims from concerned relatives. Sarkar laughs out aloud when he remembers them saying, “My god! This boy is going to be unemployable!” And has he been “unemployable”? He smiles and answers, “My career has been a great run. You try a number of things. And, some things work and some things don’t.”
Onto his favourite topic, Sarkar does not think it is “uncool” to be involved in politics. According to him, it is difficult to disengage politics from real life. And, this has been true for him from his teenage years where he was involved in politics right from the beginning. He explains, “[In] the 80s, coming out of the 1970’s when modern Canada was being formed… there was a lot up for grabs. There was a secular shift in a lot of ideas… I was taken with the idea that [Canada] is a country where we are creating our own narrative and I saw a lot of… political excitement in that [change]”. He also believes that “another great opportunity that he had was in the early 90s after finishing university” when he was faced with the question, “well, what am I gonna do?” At that time, there were “very few job opportunities”, and Sarkar professes that he believed that he was going to be a part of the “first generation of kids who lived in their parents’ basements indefinitely”.
Without being able to find opportunities in Canada that were “globally engaging”, Sarkar decided to turn towards London. London was the “fulcrum of globalization” during that period. Sarkar believes that “cities have its moments and it was London’s moment at that time”. Thus, Sarkar was able to be at the right place at the right time. He was able to take advantage of his position by taking part in several initiatives at once because that moment in time made it “possible” for him to “work in Asia, Europe”, and to be “involved in businesses on the side” and in “cultural industries” on the other. But Canada eventually drew him back with its many possibilities.
One of those possibilities was the Canada-India Business Council. Sarkar sees Canada’s relationship with India as a relationship of immense possibilities. In reference to his article in Globe and Mail (dated 13th November 2009), Sarkar firmly advocates his earlier views on free trade agreements between Canada and India. According to him, “India is no longer just a source of straight call-center… or BPO outsourcing… That level of fear of India is a five year old story… When Canada look[s] at India, they see one of the greatest growth markets… There will always be nay-sayers. [There will be] people who say ‘we can’t change’… The world is changing… Our secular opportunity is how we can get involved in that change”.
He is obvious in separating the C-IBC from other organizations by calling it an apolitical organization that aims to bring together the “elite” of Canadian businesses with the elite of Indian businesses at the leadership level. His stance is that “For businesses to be developed between the two countries, much more significant engagement at the leadership level is required so that it creates a back-draft on which a lot of other things can be done”.
As one of the co-chairs for the Masters of Global Affairs at the Munk Center of Global Affairs at University of Toronto, he also wants to create “a global connectivity at the educational level for young Canadians… and for global students to come to Canada… and create a global conversation”. He envisions “a generation of Canadians who are much more engaged with the world”.
As a father who spends all his free time with his two young sons, he feels that “fathers in previous eras missed out by not engaging in small intimacies”, like cooking for their kids or just taking care of them in their wives’ absence. He feels lucky to be a part of the new generation of fathers who can be a huge part of his children’s lives.
And, as a self-professed “secular humanist with a good smattering of Vedanta superimposed with more contemporary Buddhism”, Sarkar admits to foreseeing a future of change that his children can be a part of. A change that will let them choose to become “who they want to be”, without outward admonitions that go “My god! This boy is going to be unemployable!”