Year: 2010

Review: Butter Chicken in Ludhiana by Pankaj Mishra

In Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, the author documents his travel throughout the country and his encounters with people from different backgrounds and aspirations. He brings out the contrast in cultures in the different parts of the countries when he writes about how the Deccan Herald carried an article on how the state government was planning to set up new libraries in Shimoga and Bhadravati and how this would not be newsworthy in some other parts of the country.

The book also covers one of the major problems foreign women and  women in India face when they step out of their homes (which is rarely written about), you always have to be on "red alert", so a woman's perspective is always different, especially while travelling . He meets some famous people like Mary Roy, the famous litigant and many not so famous people , but each one of them has an interesting story to tell. This book was written in the 1990's, a lot has changed since then, but it is still an interesting read. 

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, Travels in Small Town India by Pankaj Mishra

Pages: 273

Publisher : Picador India, Revised edition : 2006

Review: The Caged Phoenix by Dipankar Gupta

The book , "The Caged Phoenix - Can India Fly"  is another realistic look at India today.  The author has used his  field studies  in factories and villages  to find out the actual extent to which poverty has declined and finds that it is still widespread. 

He says "  The Indian affluents like to believe that they are not just a world apart from the grime around them, but in fact , world class".     Another interesting discussion on  perception vs reality in  India .  The distance between the elite and the poor is so large, that they have no empathy for the millions who work for them and contribute to their wealth.  He contrasts India with Europe  and England where the Whig aristrocrats went out of their way to devise policies to protect the poor and improve their condition.    He believes that India can grow only if the government can efficiently deliver health, education and other public goods.

The Caged Phoenix - Can India Fly - by Dipankar Gupta

Publisher : Penguin Books India

Pages : 322

Review : Games Indians Play by V.Raghunathan

The book  Games Indian Play -  Why we are the way we are   looks at  the possible reasons why Indians are individually hardworking and intelligent,  but  as a nation,  a large section of   the population remains illiterate , lives below the poverty line and public infrastructure is poor. 

Some of the features of  Indians which are discussed in the book  include  low trustworthiness, lack of self regulation and sense of fairness ( not the Fair and Lovely kind),  mistaking talk for action . He uses game theory to find the reasons behind this behaviour .  He narrates several incidents where Indian businessmen  out to make the quick buck, lose out in the long term.   The "crab in a bucket" syndrome makes difficult for an individual to excel however good he or she may be, when every one around trying their best to pull the person down. Western countries like USA,  Germany, France, Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea appreciate talent and hard work to a much greater extent, which is why they are economically so advanced.  

Games Indians Play  -  Why we are the way we are  by V.Raghunathan

Pages : 170

Publisher : Penguin Books

Review: Dollar Bahu by Sudha Murty

This book looks at the pros and cons of life in USA and India through the eyes of  Gouramma , who has lived in Bangalore for most of life and whose son Chandru works in the USA.  She  fails to appreciate the many qualities and the hard work of  her Indian daughter in law Vinuta and blindly ignores the many faults of  her  US based daughter in law Jamuna, till it is too late.  

A  general reflection on how talent and hard work in India is rarely recognised, but  a person with less talent or knowledge is revered just because  he or she is US based.  The book  was originally written in Kannada , so like Mahasweta reviewed earlier, certain nuances are lost in the English translation.

 Dollar Bahu by Sudha Murty

Pages : 142

Publisher : Penguin India

Review : The Great Indian Middle Class by Pavan K.Varma

The book " The Great Indian Middle Class"  looks at the evolution of the  Indian middle class from the  pre Independence era till date.  The author notes that Jawaharlal Nehru , the first prime minister of  India was  modern,  had a scientific and rationalist outlook and did not care much for religious rituals.  

However, in recent years as people have become  wealthier and acquired more materialistic goods like consumer gadgets,  many of  them have also become less modern in some ways, blindly spending time and money on irrational activities.  He notes that an educated middle class person will publicly denounce some of the harmful traditions like dowry , but will privately do exactly the opposite.  In the chapter " Inner Landscape" , he notes that  "The young in the middle class are even more susceptible to blindly imitating the West than their parents were", which is very true.

He concludes by noting that a nation will not be considered great or a superpower  if  only a small section of  its society is wealthy, but when it also treats its poor and vulnerable with care and concern.  This book  gives a very realistic glimpse of  Indian society society, shorn of all the hype and gloss.

The Great Indian Middle Class by Pavan K.Varma

Pages : 243

Publisher : Penguin India

Review : Wise & Otherwise by Sudha Murty

This is a collection of 50  short stories which reflect the good, bad and ugly facets of human nature. Most of the stories are 2 to 3 pages long,  but  provide glimpses of society today.

One thought provoking story is "The truth about women"  , Page 144 , where she reflects that though women have equal rights on paper, in reality their status is different in India and harassment from narrow minded men is common.  She also notes that in countries where women are truly treated fairly and with respect are those which also enjoy the high per capita income.   

Wise & Otherwise by Sudha Murty

Pages : 224

Publisher : Penguin books

Review : Connect the Dots by Rashmi Bansal

If  you read the news and reports in the mainstream media,  being an entrepreneur in India is simple - have a good product or service  at a competitive price, do some marketing.  But  the ground realities are very different, there  is no shortage of  companies (especially the bigger ones) who will try to  destroy your business by spreading false rumours and using every dirty trick in their book to harm you.

"Connect the Dots"   has stories of  20  Indian entrepeneurs who have built their business . While she covers the usual things like the finances, branding, product, marketing, the best part of  the book are the underhand methods companies use to damage / destroy their competitors.  Dirty tactics may work for  commodity products , but unhappy people are unlikely to produce results  if it involves innovation or research.   A good read for any one who is planning to or has become an entrepreneur after a corporate job and has no family business background or support.

Connect the Dots by Rashmi Bansal

Pages : 305 (excluding photographs)

Publisher : Eklavya Education Foundation

Review : Mistaken Modernity by Dipankar Gupta

Though I dress very traditionally (salwar kameez , plaited hair , oil in hair - my choice),  my business as an online publisher is related to domain names and web hosting which is "high tech" by Indian standards and I often wonder why my way of thinking is so different from others. I grew up in Goa in the 70's and 80's when it still had a strong Portuguese influence (it was liberated from portugal in 1961), admission to IIT Bombay was based on merit and  Larsen & Toubro where I worked in the 1990's had a European / professional work culture. In last decade I have devoted almost all my time to my business and have had a very limited interaction with typical / traditional Indian families.

Reading "Mistaken Modernity" by Dipankar Gupta was a revelation, it shows that though people may be outwardly modern in the clothes and their material possessions, many of them are not modern in their thinking , they lack the ability to appreciate merit or innovate.
The section on the status of women in the chapter "Tenacious Traditions", explains why I am almost always incorrectly addressed as "Sir" instead "Miss" especially when I enquire about technical stuff like USB to SATA / IDE cables  . It also touches on why rumours (which are often baseless and not supported by facts)  flourish in India and why so many people believe them.

If you are planning an ecommerce (or related) business then Chapter 3, It Just Isn't Cricket is a must read. The author has described  a modern society as one in which the achievements and hard work of the individual are recognised and laws are the same for everyone. However changing the mindset of people takes time.

Mistaken Modernity, India between worlds by Dipankar Gupta

Pages: 235

Publishers : HarperCollins India with The India Today Group, Fourth Impression : 2007

Review: Mahashweta by Sudha Murty

The story  of  Anupama  who is afflicted by leukoderma but rebuilds her shattered life, importance of  "status" and lack of scientific temper in India today.  Also on how some doctors in India , who despite having  a formal science education  do not overcome the superstitions, meaningless rituals and blind faith in dealing with people in their personal life. They sometimes lack sympathy while treating their patients.

Mahashweta by Sudha Murty

Pages : 154

Publisher: Penguin India

Review: Being Indian by Pavan K Varma

One of the best books I have read about real Indian culture, society and morals.   Reading this book helps me understand why

  •  it is so difficult for a entrepreneur with only professional qualifications and experience but no family background or community support to establish himself or herself
  •  ecommerce has not taken off

Being Indian by Pavan K Varma

Pages : 238

Publisher : Penguin Books India