PERSISTENT, INNOVATIVE AND HAPPY INDIA

7th August 2008, ECONOMIC TIMES

While reflecting about the column on careers and business life, I asked myself what purpose could be served by such an effort. A simple idea, supported by a simple story, could be a positive format for learning and reflection and practising managers could find that useful.

7th August 2008, ECONOMIC TIMES

While reflecting about the column on careers and business life, I asked myself what purpose could be served by such an effort. A simple idea, supported by a simple story, could be a positive format for learning and reflection and practising managers could find that useful.

In Indian mythology, one day in devaloka is a whole year for humans. The lunar month beginning in mid-December is like pre-dawn and in mid-January a new dawn breaks for the Gods. During this period, if actions are taken with a pure mind, concentration and a positive attitude, then an effulgent and successful day can be expected.

India is in such a pre-dawn period. Public life in India needs to be characterized by a clean mind, concentration and a positive attitude. Strictures against chief ministers and views like ‘God save this country’ from the highest judicial body are a national shame for our system of governance.

My great grandfather spent his entire life in Vilakudi, our ancestral village in Tiruvarur district, Tamilnadu. His generation accepted that the British would be around for ever. My grandfather’s generation must have wondered whether the British could stay for ever. My father spent his initial life in the village but moved out to the city. For his generation it was clear that the British would certainly have to leave; it was a matter of when.

I grew up in post-independence, urban India with occasional forays to the ancestral village. My education was replete with nationalistic rhetoric, such as “Himadri Tung Shring Se Prabuddha Shuddha Bharati” and “Shen Tamizh Nadu Inum Podinilai, Oru Thain Vandu Payidu Kadinalai”. My generation was obsessed with India’s poverty and the passion to distribute “nothing” with great fairness.

My children’s generation is obsessed with opportunities in India and wants to do things. The national economic statistics of 1950 versus 2008 suggest fantastic progress but these could have been vastly better. It is the proverbial half full, half empty cup.

Just as marketers forecast new product performance by building a ‘stochastic model’ based on the consumer mindset, the future of India is based on the consciousness of the youth of India. The lead indicator for a nation’s future is the mindset of its young people, especially in India where 55% of the population is under 25.

Indian youth has a huge amount of dissatisfaction, hopefully a divine discontent, and they can change things around. They have three strengths: first, persistence, second, innovation, and third, happiness. These are distinctive and are rooted in our history and genes.

Persistent India

Two anecdotes exemplify this.

A tea boy in Shahjehanpur, UP, Ramesh, once insisted on conversing in English. “I want to practice with you and pass TOEFL, so that I can go to America. 500 English words are enough to pass TOEFL,” he said with a ‘can-do’ look on his face.

In Mithapur, Gujarat, I asked Arvind Chudasama, a micro-entrepreneur, supported by a Tata Chemicals outreach activity, about the state of his ice cream business. Bad, he replied. Power cuts. So what about his loan? “I took a second loan to buy a chakda (like a jugad, inter-village transport contraption). I make enough to repay the loan and to invest in a battery to power the ice cream machine,” he said, full of confidence.

Living in India is like running an obstacle race. One is overcoming obstacles, every day and all the time—poor schools, crowded cities, corrupt officials, unhelpful agents of governance. Indians have the freedom of democracy but not the liberty that is supposed to accompany democracy.

Only when common people can get ordinary, day to day things done without a hassle can we say the Indians have the liberty of democracy.

“In India, democracy is flourishing, liberty is not,” to borrow from Fareed Zakaria’s comment (The Future of Freedom). But let us not despair, these things take time. 80 years after the Declaration of Independence, the US was fighting a civil war! Our democracy is maturing.

In the meanwhile, the never-say-die and can-do spirit of Indians like Ramesh and Arvind Chudasama holds great hope for the future. Persistent India.

Innovative India

When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I learnt an Arabic aphorism, Kollu Oqda Laya Hull, which means ‘every problem has its own solution.’ Problems and opportunities are two sides of the same coin. Indians solve problems.

Indians are entrepreneurial in their genes and through their history. They are restless, constantly seeking new ways of doing things. They can be almost exasperating in this respect.

Dharnidhar Mahato (Balakdih, Bengal) developed a Rs. 500/- cycle pedal paddy thrasher, which costs one-fifth and produced twice the output of a regular thrasher. Arindam Chattopadhyay (Bankura, Bengal) developed a single finger pen so that the handicapped could write (Ref: Honey Bee, National Innovation Foundation, March 2008).

The message is that India can innovate big-time like the Param and Eka supercomputers, the Nano car and the off-shore software delivery model. Indians have also democratized innovations like the cycle pedal paddy thrashers and single finger pens.

For innovation to be valuable, there has to be ambition. The ambition of young Indians has increased, so the innovative spirit is poised to deliver big time. Innovative India.

Happy India

JRD Tata once said, “I do not want India to be an economic super-power. I want India to be happy.”

The MTV Networks International published a well being index (Business Line dated 22 Nov 2006), according to which ‘‘young Indians are the happiest people on the planet”. Among people in the age group of 16-34, Indians reported 60% happiness, at about the top end along with Argentina which was 70%. Guess who was miserable at the lower end? Japan at 8% and America at 30%!

Kelly Services, a Fortune 500 staffing leader company (Business Line dated 4 Dec 2006) found that Indians ranked first in Asia-Pacific in employee satisfaction; seventh out of 28 countries globally, with Denmark, Mexico and Sweden at the top and, Hungary, Russia and Turkey at the bottom.

The Vedanta says that instead of searching for happiness outside of oneself, one should look for infinite joy and peace within oneself. Sant Kabirdas also said that fools search for happiness and peace outside. Just as the Himalayan musk deer tires itself by running around seeking the source of the fragrance, little realizing that the smell originates from its own navel, man too should search his own self.

Here is the story of a happy Indian from modern times.

A young man, who was working in the Indian Army, could not find meaning in his life. So he decided to commit suicide. He chanced on an inspiring book by Swami Vivekananda. He took premature retirement from the army, collected Rs 65,000, and returned to his village in Maharashtra. He used the money to repair the village well, to close down liquor outlets and to mobilize the villagers to work for their own development. In a few years, his village was proclaimed a model village and he found a new meaning in life.

The name of the village is Ralegaon Siddhi, and the man who put it on the national map is Anna Hazare, who was decorated with a Padma Bhushan for his pioneering work. He found happiness within himself.

The sheer adventure and scale of India’s economic growth, with social justice and entrepreneurship as its pillars, is staggering. There are beauty spots in this model and there are warts and moles, too. This much is beyond doubt: no experiment of balancing growth, entrepreneurship and social justice has been undertaken in human history by any country on such a large canvas.

Over the coming decades, India has the real chance of reclaiming its place at the top table in the League of Nations, a position she held for centuries but lost in the last few hundred years.

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