Times of India

Cosmopolitan & Vernacular

I sometimes wonder what language we Indians will be speaking fifty years from now. One possibility is that the status quo will continuea small elite will be comfortable in English while the masses converse in the vernaculars. A second prospect is that almost half the population might speak English to varying degrees of comfort. A third option is that there will be a linguistic renaissance of the vernaculars and we might have a bilingual middle class. A fourth possibility is the sangh parivar's dream of a Hindi rashtra.

Saving Capitalism

The Sunday before last I wrote about my failings as a board member and I concluded that an independent director had an impossible job. It is not easy to penetrate a company, and one way to do it is to become an insider, as I did when I became a consultant, but that, of course, means that one ceases to be 'independent'. Hence, I ended on a pessimistic note about the prospects for corporate governance within the present structure of capitalism.

Losing Our Best

Our government's recent decision on dual nationality did not assuage my feelings of unease, and I continue to agonize over the loss of our best and brightest to the West. I ask myself, does it matter if highly skilled Indians leave? Certainly, I celebrate the success of the Hyderabadi software engineer who makes good in Silicon Valley--she has enhanced the respect for Indians everywhere, and there is no loss in that. But my experience in running a business is that skilled talent is the scarcest commodity in the world and everyone is in a hunt for it. Ask any CEO of a reasonable sized company and he will tell you about the long evenings he has spent trying to persuade a good candidate to join his company. The same goes for nations. America's success is measured not only by its economic or military might but because it is able to attract the best talent from the world.

Performance vs. Ideology

Two Sundays ago, reluctantly, I concluded that after the Gujarat elections we have no alternative but to start a political movement to focus single-mindedly on governance, reforms and performance. Reluctantly, I say, because the last thing we need in India is a new political party. The psephologist, Dorab Sopariwala, tells us that 177 parties contested the last parliamentary election and 94 parties got a combined vote of less than 0.005 per cent; 139 parties did not win a single seat, and 12 parties got one seat. Hence, I was careful in saying that we should start a movement and when it acquired sufficient mass it could become a political party.

The Only Alternative

Once again the BJP seems to be learning the wrong lessons from history. It thinks that Gujarat is India in miniature, and it is getting ready to unroll the Hindutva wave in the next assembly elections at great peril to the nation. It doesn't realize that the ordinary citizen in the rest of the country cares far more about day-to-day governance and not nationalism or even terrorism. The election results in Gujarat highlight my dilemma and that of the average Indian voter: we can no longer vote for the BJP because the politics of Hindutva and hate do not appeal to us; nor do we trust the Congress to give us the clean governance that we so desperately seek. So, whom do we vote for?

An Old Idea for Today

My friends in the corporate world tell me that India managers, especially in accounting firms, are confused and demoralized after the governance scandals in America involving Enron, Anderson and others. Their situation is, of course, nothing compared to the devastation wrought to the morale of the American manager, and I observed this at ringside over several days when I was recently with a dozen senior managers in Chicago.

White Noise in Society

The Bhagavad Gita is like white noise in our society. By this I mean that it is part of the background din of our lives, quoted platitudinously, and masking rather than provoking thought. Technically, white noise like white light contains all the frequencies and is used to hide other sounds--the way one uses a fan sometimes to shut out the noise of traffic in order to sleep. In the same way the Gita's presence is imperceptible yet comforting, like the random sounds of a Hindi film song in the bazaar.

Shourie Will Succeed

Arun Shourie, our minister for disinvestment, was a year ahead of me in school. We attended an NCC camp together, and on the last day took part in a variety show, where the local commanding general was our chief guest. Some sang, others performed a skit, and Shourie decided to recite a long Urdu poem. During the interminable recitation the general started to fidget. His solicitous ADC noticed it, and tried to catch Shourie's eye. At first Shourie ignored him, but then he stopped abruptly. In a soft, polite, but firm voice, the 15-year-old Shourie said that if the general had another pressing engagement, his eminence was welcome to leave, and the show would go on.

Something's in A Name

We lived in Mexico City for four years in the late seventies, and there learned an important civic virtue: how to name our streets. Our first home was in a neighbourhood called Polanco, where all the streets were named after writers, and Shakespeare, Dickens, Tagore and other literary greats surrounded us. We lived on the corner of La Fontaine and Homer, while our friends lived between Dante and Cervantes.  To visit a colleague a few blocks away I had to cross Tolstoy, Goethe, Jane Austen and Ibsen. Once I got lost in the colony and by the time I found myself I had received a comprehensive lesson in world literature.