Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The God Market

I got acquainted with Meera Nanda’s writing for the first time a few years ago when I read her fascinating piece in Frontline about the schizophrenia of Indian science – on the one hand, our scientists and engineers build missiles and nuclear power stations; on the other hand, many of them practice highly ritualistic forms of religion, and are captive to all manner of superstitions.
Meera Nanda’s new book – The God Market: How Globalization is making India more Hindu (Random House India, 2009) – is a thought-provoking addition to the contemporary literature that looks at where India is today, and that seeks to understand where it is headed. This book is firmly rooted in contemporary sociological perspectives on secularism and modernity, and this strong conceptual base provides a powerful lens to look at the growth of Hinduism in India.
Meera Nanda argues that the Indian middle class has grown more prosperous thanks to economic liberalisation, but, contrary to some of the dominant theories regarding secularism, has become more visibly and ritualistically religious. This growth in religiosity has gone along with a growth in jingoism, a sense that India’s time has come, and an attribution of India’s progress to the genius of the Hindu mind. Though the State remains officially secular, a sense of majoritarianism has crept in that attributes all good things to Hindu thought and culture. This majoritarian orientation does not, in Meera Nanda’s view, bode well for the future.
A useful contribution of this book is an attempt to document the growing nexus between the State (politicians, bureaucrats), organised religion (popular Hindu godmen) and big business. Meera Nanda identifies religious tourism, higher education and infrastructure as three domains in which the interests of these three actors coalesce.
It is difficult to disagree with much of what Meera Nanda says in this book. Though her data and evidence are not watertight, in aggregate they make a compelling case. And, we need to just look around us and reflect back to realise that the Nehruvian concept of secularism has take a severe beating and been replaced by a “Soft Hinduism” that pervades much of Indian society today. As the author observes, it is not as though every member of the (Hindu) Indian middle class has antipathy towards other communities and religions; but by failing to respond to the majoritarian viewpoint that has become dominant, we are more complicit than we realise.
This is fascinating book – it holds up a mirror to contemporary Indian society in a completely unique way.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Go Kiss the World

In his first book The High Performance Entrepreneur, Subroto wrote about the challenges of setting up an enterprise, based on his experience as a co-founder of MindTree. In Go Kiss the World, he goes a step further, relating his life story and drawing lessons from it for the young professional.
Subroto Bagchi is a romantic at heart and this rings loud and clear when he writes. When he advises professionals not to lose the child in them, the genuineness of his belief is reflected in the way he writes. Every step (and occasional mis-step) of his life so far has been at once a source of wonderment as of learning.
Starting from his modest childhood as the last child of an itinerant bureaucrat in Orissa, Subroto flowered into the corporate leader and entrepreneur that we know today. How did this evolution happen? Family figures played a role – he learnt the importance of dignity, tenacity and honesty from his parents. Frequent moves as a child gave him the curiosity to seek diverse experiences as well as the temperament to handle them. His early jobs taught him how to manage organisational politics (management trainee at DCM), influence and negotiate with people (sales at HCL and PSI), and coordinate across functions (sales coordinator’s role at Wipro). But clearly, Subroto has several innate traits such as leadership (Best NCC cadet at the national level in his school days), communication (an ability to make himself “memorable”), optimism and perseverance which have helped him achieve whatever he has. Above all, he obviously has the capacity to reflect on, and learn from his own actions, and to be perfectly honest with himself – in this book he has been quite candid about some of the failures in his life.
Subroto cautions high achievers against overplanning, and advocates placing tenacity over ambition. I suspect that this advice won’t have too many takers among today’s youth. In fact, this book seems to belong to an earlier era, not to the world of the internet, social networking, and seven figure salaries to graduating MBAs. But if Subroto’s aim is to make you stop and think, there is plenty of food for thought in his elegant and sometimes poetic narrative.
The only complaint I have about this book is that at times Subroto is not as objective and critical with his baby (MindTree) as he is with himself. Hopefully, that will be corrected in his future writings…