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The waves

As the Wind Blows

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Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

17 November 2008

The Power of "changing Ideas"

Continuing my reflection on which "ism" is actually good - (refer to my previous post on 30th September 08 ) I came across two different perspectives in the past few days. One is Booker Prize winner Arvind Adiga's Fiction "White Tiger," and the other a forthcoming book by Nandan Nilekani - Co Chairman and Co Founder, Infosys.

One of the The Booker Juries has raved much about Adiga's book. But there have been mixed responses to the book from readers across the world. Particularly some Indians have felt that the book has attracted the western juries acclaim only because it has portrayed a very negative side of India. And some others have felt that the book talks about the True situations here. And some others have felt the research is poor and the style not so elegant.

While comments about the style and the content could be subjective, I feel that there is an element of truth in the point that Adiga tries to capture. I have not read the book yet. But reading and hearing about the book does give me an idea about what he is talking about - though it doesn't motivate me enough to grab a copy. I may do so some time, though. And if any of you have read the book, please share your views with me.

But my focus here is not about the book. But about the situation that he talks about. Granting that things are really rotten in the micro India - while the macro India supposedly shines - and that the socio - political "system" cries for total revamp, my question is - where are the solutions? - whether the rotting is due to the two decade old market economy or the four decade old socialist economy - my concern is how are we going to get out of the situation? who is going to bell the cat? How are we going to plug the loopholes; arrest the seepage and put a system that is workable for the larger good; how do we create a system that sews together the delicate social fabric and puts the economy in place which meets the needs of all sections of the society?

And the other perspective I mentioned in the beginning is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, by Nanden Nilekani. A TOI peep into the book gave me a glimmer of hope that as more individuals / intellectuals like him ignite the imagination of the people at the grass root level, miracles could happen - and we need a miracle today to reverse what Arvind Adiga talks about.

Like Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book "The Tipping Point", Nandan also talks about the power of "changing ideas."

When Nanden says that "India's policy makers and politicians have been great at making agendas and blueprints, and our five-year plans have been nothing if not exhaustive - Our big weakness has been in execution," one could easily see a link with Adiga's story of how the system has gone wrong.

So, as I have always believed that no "ism" or no lofty policy could be wrong - the problem comes when people act with agendas and selfish interests while implementing the principles.

I was also touched by Nandan's account of attending Nehru's speech as a kid and about believing strongly in his socialist ideals. "....Growing up in those days, it was very easy to believe in the idea of a nurturing government and public sector. A paternal, socialist state would own companies which would create wealth and the wealth would be used for the betterment of society. Why allow wealth to be created in private hands where it would probably be used for nefarious purposes? It all made perfect sense..... Many Indians believed in these ideas then; few of us now...." Nilekani says.

But coming at a time when capitalism is attacked for the global meltdown and when many in India are wondering whether the License Raj was a better idea, I wonder how the book will be perceived.

However, I have a feeling that the book, which is to be launched on Nov 24th, will surely make a buzz in the reading public. The public, in a confused situation themselves about the global fin crisis, and are looking for any piece of floating wood to hold in this submerging scenario, would be curious to know what kind of ideas this IT entrepreneur is advocating. Watch this space in near future, for my feedback on the response for the book!!

Excerpts from the TOI's Interview with Nandan Nilekani in which I thought he came across as a genuine thinker:

Eight days before his book hits the stores, Nandan Nilekani admits to a few butterflies in the stomach and jokes that his writer frineds are upset with him for invading their space! On a more serious note, he says one of the primary motivations for taking up the project was because "while India story flew very well abroad, when you came home you didn't get the same sense." He was concerned that the vertical divides of caste, religion, region and class were dominatiing the horizontal themes of education, development, and health. Also, he thought the level of debate was shallow. " I thought it worth doing something more robust in its analytical rigour."

Some Excerpts from the TOI Interview. For full interview please check out the link above.

Why a book on ideas? What makes you uniquely positioned to write on it?

Several motivations. My job required me to meet a lot of people around the world. They would ask questions about India and its contradictions: 'How did you launch a space programme amid so much poverty? How can you have the IITs when there is so much illiteracy?' I didn't have answers to all that. So, I said, 'If I do this book, I will also get some clarity about what's going on'.

You say in the very first page that you are 'unelectable'. Was that a motivation?

A: That is correct, in a sense. I mean, what is my contribution to change? It can come only in the realm of ideas.

How did you go about writing the book?

A. Though it seems a bit odd to say, I thought of writing it like a software program. When you write a large software application, you divide it into sections. Then you design the modules. I applied the same concept. I said, 'I have these 18 ideas', and I saw a pattern in the ideas in terms of the maturity in the Indian psyche.

And to read the TOI Excerpts from the Book itself - check out here.

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