I recently bought the book India Unbound by Gurcharan Das.
For those who dont know, Das is the former CEO of Procter & Gamble and has been involved in the corporate world for decades. His book is a part memoir and part account of the economic and social upheavels India has faced since independence.
I have almost finished the book now and can say that it is a riveting tale told in a masterly way by Das. It is for all those who are interested in the social,political and economic scenario in India… We youngsters have grown up in midst of high growth rate, a liberal economic scene. For a us the kind of success achieved by people like Narayana Murthy, Dhirubhai Ambani and others is more achievable than ever before. So it was both enlightning and interesting for me to see how different things were in pre-reform India.
Das begins with the mixed economy envisaged by Nehru and analyses it well. He candidly admits that like most of the Indians, he was thrilled by Nehru’s ideas at that time and was looking forward to their implementtions. Using his personal experiences, he narrates how the great Indian dream soured and it became apparent that the socialist policies had failed miserably and were leading us nowhere.
Throughout the book, Das uses his personal ringside view of the state of affairs in India as an employee of a company and later as its CEO…. He takes us throught the strangulating days of the License Raj and upto the crisis that triggered the reforrms in1991. He uses numerous people and companies to explain the churning in the Indian economic scene..
While reading this book, I happened to have to go to the office of BSNL in Bharuch, much against my wishes. I needed to change the internet plan in my broadband connection. After putting it off for as long as I could I finally went when it became unavoidable….
it took me 20 mins to locate the person responsible for my requirement. I climbed two flights of stairs thrice before finally meeting the bsnl babu in the basement!! His office was in the basement. When I approached him he looked at me disdainfully, as if I was impeding on his precious time. He put his tea cup down and raised his eyebrows. seeing his demeanour, I forgot who was the client and who was the ‘public’ servant and addressed him as if I was talking to the chief minister of Gujarat! He asked me some questions about my connection. He was particularly interested in why I was using so much internet… After some more timepass, he told me the solution to my problem… “Write an application, on a blank paper” and then abruptly opened his file and started going through something. It was sometime to realise that my appointment was over. I asked him by when my plan change would come into effect. He replied by pointing towards another desk without looking up…. I took a deep breath and went away looking for a piece of paper, bracing myself for some more dosage of Indian babudom….
After two houurs I emerged from the basement, tired, sweating,but victorious. I had applied and had successfully submitted the application to the correct place. Now if all goes well I ll get my plan change. If not, then – back to the basement….
My experience is nothing new. Every adult Indian has gone through it, for getting driving license, telephone number, electricity,etc. Why it struck me is because it made me realise how lucky we are. From what Das has described in his book, What I experienced for two hours, once in so many years is something my dad and his dad had to go through every other day!! It just proves Das’ contention that though we have come out of the dense woods of the socialist raj, we are yet to reach completely green pastures.
As Robert Frost would say, We have miles to go before we sleep……