The man who turned his back on a million-dollar lifestyle
As a banker, Rohan Narse lived in luxury. But a near-fatal accident made him realise that he had to change to find real happiness.
At the height of his success as an investment banker, Rohan Narse could quite easily pass as one of Tom Wolfe's celebrated Masters of the Universe. He worked on billion-dollar deals with the Chinese government, rubbed shoulders with hedge fund bosses and flew on private jets.
His grateful employer Goldman Sachs was content to put him up at the $1,000 a night Ritz Carlton hotel in Manhattan's Central Park, flying him home at weekends to be with his family in London.
For a young man brought up in one of Mumbai's notoriously tough chawls – the one-room tenement flats in the city's sprawling suburbs – it was a rise of stratospheric proportions.
But while he felt as much at home in Sydney as he did in Shanghai or San Francisco talking the international language of high finance with his gilded co-workers, it felt all wrong.
Despite earning nearly a million pounds a year his health was failing and inside there was a spiritual vacuum opening up.
The turning point came one late night in 2006 on the central reservation of the M25 when, burnt out from his regular 115 hour week, he fell asleep at the wheel.
"I woke up and I smelt gunpowder. Two airbags had discharged and I could feel glass on my face and cool air coming in. Looking out of the window I could see a 16-wheel supermarket trailer coming from behind straight at me hooting its horn," he says.
But as the truck glided harmlessly past his crumpled BMW he felt something he had never experienced before but desperately longed for – deep silence.
The feeling that day provided the inspiration for a journey of self discovery that was to take him back to the burning ghats of Varanasi, the ancient Indian holy city on the banks of the Ganges, where he finally achieved a form of peace.
Now a lifestyle coach and author, he looks back on his past life with cheerful ambivalence.
"It became senseless. My relationships with people became distant. I became cocooned in a very negative way," he recalls. His weight ballooned; he began drinking wine every night and suffered bouts of illness.
Surprisingly, perhaps, especially given the current status of bankers globally, he retains admiration for his former colleagues, who were part of an "awesome machine" focused on the bottom line, and taught to regard everything outside each deal they were working on as an irrelevance.
But fitting in at Goldman's did not prove easy for someone whose early life was far removed from the alcohol and adrenaline-soaked atmosphere of post-millennium London. Rohan was born in 1965 in the village of Belgaum near Goa. The most important person in his life was his grandmother, who raised him until he joined his parents in Mumbai where they had moved for work. Though better off than most – his father was a clerk for Shell while his mother worked for the city transport company – life was hard in the chawls.
"It was like a tough council estate in inner London. It was violent and abusive. I must have heard every swear word by the time I was 10. People used their knuckles rather than their brains," he says. He was sexually abused on two occasions.
Education provided the way out. He took a degree in engineering and began working for a multi-national company before studying for a postgraduate business qualification, which brought him to the attention of Indian giant Tata and eventually the accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand, who posted him to London.
The city was a revelation to him. By now India was opening for business but the prospect of returning to the subcontinent did not appeal and a position with Goldman Sachs offered a permanent posting in the British capital.
By now a married father of two, he made a conscious decision to blend in with his colleagues. "I didn't want anything to get in the way of my success. I searched for a drama school where they could teach me to speak and to get my accent close to the local guys. I flew to Milan and spent £5,000 to buy suits, ties and get a decent haircut," he says.
"When I came back I was surprised to see the look in people's eyes. I was the same but my clothes and hair had changed and I was getting invited to take part in serious conversations," he adds.
However, he realised he would never make partner at Goldman's and quit to set up his own fund, but struggled to cope. Following the crash he left for India to travel alone – eventually arriving at Varanasi where he suffered a breakdown.
But it was here he met the mathematics professor who was to become his teacher and who persuaded him to give up some of the more eccentric efforts he was making to find himself – including the potentially blinding discipline of sun-gazing.
The remains of his banking money ran out earlier this year and he says he is happier than ever and keen to share it with anyone who is willing to listen.
"I sleep six or seven hours a night. I eat less. I can run for two hours at a time and I am meeting many beautiful, interesting people. I have made more friends in the past three years than I have in the previous 40. I am not worried about anyone else's intellect or ego. There is a lack of fear. I can go into a room and say anything," he says.
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