What Others Say
‘Why should it take us 15 years to get justice in the courts or 12 years to build a road?’ argues Gurcharan Das.…You need a strong state and a strong society, so the society can hold the state accountable. India will only get a strong state when the best of society join the government and China will only get a strong society when the best Mandarins go into the private sector.’
--Tom Friedman, New York Times, 6 February 2013
"Something tremendous is happening in India, and Das, with his keen eye and often elegant prose, has his finger firmly on the pulse of the transformationâ€¦His stories enliven what could easily have been a dull piece of economic history. Das had a ringside seat at the events he describes, and the result is an engaging account that moves easily from the big picture to the telling anecdote. Part memoir, part journalism, and part history, the book begins shortly before independence and continues until the new millennium. "The theme of this book," he writes, "is how a rich country became poor and will be rich again."
- The New York Times. Extract of book review on India Unbound, March 25, 2001
“Das has written a timely book that deserves to be widely read. And it has its share of hard-headed proposals....Simply calling for less government is no answer, says Das. It needs also to be strong. Indian capitalism needs an honest referee...India has much to celebrate nowadays but also faces a cacophony of institutional challenges....Das’s core argument is right and urgent."
--Ed Luce on India Grows at Night in Financial Times (Dt 25 January 2013)
The revised edition of Mr Das's book, India Unbound, is at the top of the country's best-seller list for non-fiction, tapping into a vein of renewed self-confidence and national pride that is itself a central theme of his study. Part memoir, part history, part travelogue, part polemic, India Unbound dissects the failures of the country's Nehruvian socialist experiment and vividly describes the changes that are transforming the daily lives and outlooks of the country's 1bn people.
Mr Das's central argument is that India's market reforms, which began in 1991, are proving as revolutionary as Deng Xiaoping's embrace of capitalism in China in 1979 "it is just that they are occurring more slowly and have so far failed to generate as much outside interest. In fits and starts, he argues, India's liberalising reforms are slowly unleashing the country's "animal spirits" and will eventually lead to its emergence as one of the world's great economic powers. By 2025, he predicts, India could have increased its share of global output from 6 per cent to 13 per cent, making it the third largest economy in the world.
While India may never roar ahead like the Asian tigers, he argues, it can at least advance like a wise elephant, moving steadily and surely, pausing occasionally to reflect on its past and to enjoy the journey.
- The Financial Times, London. Extract of article by John Thornhill, London, August 21, 2002
"Das’s deeply informed and learned musings on The Mahabharata and its moral dilemmas are invariably penetrating and full of insight, and the questions he raises so important…highly personal and idiosyncratic, yet richly insightful meditation on the application of ancient philosophy to issues of modern moral conduct and right and wrong."
- William Dalrymple, Author
‘The book raises some excellent questions... India is an open tolerant country. So why does liberalism not flourish there? Mr Das insists that liberal ideas offer the clearest answer to many of India’s woes. Corruption, for example, will not be beaten with a big, new authoritarian bureaucracy, as anti-graft protesters want. Instead discretionary powers must be wrested from dodgy bureaucrats and politicians, the state made smaller, and markets allowed, openly and freely... Mr Das’s celebration of liberalism is admirable.’
--The Economist (Review of India Grows at Night, 10 Nov 2012)
"Informative, entertaining, and basically correct about India's need to embrace capitalism more wholeheartedly, for all the costs and risks."
- The Economist, London (Extract of a book review of India Unbound, February 17, 2001)
"One of the most readable and insightful books to appear on India's tortuous economic path since shaking off British rule."
- Businessweek, New York, Extract of book review on India Unbound, April 16, 2001
"The strength of his inquiry lies in its castigation of those who inherited the running of India from the British. He is commendably scathing about Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi, who had her father's hubris and contempt for businessmen but not a trace of his erudition. In most developed democracies, someone like Mr. Das would be a legislator or a cabinet minister. The author regards economic growth as the only way to strengthen Indian democracy. [and] his optimism is potent when he says, 'We have good reasons to expect that the lives of the majority of Indians in the 21st century will be freer and more prosperous than their parents. Never before in recorded history have so many people been in a position to rise so quickly.'"
- The Wall Street Journal, New York. Excerpt of a book review on India Unbound, March 19, 2001
"India Unbound is a quiet earthquake that shook faraway shores long before its shockwave reached Britain. [Its] conclusion is that in the next two decades India will become the third largest economy, after the US and China [and] two industries, information technology and agriculture, will lift India out of poverty. It talks of an India where teenage tea-shop assistants work to save money for computer lessons [and] says that if the poor get rich and a few people get filthy rich, that is better than worrying about the distribution of wealth and no one getting rich. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winner was so impressed he asked Das to start a "secular, rightwing party" modelled on Britain's Tories in India."
- The Guardian, London. Extract of article, June 11, 2002
The following is the text of a talk by Amartya Sen at the Nehru Centre, London on 7th May, 2002. Prof. Ian Little of Oxford University and Prof. Meghnad Desai of LSE also spoke at the seminar, which was organized by Girish Karnad, Director of the Nehru Centre, on the occasion of the launch of the UK edition of India Unbound by Gurcharan Das. The tape of the talk was provided courtesy the Nehru Centre.
'The big story is that this is wonderful book. India Unbound is a great mixture of memoir, economic analysis, social investigation, political scrutiny and managerial outlook being thrown into the understanding of India. It is not easy for a book of this kind to work, but in this case it actually does. In terms of the temper of the book, the fact that Gurcharan Das is happier with the world does makes a difference. He is both critical as well as optimistic and I think that combination works well. There is a positiveness of approach that breathes through every page, and the view of India that emerges is optimistic but it is not unrelated to criticisms of early periods, [the decades after Independence], and at one or two places I would even say that he may have over-criticized things. His basic take is a combination of seeing difficulties, noting them, and then going onto a view which is basically optimistic. I will address one or two of the points that Ian [Little] has mentioned, although I do not entirely agree with his criticism.
The first thing to note about this book is that it is not an apologia for India in any sense, because there is a lot of critical stuff here. We have, of course, a long tradition in India of being fairly outspoken. One has to read only papers like Economic and Political Weekly to see how sharply we express our views. I remember when I first came to Cambridge, an English friend of mine telling me that on his first visit to India he was very impressed by how outspoken Indians were. And as an example, he mentioned that he went to buy some candy for his children and he was tremendously impressed to find at the candy shop that there were two types of candy in a glass jar: one was labeled “superior” and the other “inferior”. And, in some ways, that is also Gurcharan Das. He points out many inferior things, but there is a clear predominance of the superior in the overall balance in the story that he tells.
Let me now turn to the book itself and what makes it work. It is not a plan document, you know, and hence I disagree somewhat with Ian's critique. If it were the kind of book that Ian wanted, it would have been a duller book. I mean it would have been a wordy planning document. But it is not-it is a book. It is a celebration of some things and an appreciation of others. It is actually amazing that a country, which has not been very well governed, has ended up still doing extraordinarily well. I realize that we are inside some kind of Government of India establishment, but I have to agree that our country is badly governed, and I applaud Ian Little for mentioning the decline of secularism. I think it is very hard to resist the thought right at this moment that India may be a great country but it is also governed by a lot of very small-minded people. We live at a time when some of the most dreadful atrocities have taken place in a state where the state government has not resigned, where the Central Government has not put enough pressure to make them resign, and where the so called secular partners have done very little to vindicate their secularism other than sticking to office (which, I guess, is some kind of secular virtue too!) But the totality of the situation on the governmental side leaves many reasons for discontent.
I agree, by the way, with Ian [Little] that in terms of [economic] reforms there are many things more to be done, but Gurcharan Das is also aware of these deficiencies. He is celebrating the country and not its policies. There is tendency to make a division between the left and the right, and to discuss issues in terms of their positions, which often have almost nothing to do with the left and the right. I do come from the left, and in the long run I don't really see a position for the Indian economy that does not have much greater degree of reform. In fact, I do not go along with the increasingly common consensus that [we must free] everything other than capital movement. I don't really see a successful capitalist economy thriving in India with restricted capital movement continuing. Restricted capital movement is often seen as solving problems when it hasn't altogether done so. The countries in East Asia suffered not from having capital controls (as China did), and one result of it is that when all was done the financial reform that was needed in Korea, in Thailand, etc. has basically taken place, whereas the financial reforms in China are yet to come. So, in some ways, by bandaging over problems we have a tendency to make them survive longer, when what is needed is severe scrutiny in a very different way. The same remarks apply to Japan's need for more foundational change.
What a book of this kind does is to point out that there is something to fight for and to see where one might go from here. [Having said that] I'd like to turn now to a few disagreements. One of these is it's tendency to describe our past up to 1991 as some kind of left wing Nehruvian socialism, and this is really a monstrous absurdity. The country's literacy rate [for example] was still below 50%, compared to all the promises made before Independence. The Sargent Commission report, which was published in 1944 "the last bit of British government planning about education" suggested that in thirty years India would be made completely literate. (When the Britain left, it was 11% literate, which is of course not a great achievement. I must add that one or two of our states which were outside British control, such as Kerala, did a lot better.) When the Sargeant Commission report came out the whole of Congress establishment dismissed it on the grounds that India did not have that sort of patience. But, of course, not thirty but more than fifty years have gone by and we are nowhere near [universal literacy]. And what happened reflects the class bias, the basically upper class bias of the previous governments. And to describe them as a kind of socialism is total absurdity.
Even if you look at the successes of India, one of the things for which Nehru should get a lot more credit is the beginnings of the IITs, the Indian Institutes of Technology. [Nehru's] vision, which was deeply sympathetic to the middle classes, which wanted to have a good education, and which did get it. We must not grumble too much either: for when the opportunity came in the information sector and the software industry, they transformed the Indian economy in the way that Gurcharan discusses. But that is a very classist picture. To some extent degree I agree (although not entirely) with Ian Little, that you can't really remove basic poverty with information industry. But it has made a big difference, and as Gurcharan also mentions, it has extended to a lot of ancillary jobs as well. [However, our policy] had the feature of concentrating the educational efforts in the direction of the upper and middle classes and neglecting the lower classes, and that to me is not left wing policy in any sense.
When the reforms came in 1991 there were two major obstacles staring at India. One was the basic lack of governmental action in education, in health care, in land reform, in micro-credit “things that government should have done and which it had done very little. Second, there was over activity of the government in the form of 'license raj' and so on. But to diagnose the second without the first would be a great mistake. I do not blame Gurcharan Das because he does talk about this failing, but I should have liked to have had more of it. If you take the countries that we think of as the Tigers, all of them had high rates of literacy “higher rates of literacy than India has today“ in the 1970s So, the possibility of a similar kind of economic expansion on the basis of a largely illiterate population was never a very plausible story. After 1979, China too began to do economic reforms and moved rapidly (after having had a rather dismal economic performance) to a terrific economic performance. It rode on the shoulders of what was achieved in the pre-reform period in terms of educational and health expansion, [as well as] land reform and micro credit.
Basically, these things still remain the major problem in India. It was a very difficult position for an economist to occupy because we wanted a dual program not just one or the other. Maybe it was unrealistic, and maybe what my friend Manmohan Singh did was to say, just forget one and do the other. That was certainly an improvement and no question about it. But the improvement would have been much more secure, much more broad based “the issues of poverty and unemployment to which Ian Little rightly referred, would have been dealt with much better if the totality of that change had been addressed. Now this not a criticism of the book, except perhaps in terms of emphasis, because he does talk about it as a very major neglect. I just wish there had been be more emphasis. So 2 ½ cheers for Gurcharan Das there.
There is an important issue of politics, and I have to say that Gurcharan Das is ideally suited to play a much-needed role. What India needs most at this time is a secular, right wing party. It is a dreadful thing that the right has become all non-secular. If you want a kind of right wing position “and I hope I can rely on Gurcharan being right wing “then you need a secular party. (By the way, Gurcharan quotes me in his book as having described the BJP a fascist party. I didn't quite say that, but I don't mind being misquoted like that. What I did say was that it has fascist elements and some of them have been very much in evidence recently.) The Swatantrata was originally such a party, but it didn't survive. Now, thirty years later, there is a room for such a party and the timing is better. If we had such a party and something like the Gujarat atrocities were to happen, then the protest would come from both sides. It would not come from one side Now I am not promising that if Gurcharan were to start a right wing secular party I'll vote for it. I will not. I will welcome it however as a citizen of India because the polity does need it, and needs it very importantly.
I should mention, on the other side, that the left parties also could do with much greater unity. Gurcharan has paid tribute that is uncommon and very insightful to people like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh, and others, who are tainted in many ways He has talked about the confidence they have given to the backward castes. Laloo Prasad also played a valuable role on behalf of secularism during the riots that followed the demolition of the mosque in UP and they did not spread to Bihar. This is, of course, not to support the industrial policy of the Bihar government, nor the corruption of Laloo Prasad Yadav.
Gurcharan Das, to its credit, often takes a dialectical position. For example, consider his discussion of the English language and Hindi nationalism. English has always been contentious in India, going back to the 1840s, when it was introduced by one of the most bigoted mammals produced by my college, Thomas Babington Macaulay. That debate “what happened to it? Why did it suddenly melt away? Partly, of course, the British left, and this meant that it was no longer a nationalist issue, as it had been during the freedom struggle. It was no longer the ruler's language; in fact, it was recognized in the Indian Constitution as one of the 15 national languages of the country. Secondly, and this is where dialectics come in, it became a target of Hindi nationalism (often combined with Hindu nationalism). And, of course, that produced a predictable dialectical reaction in the south of India and east of India, and elsewhere. So what happened is-and I think one mustn't invoke Hegel too much “a negation of negation. The attempt to hit at English and to champion Hindi had the effect of hitting back on the paths of the Tamils and the Malayalees, the Bengalis and the Assamese, and so, Hindi, of course, is one of the two official languages and that is exactly what it should be. But the idea that it was somehow going to be the sole national language was killed to a great extent because of the action and reaction that occurred at the time.
I think we need to look at India's future in these terms. In politics we need more dialectics, and that is why I am advocating a right wing party that is secular. So, when Gurcharan writes another book, I would like him to take up some of these issues again; I only hope that the program of starting a new right wing secular party will not distract him too much from doing the next book. (By the way, it must be remembered that he has written other books, including a wonderful novel, 'A Fine Family', and I recommend it.) Thank you.
"Das’s deeply informed and learned musings on The Mahabharata and its moral dilemmas are invariably penetrating and full of insight, and the questions he raises so important…highly personal and idiosyncratic, yet richly insightful meditation on the application of ancient philosophy to issues of modern moral conduct and right and wrong."
"Gurcharan Das, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble in India, and one of the first chroniclers of these shifts in attitude, told me a story of a poor young teenager he encountered. The boy told Das that in order to succeed, he had three goals. He wanted to learn to use Windows, to write an invoice and to learn 400 words of English. "Why 400 words?" asked Das. The boy explained that that's what it took to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the base requirement for admission to an American university. “Now, this guy probably won't get into an American college, but this is the way people are thinking all over India," Das said.
- Amid Disaster, New Confidence, Fareed Zakaria, January 17, 2005, Newsweek
"The government sleeps at night and the economy grows" says Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter Gamble in India.
- India Rising, Fareed Zakaria, March 6, 2006, Newsweek
"In New Delhi, the Indian writer, Gurcharan Das, remarked to me that with each visit to the US lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They "make you feel so unwanted now," said Das. America was a country "that was always reinventing itself," he added, because it was a country that always welcomed "all kinds of oddballs" and had "this wonderful spirit of openness". American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. "If you go dark, the world goes dark." (Mutuating America's DNA, Thomas L. Friedman, June 02, 2005, New York Times)
"Gurcharan Das, the former head of Procter & Gamble in India, wrote in The Times of India that this election was about better local governance: "What matters to the rickshawala [scooter driver] is that the cops not take away a sixth of his daily earnings. The farmer wants a clear title to his land without having to bribe the patwari [village accountant]. The sick villager wants the doctor to be there when she visits the primary health center. The housewife doesn't want the water tap to go dry while she is washing." (Think Global, Act Local, Thomas L. Friedman, June 06, 2004, New York Times)
The book is a remarkable tour de force that connects an ageless philosophical epic to the travails of contemporary society. This book is for the liberal Hindu who does not want his religion co-opted, for the modern Indian who wants to build a fair and inclusive society and for the global citizen who is rendered asunder by moral absolutism. The dharmic challenges we face every day resonate throughout Gurcharan's book. Reading this book has been an enriching experience!
"I do not know of any book that describes the impact of India's economic policies on her growth during the post-independent India as analytically, logically and vividly as this one. The author's words are a gentle cry for India's poor. This brilliant work in political economy is for all young Indians, especially budding politicians and IAS probationers. It deserves to be translated in all Indian languages so that the common person can become better educated about the policies that they want for their country." (Narayana Murthy, former CEO Infosys. Extract from a 45 minute talk on India Unbound at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi in 2001)
Gurcharan Das is a rare author who can speak to businessmen, modern-day savants and the uninitiated. This book is a scholarly discussion of the intellectual framework of the subtleties of Dharma, as espoused by Mahabharata. This book brings out Gurcharan Das at his intellectual best. It is a must read to resolve the moral dilemmas of life”. (Narayana Murthy on The Difficulty of Being Good)
"Gurcharan Das is a multi-talented man. He has been a successful business leader, an author of plays and novels and the book India Unbound, which told the world that India had arrived. Now he has taken on the difficult task of reading the Mahabharata and interpreting its many messages in light of contemporary circumstances…The result is a book rich in ideas. Das does not retell the story as has often been done. He takes episodes and characters who pose moral and ethical questions. …He has given us a cosmopolitan study of a quintessentially Indian text. The central question concerns dharma and its changing meanings as attributed by the characters in the epic and the way we would think of dharma today. In the Vedas, dharma applies only to Brahmins and concerns yajna. Later in the Gita, it is the cosmic order which Krishna must uphold. Then in 19th century, it is another name for religion and later for norms of ethical conduct…. Buy the book and read it."
Read More: http://www.asianwindow.com/tag/ramayana/
"Gurcharan Das is without doubt the most erudite CEO…. His book India Unbound captured the change in post-liberalisation India. It echoed our hopes for a new India. In The Difficulty of Being Good, Gurcharan voices our despair about inequities and the amorality of public life. This book reveals a new Gurcharan. Reflective, humane, deeply spiritual and secular—a renaissance man…. What is truly appealing about Gurcharan’s contemporaneous reading of the Mahabharata is his reinforcement of liberal values. The epic’s wisdom empowers the individual and shows us the way forward in dealing with daily challenges…Despite its moral ambiguity, it shows how one can act righteously in an amoral world…He draws from his own life and the lessons he has learned. He reflects on his decision to call it quits, as CEO of Procter & Gamble India, at the early age of 50 and live his vanaprasthya as a writer. We must thank him for his wisdom in making that choice, for we are today the true beneficiaries of his personal decision."
"This book is sure to find followers among businessmen, corporate professionals and maybe even political leaders, all of whom seek to find a code of ethics that justifies their actions and who would be delighted to find an indigenous paradigm that allows for a contextual good rather than a categorical imperative…
Here is a man in the shadowed afternoon of a life well-lived, now in a stage of quiet of self reflection when one looks back on what one has done and achieved and wonders about what lies ahead, what might happen next. For all of these reasons, Das is a thoughtful and compassionate guide through the territory that he defines and treads. He wields a confident machete that cuts through the tangles of ancient brush and the over-grown and self-congratulatory contemporary elephant grasses that cover the path towards clear-eyed ethical action…
Das uses stories from the ancient text as parables to understand the world we live in and the people that we are surrounded by. The project he undertakes is as much about mining the past for wisdom as it is about parsing the present such that we can make sense of it. He uses the characters and the situations of the Mahabharata as a grammar through which we might tease meaning out of recent public scandals that ask the question, was this the right thing to do or, how could he have done this? …Das has the courage to seek a moral centre within the great text that is human rather than divine."
'In his dual capacity as a pundit and a littérateur, Das could hardly have chosen a more relevant filter for the ethical questions before India in a time of galloping growth, explosive conflict and dizzying change. Das uses the Mahabharata to trigger his reflections on everything from corporate corruption scandals and Ponzi schemes, to affirmative action and reforms in higher education; from the future of Gandhian resistance to the fate of tribal communities in the face of rampant development; from the quarrels of industrialists to the personalities of politicians. Sometimes he takes a detour through American history, German social theory, Greek philosophy and English literature; at other times, he recalls moments from his own life and career in India.
The book’s subtitle, On The Subtle Art of Dharma, takes us to the heart of the epic’s subject matter… When Barack Obama had to decide whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan, and if so then how many, he grappled with a problem of dharma… When developed countries do not take steps to address the climate change that their technologies have precipitated, theirs is a failure of dharma… Places such as Gaza and the West Bank, where conflicting moral claims give rise to violent military engagements, are theatres of dharma… But when my friend must decide whether to keep his dying parent on life-support, that too is an engagement with dharma. It is clear that the term is complex and capacious, enfolding everything from "right" to "norm" to "law" to "duty" to "injunction" to "righteousness".'
Martha Naussbaum is Enrnst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Law School, and Divinity School, at the University of Chicago. The Extract below is from The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA 2007 and Permanent Black. 2007 (email@example.com)
The Disillusioned: Gurcharan Das
As I think of these choices, I picture my friend Gurcharan Das walking toward me on a cold Chicago day, a small, round man around five feet five, dressed in an expensive camel-hair coat and an elegant black felt hat Gurcharan exudes warmth and gentleness. He is also very funny. Invariably, Gurcharan has great curiosity about the other person.Gurcharan Das came to Chicago in 2002 to learn more about classical Indian thought from Wendy Doniger and other scholars at our university. He audited my class on Literature and Ethics in Ancient Greece and participated vigorously. The next year he came to talk to my graduate seminar on Religion and the State. Perhaps this history biases my account of him. I think, however, that the causation goes the other way: it was not an antecedent friendship that made me view his life differently from the other three lives; it was because of who he is, and the ways in which he differs from the others, that I wanted to form a friendship with him.
Although Gurcharan Das is wealthy, he is not one of the nouveaux riches, for whom conspicuous consumption, American Style, is a mark of success. His home, though elegant, is simple, and his collection of contemporary Indian paintings, though priceless, is that of a connoisseur who promotes the careers of indigenous artists. He dresses in fine but simple clothes, usually Indian style (with the exception of the hat and winter coat, for which he has no use in India). Dinner at his home is simple vegetarian food; his vegetarianism has ethical as well as habitual roots.
Gurcharan Das began life as a writer; he wrote a fine novel about Partition, based on his family's experience, and several plays on historical and social themes, which are still produced. He studied in the U. S. briefly in the 1950's, returning for an undergraduate degree at Harvard in philosophy and government, during which time he studied Sanskrit with the great scholar Daniel Ingalls and philosophy with the great John Rawls. Rawls, who was his tutor, was “perhaps the most important influence on my life.” Later in life, he received a degree from the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. He soon discovered that he had a talent for business as well as for the arts, and he rose to be CEO of Procter and Gamble in India (1985-1992) and then Vice-President and Managing Director of Procter and Gamble Worldwide, responsible for strategic planning (1992-1995). In 1995 he took early retirement, becoming wealthy from venture capital, and, all the while, writing a regular column on political and cultural matters for The Times of India. His most famous book, India Unbound (2001) is a defense of a free-market approach to the Indian economy. Meanwhile, he has chosen to spend a lot of his time studying classical Hindu texts, literary and philosophical, because he believes that the practice of business in India can be greatly improved by thinking about Hindu notions of dharma (moral rectitude, or duty). He is writing a book about connections between the ethical ideas of the Mahabharata and contemporary failures in public and corporate governance, a topic on which he frequently lectures to businessmen, in the U. S. and in India.
In India Unbound, though sympathetic to the BJP for economic reasons, he chastised the party for its reliance on a politics of hatred. He describes himself as fed up with the economic errors of the Congress Party and drawn to the BJP for its promise of reform, and yet he clearly feels great unease, even in 2001, at the bad record of the party in religious matters. This theme has become increasingly salient in his columns. In 2002, after Gujarat, he became deeply disillusioned with the BJP.
Gurcharan grew up in northwest India, in an area that is now part of Pakistan; the whole region was a major site of religious violence at the time of Partition. He remembers that when he was only four, in 1946, his mother was alarmed by an incident between Hindus and Muslims in a local railway station. Soon afterward the family (very much like the family in his novel) was forced to leave its home behind, never to return. Did his mother and the rest of his family absorb a sense of bitterness toward Muslims because of Partition, I ask. “I think intuitively some of it must have been there, must be.” And the sheer fact of leaving home, only to find out later that one's home was in a different country, all that was very painful. In some ways, he says, many Indians “have not accepted that Pakistan is there. Somehow we locked our homes in the riots and said that we would go back, and my grandmother had all these forty-two keys “ I remember that she brought these keys with her and she locked everything and that we would go back there.”
Despite these traumas, however, he did not learn anti-Muslim ideas in his home. His family's religious practices were unconventional and austere, and his father eventually became attached to a guru, forcing the family to spend long stretches of time in an ashram. Only from relatives' homes did he learn about more traditional Hindu worship, with all the various gods. Meanwhile, he simply learned very little about Muslims. A few were in his school later on in Delhi, “but you know, when you're in school you talk about sports and you're busy playing cricket and hockey, and you do school work.” Never did he know Muslim classmates well enough to be invited to their homes.
In fact, he continues, the problem with the sort of education he received in the post-Independence era was that “One didn't learn very much about any religion, not even one's own. That's what I think is the real tragedy. Why did I after retiring from business want to go to the University of Chicago to read the Mahabharata with Wendy Doniger? Because I'd never been exposed to it, and I think that is a failing of our education system.” In general, the attitude of his friends, even today, is that someone who takes an interest in the Hindu tradition is bound to be motivated by sectarian Hindu-first motives. When he told an old friend that he had been reading classical Sanskrit texts, the response was, “Good God, man! You haven't turned Hindutva, have you?” And “a woman, in fact my mother's friend, said [if] she is going to the temple, she won't tell people because she is afraid they are going to pounce on her and think she has become some kind of communalist.” When religion is equated with extremism, it is easy for religious extremists to monopolize this important domain of human life.
How did this marginalization of religion begin? Nehru, he remembers, communicated the idea of equal respect, not the idea that we ought to leave religion behind. Because he was such a “charismatic,” figure, people picked up this idea of pluralism from him. Yet at the same time, in subtler ways, Nehru invited a narrower view of secularism, because he himself was so clearly agnostic. Meanwhile, the damage done by Partition surely reinforced the idea that people had better avoid speaking about religion if we are to have a peaceful nation. So religion became privatized as a way of not reopening old wounds. All the time that RSS was building a grassroots network, liberal pluralists were avoiding the entire issue. Some Congress politicians, inspired by Marxism, even adopted a “strident kind of secularism” that mocked all religion. “Had the Congress been smart, then they would have tried to create a gentler respect for each other's space.” In a column in 2003, he wrote, “Our secularism has failed to stem the tide of intolerance because most secularists do not value the religious life. In well-meaning efforts to limit religion to the private life they behave as though all religious people are superstitious and stupid.” It was not always that way. Earlier we had leaders like Gandhi, Maulana Azad, and Vivekenanda who could relate to “the vast majority of religiously minded Indians” and show them that “true religion is humanistic and has nothing to do with hating others.”
Gurcharan Das doesn't mince words about Gujarat. It was “murderous carnage,” and a great defeat for India's finest ideals. Referring to the ideas of the emperor Ashoka, who taught religious toleration in the third-century B.C.E, he wrote in 2003: “Here is a wonderful insight for our times: you damage your own religion when you malign another's Those who call for a Hindu nation not only harm the nation, they also damage Hinduism.” And then, commenting on parallels between U. S. and Indian history, he continued, “We don't want India to be like the old Massachusetts Bay Colony, which defined citizenship unequally and witch hunted minorities. Just as religious tolerance spread to the American colonies by the sheer need for the diverse people of America to live together, so must this happen in India. We want an India of Ashoka's vision where people of all beliefs live decently together.”
Gurcharan Das is (squarely within the Hindu tradition) a religious humanist, who still hopes for good to be done in religion's, and Hinduisms, name. This respect for the authentic traditions of Hinduism has prevented him from lining up with the BJP's politics of religious hatred For Gurcharan Das, religion is something noble that should not be debased by being linked with murder, and Hinduism stands for pluralism and toleration, not for violence. Gurcharan Das is a man not of fear, but of hope. He always has a new constructive plan to bring better lives to people: the Swatantra party, the lectures on morality in business, the new plan to reform public education. Maybe it all comes down to hope. For Gurcharan Das, belief in the possibility of human goodness and hope for that goodness make it impossible to demonize an entire people or group. Each is a separate human life, and we must wait for evidence of guilt before condemning Behind hope, in turn, lies the work of the imagination. Gurcharan Das's ability to connect so affectionately with people is related to his intuitive sense of each person's inner world, his quick ability to endow another form with life and spirit, skills that he developed through his long engagement with the arts, and that probably had deeper roots in the childhood that he remembers with such vividness Gurcharan Das blames some of the current politics of religious violence on the fact that Indians currently study little about their own religious traditions and that liberal pluralists, despising religion, have tried to marginalize it. That the ideology of hatred and violence has been widely accepted as an authentic form of Hinduism is an astonishing fact, given Gandhi's role in the founding of the country. Wider awareness of Hindu traditions of pluralism and respect would surely make it more difficult for young people to identify the politics of the Hindu right with genuine religion, as many clearly do. The problem engendering violence is not, then, Hinduism itself “ if one can speak of an “itself' in a religion so multifaceted. Nor is it any threat posed by Indian Muslims (the special case of Kashmir always excepted). The “clash” we are beginning to see, then, is not the mythic clash between a Western democratic vision and a violent Muslim vision. It appears to be a clash between two different sorts of democratic citizens, employing different versions of the Hindu tradition. There are Indians, and Gurcharan Das is one of them, who do not fear difference, who seek peaceful relations with people from other religions and ways of life, and who see democratic institutions as strong enough to provide the groundwork for a future of mutual respect. There are also Indians, who fear religious and ethnic differences as a deep threat to order and safety, who have learned to hate people who insist on living in a way that sets them off from the majority, and whose anxious desire for control leads them to legitimize violence. These two types of democratic citizens can be found in many if not most modern nations. At a deeper level in the quality of imagination that governs their relationships with strangers [the latter] have little ability to imagine the life of people who differ from themselves, to see an inner world in a stranger. They see members of other groups primarily as looming threats to their own safety and preeminence. Somehow life in a pluralistic democracy, and the education they received in that democracy, failed to cultivate their imaginative capacities and their capacities for sympathy. Gurcharan Das has a curiosity and flexibility of mind “ whether through his connection to the arts or through some deeper processes in his childhood. The second “clash” we are beginning to see, then, is a clash inside the person, between the forces of fear and reactive domination and the forces that lead to compassion and respect “ a “clash” that must be mediated through effective education and a decent public culture. As Gandhi knew, democracy must learn how to cultivate the inner world of human beings, equipping each citizen to contend against the passion for domination and to accept the reality, and the equality, of others.
- Martha Nussbaum, Philosopher
How can we live with moral balance in an arbitrary and uncertain world? In this wise, passionate, and illuminating book, Gurcharan Das turns to the classical Indian epic Mahabharata for answers -- and finds, instead, a life of questioning, an ethical temper tolerant and suspicious of ideology, in which certainty is no virtue and respect for the projects of others is the appropriate response to life's complexities. Dedicated to his teachers Sanskritist Daniel Ingalls and philosopher John Rawls, Gurcharan Das's book is a fitting tribute to Ingalls's scholarly integrity and Rawls's insights about pluralism and respect. It is also one of the best things I've read about the contribution of great literature to ethical thought.'
- Martha Naussbaum on The Difficulty of Being Good
"The book is a wonderful combination of the scholarly and the personal, the academic and the meditative. The basic plan works beautifully, building a rich mix of his very, very careful and detailed reading of the text, his other wide reading, and his life in business; an extraordinary blend. I found the use of evolutionary biology and the Prisoner's Dilemma to explain the pragmatism of the Mahabharata absolutely brilliant."
- Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"Through a series of bravura readings of the Mahabharata, Gurcharan Das makes a learned and passionate attempt to inform how the great Indian epic might illuminate our present-day moral dilemmas. Readers will find his analyses of dharma insightful, challenging, and honest--doing full justice to the world's most complex, exciting and honest poem.
This admirable book offers precisely the kind of reflection that the epic itself invites—moral, political and public. It shows why the Mahabharata is a classic: because it is ever timely. This superb book is knowledgeable, passionate, and even courageous. Grounded in a secure knowledge of the narrative, it raises key moral problems—from the doctrine of just war to affirmative action to the nature of suffering-- and it makes striking attempts to link these with contemporary discussions and issues, both public and personal."
- Sheldon Pollock, William B. Ransford Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Columbia University, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"I was very moved by this richly articulated, contemporary meditation on the Mahabharata and the great human themes it embodies-- above all the question of what life means and what one might do to endow it with purpose, within the inherently ambiguous and painful contexts in which we always find ourselves. The book is a kind of miracle: a deeply sensitive man suddenly decides to leave his usual routines and familiar roles and to spend some years simply reading the Mahabharata and seeing what the ancient epic has to tell him; he engages profoundly with the text, with the bewildering profusion of its messages, its tormented heroes, and the dramatic events it describes; and he then finds the space and the right words for a thoughtful, highly personal, philosophically informed, skeptical, sustained response. Such things happen only rarely in our generation, and we should all be grateful to Gurcharan Das for this gift."
- David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"This book is a triple treat. It provides a subtle reading of episodes in the Mahabharata. It uses those readings to raise consistently provocative questions about the character of dharma. And it addresses important questions about the character of our ethical lives. It wears its learning lightly, prompting one to think, and hence it is a pleasure and a provocation."
- Pratap Bhanu Mehta, political scientist and president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"Gurcharan Das' personal search for dharma in the ancient epic uncovers buried signposts to a desirable future polity. The Difficulty of Being Good is a significant Indian contribution to a new, universal Enlightenment that is not Western in origin or character. It is a delight to read a book that wears its learning so elegantly and presents its arguments with such panache."
- Sudhir Kakar, author and psychoanalyst, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"Story telling is an ancient art in India but the stories always had a higher moral purpose. Gurcharan Das has mastered both the art and the purpose. In this elegantly written book, he weaves many tales, both personal and epic, to present a moral philosophy for individuals, corporations, and governments of the 21st century.
The recent global economic crisis has revealed deep corruption and lack of moral insight at the highest echelons of the economy showing that is difficult to be good, a constant moral struggle exemplified in the characters of the Mahabharata and in the stories and moral tales narrated with such charm and force by Gurcharan Das."
- Patrick Olivelle, Chair in the Humanities, Professor of Sanskrit, University of Texas, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
Gurcharan Das is a delightful story teller. He also invariably has a point. He tells stories from the Mahabharata and he brings each story to a point. To the difficulty, as he puts it, of being good. What is good? What is evil? Who is right? Who is wrong? As Das' stories from the Mahabharata show, these questions are not easy to decide. But the point surely is, as his autobiographical asides show, that they are compelling questions. Not easy to answer, and one must decide for oneself.
- Rajat Kanta Ray, historian and vice-chancellor, Shantiniketan, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"This book has done the rare thing of successfully invoking the Mahabharata to help address the questions that one faces in one's life. Unlike many attempts to make the Mahabharata “relevant” to modern life, this one takes the text seriously as a historical document and does not gloss over the explicit uncertainties and uncomfortable ambiguities that the text conveys. It is written in the expository memoir style that Gurcharan Das used so effectively in India Unbound. The style personalizes the questions and the quest for answers. It makes the work come alive and holds one's interest throughout. The added service that the author provides is to show how the authors of the Mahabharata engaged the same sorts of central ethical issues (with sometimes remarkably similar responses) as Western thinkers both ancient and modern.
This book is a work of great insight. The Sanskritist, the philosopher, and the intelligent lay reader will all benefit from spending time with this work. There are few works on classical Indian thought for which this is true. Das is to be congratulated for so effectively speaking to such diverse audiences."
- Richard W. Lariviere, Prof. of Sanskrit and Provost and Vice Chancellor, University of Kansas, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"It took me on a huge intellectual and emotional journey. And with Gurcharan Das as guide, even familiar paths seemed to lead through fresh landscapes... The secular humanism and intellectual humility that shines through this beautiful book shows that -- along with everything else-- the Mahabharata can provide just what the modern world needs. Das' rehabilitation of Yudhishthira is inspiring... showing convincingly that [others] misunderstand his role. I came away feeling more whole."
- Ian Proudfoot, Sanskrit scholar, Australian National University, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"Plato famously sought to dethrone the epic poets from their station as educators in morals and ethics. In India, by contrast, the great epics, the Mahabharata above all, have been forever unassailed in their authority as teachers and interpreters of the human condition. Curiously, however, their messages for moral philosophy have been slow to emerge in the field of contemporary thought. With this new book, essayist and playwright Gurcharan Das guides us through the moral contours of the epic world with analytical insight and literary panache. In doing so, he reveals vistas enlarging our understanding not just of the past, but, most importantly, of the moral dilemmas we face today."
- Matthew Kapstein, Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of Chicago, and Directeur d'Ãctudes, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"The book is entertaining and thought-provoking, and will help many people see connections between the Mahabharata and contemporary issues -- even when they encounter the epic for the first time. It is a book for both those for whom it has always been part of their cultural memory and for those who are reading it for the first time this critical composition from India's rich and complex history. It offers insights and suggestions even for scholars of Indian thought, literature and history."
- Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy, Lancaster University writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"The Mahabharata is one of the outstanding achievements of the human intellect and imagination and Gurcharan Das addresses its moral conflicts based on a close reading of classical texts and an informed understanding of modern philosophical arguments, making this book both instructive and enjoyable."
- Andre Beteille, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, writes about The Difficulty of Being Good
"When George Bernard Shaw famously wrote that 'if all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they would never reach a conclusion,' he clearly didn't have Das' book in mind. Das weaves accessibly written history, thumbnail biographies of legendary Indian industrialists and entrepreneurs, his own experiences as a young executive building up the Vicks brand in the Indian heartland and accounts of Kafkaesque encounters with bureaucracy, into a book that traces 'the struggle of one-sixth of humanity for dignity and prosperity' and comes to pretty clear conclusions. Das is, in tempered and measured prose, scathingâ€¦Having constructed a comprehensive indictment of India's economic failures, Das is optimistic about the liberalization that has opened the economy in the 1990s. He sees India on the brink of a great transformation, fueled by the Internet that will rival Japan's after the Meiji Restorationâ€¦Das writes in an engaging style, sprinkling his text with a well-chosen array of quotations. There are layman-friendly discussions of economic theories of poverty, and his arguments are leavened with a close reading of economic texts, both classic and contemporary. But what shines through is the telling anecdote, the personal example, the remembered conversation."
- Shashi Tharoor, author, former undersecretary, United Nations. Extract of review of India Unbound, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2001
The change in India since economic liberalization in 1991 has been astonishing, and the pace of it picks up every day. Any visitor to India must ask how it came about and where it might lead. On a recent visit-after several years “I found a book which gave a vivid and persuasive explanation of the transformation all around me. India Unbound: from Independence to the global information age by Gurcharan Das is a mixture of memoir and social and economic inquiry, written with great energy, personal knowledge and clarity by a man who began his commercial career selling Vicks VapoRub to India villages (an excellent chapter). It isn't perfect "it has to my mind too much pro-market gusto in the analysis and a touch of Samuel Smiles in the story" but I would firmly recommend it to any visitor to India as a key guide to its recent past.
- Ian Jack, critic and editor. Extract of an article which appeared in the New Statesman, 30 January, 2006
"INDIA UNBOUND is a lively, interesting and well documented answerâ€“the first of its kindâ€“to a key question: why was India rich, why is it poor, when will it be rich again? It is also full of the kind of stories which make that fascinating country come alive for the reader."
- Olivier Bernier, author of "The World in 1800?"
"Gurcharan Das has written a paean to liberalisation (India Unbound, Viking) arguably the most readable book on the reforms of the 1990s. Gurcharan is a magical writer and a great story-teller; his account of the reforms is so upbeat that even I thought we had accomplished something."
- Ashok Desai, former chief economist in the ministry of finance, writes about India Unbound, Business Standard, New Delhi, November 28, 2000
"Gurcharan Das's view of the recent history of India, particularly the socio-politico-economic history of the country is unabashedly right. His keen eye and sharp sense of sound captures the panorama of he last 50 years of Indian history in his own way. . . both fascinating and interesting . . . "India Unbound" keeps your interest in top gear throughout the book."
- Shunu Sen, corporate leader. Extract of review which appeared in Business Line, Madras June 8, 2000
Gurcharan Das is a good storyteller. He weaves a series of unconnected actions into a pattern with some sort of theme. His technique is to put himself, often vicariously as an observer, occasionally a participant, into the events he describes; in this way he gives immediacy to history.
- Sudhir Mulji, economist. Extract of article in Business Standard, New Delhi, May 25, 2000
"This is a great book to read. What permeates the book is the optimism of the million reformers who have been unshackled."
- Bibek Debroy, economist and columnist. Excerpt of book review on India Unbound in Outlook, New Delhi, May 22, 2000
"For American readers India Unbound will come as a welcome surprise it could be an eye-opener to readers unfamiliar with the radical transformations currently under way in the subcontinent".
- The Washington Post, Excerpt of a book review on India Unbound, March 11, 2002
Excerpt of a book review on India Unbound in The Hindu, Madras, on June 18, 2000 by Sushma Ramachandran: "Gurcharan Das' account of the behind the scenes activity is illuminating... "India Unbound" is bound to become an essential component of the reading list for anyone interested in the contemporary Indian economy."
- The Hindu, Madras, June 18, 2000
"The former CEO of Procter and Gamble India paints a rich canvas of the new India... there are great moments of insight."
- The Indian Express, New Delhi. Excerpt of book review on India Unbound by Sunil Jain, May 14, 2000
"If US President Barack Obama had listened to Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas in Mahabharata, he would not have behaved the way he did when he had to deal with the greed and indiscretion of America’s top investment bankers. Obama had sought a legal way to claw back the bonuses these executives had showered themselves with even as the institutions they headed were going bust. But this is not what Obama should have asked for, argues Gurcharan Das in this book. 'To want to punish someone in this crisis was understandable but it was a dangerous path. What the world needed instead was the calm and principled voice of a Yudhishthira. In Obama’s place he would have appealed for a ‘voluntary’ return of bonuses while explaining to the American people that Wall Street had been bailed out to save Main Street’s pain and honoring bonus contracts was necessary to the rule of law,' he explains. If you conclude from this that Dharma means to remain calm, follow principles and honor the rule of law, Das will accuse you of over-simplifying Dharma."
"This tale of a family in crisis is a metaphor in Das’s book for the economic upheavals that have engulfed the world... Investment bankers on Wall Street suffered from similar moral infirmities as the heroes in the Mahabharata; they exposed the flaws in the global capitalist system... Are lessons from the Mahabharata enough to save capitalism? Das, certainly, thinks that a healthy dose of Dharma may restore trust in the system. Das’s book (even though it is not really a translation) will certainly make it accessible to a whole new generation."