BOOK REVIEW: Games Indians play

In 2002, I visited USA for the first time. During transit I spent some time in Singapore and Hong-Kong. I was totally shocked to see the great infrastructure, well defined rules, robust systems and responsible individuals. After I got back to India, I was frustrated and disgusted to see the Indian system. We Indians just don’t follow any rules; Even if we follow, it is short lived. Take example of Indian roads: We can’t lay good roads; Even if we lay, we will not maintain it; within months, the newly built road will have numerous potholes; Added to that we spit, throw garbage, urinate on it and make sure it is spoilt to the maximum. This phenomenon is very unique in the subcontinent. Take the well developed western world, Middle Eastern and south East Asian countries – they all well built and properly maintained.

After some more experiences, I learned that it all finally boils down to an individual’s behavior. Even though Indians are as smart as anyone else in the world, what makes us to behave the way we do? Why can’t we follow basic rules by taking responsibility? The same Indian follows rules, exhibits basic civic sense, and drives properly when they travel or migrate to other countries. This has got nothing to do with culture, tradition, education, rural-urban divide, globalization etc. It is just the way we are; what goes behind this ‘Indianness’ behavior?

On top of all, I had very interesting observations when I visited Singapore earlier this year. The whole of Singapore is clean and rule-bound. But there is an area called ‘Little India’ where things are totally out of control. I can just cross the road without even bothering for traffic signals, just like the way we do in India; The interior streets of Little India really stinks and I have seen people even spitting on roads in late nights. Some of my friends in Singapore told me that the government couldn’t impose the rule in Little India area in spite of consistent efforts. How can I explain this behavior? Wherever Indians are living in larger chunks and form a community, the system goes for a toss (Another example: Edison in New-Jersey area). Why on this planet we Indians are like this? If we can boast of having a great system for sanitation during Indus valley civilization times, why the system is in pandemonium now? While I can give a whole lot of philosophical explanation for this condition, it always great if somebody gives an analytical perspective of the situation. The book ‘Games Indians Play’ just does that and much more.

The Author Mr. Raghunathan (professor at IIM-A) came across very interesting observations when we was teaching ‘Game Theory’ for his B-school students. Basically Game Theory is a mathematical technique, used by economists in the behavioral context. Using some of the principles of Game theory (especially prisoner’s dilemma) author has tried to characterize the whole behavior of Indians. The author has mapped the game theory with practical situations, which gives great motivation for the reader. I was getting multiple feelings as I was progressing each chapter; Sometimes I felt like a student; Sometimes I broke into laughter; Sometimes sad; Sometimes guilty; At the end of the book the author leaves the reader with an urge to do something to make the system better by exhibiting default ‘co-operative’ behavior. In the last chapter he compares Game Theory with Bhagavad-Gita, which left some ever last lasting impact on me.

In conclusion, this book is a must read for every educated Indian. As an engineer I was able to appreciate the book better as it combines analytical and emotional aspects of Indian behavior. As India is becoming more important piece in the world map by growing economically, behavioral change is the need of the hour to sustain it. Books like ‘Games Indians play’ are very critical to sow seeds for the behavioral change. If not anything, at least the reader will think before throwing garbage or spitting on the roads.

Brilliant book!

Related posts:
India : A garbage land
Am I proud to be an Indian?

India – A ‘garbage’ land ?

Recently came across couple of interesting experiences, which prompted me to write this post.

Scene 1: Bangalore Airport

I was waiting in a long queue for checking in and came across Cafe coffee day joint. This is supposedly an exclusive one inside the airport, where the coffee is priced higher than their outside joints. There was a dust-bin kept outside the shop and I was totally shocked to see the state (see the picture below).

This is the behavior of ‘so-called’ — educated, elite, urban, upper-middle class people who are engineers, doctors, businessmen by profession. They can afford to pay 50 INR for a cup of coffee but can’t think of disposing the used cup properly; They are representatives of new India and popularly known as ‘Global Indians’; They visit multiple countries but just don’t have basic civic sense when it comes to their own country; They make the westerners believe that the world is flat but still throw used coffee cups in a reckless, irresponsible way; They write software for Fortune 500 companies but can’t even think of behaving properly;

Scene 2: The cafeteria at my workplace

I work for extended R & D arm of a global MNC and all the engineers sit in my floor work on next generation products. In the cafeteria the facility team kept three different bins (see the photo below) for disposing different kind of wastes — tea-bags, organic and general waste. But still I haven’t seen a single engineer placing right kind of garbage in appropriate bins. By end of the day, nobody can make out which bin is kept for what kind of garbage.

The idea of keeping different bins is to apply proper disposing methods. This is imposed by my organization worldwide to be a good corporate citizen by taking care of the overall environment. But still when it comes to India, everything goes for a toss due to the irresponsible behavior of these ‘Global Indians’.

If the scene is pathetic in the so called ‘Silicon Valley’ of India (Bangalore), we don’t have further discussions about the rest of India.

I now call India as ‘garbage land’ — consisting of educated idiots!

BOOK REVIEW : Wise and Otherwise

Author: Sudha Narayanamurthy

This book contains collection of short stories, which the author wrote in many newspapers and magazines. The author has traveled extensively to the rural parts of India where she met different type of people in India. She explains how people in rural India are having very high value system and leading a self-contained life. This book contains almost 50 small stories. Written in very simple English, this book explains the author’s experiences. Reading this book also gave me the background information of Infosys able to contribute to the society. Basically the author experienced everything, which made Infosys as a good corporate citizen.

However at some places, the author mixed too much of sentimental stuff which I didn’t like it. Also at some places it became boring as it had similar kind of stories. I would strongly suggest to read this book if anyone is interested in doing charity in India.

‘Chak De India’ and ‘Corporate India’

Here is couple of interesting links:

“Winning is everything”

“Chak De India enters management books”

Another movie has come to the lime-light of the corporate world – ‘Chak De India’

In the movie, the hero (kabir khan) takes-up the herculian task of coaching women’s hockey team and finally the team wins the women’s world cup. Starting from building a team with complementory skills, the hero demonstrates elements like patriotism,leadership and personal experiences to make the movie interesting.In 2001 ‘Lagaan’ created lot of exicement by taking up a similar story. These type of movies get huge popularity ranging from companies to b-schools. Even though these type of movies are really vital to have a ‘positive’ thinking going among Indians, they take us very far from the reality. Added to that the movie directors smartly add the required ‘sentimental’ elements to tap the average Indian fan and make the movie as a box-office hit.

These type of movies portray one ‘super-hero’, who turn things around for the team. After watching the movie, everybody gets inspired but expect that super-hero to come. Corporates try to gain some mileage out of such movies by making their team members to watch this movie and have some coffee-table discussions. They expect their team members to come more nuclear to perform better as a team. But where is the super-hero to unite them? Thats where the fun begins. End of the day nobody comes forward to take up the real ‘responsibility’ and these type of movies simply end up a formalities rather than accomplishing something concrete. No super-heros are made just by watching a two hour movie. It requires ample amount of effort added with commitment for a cause to make any signifcant impact. As long as corporates don’t
understand this reality, these type of movies will simply be a time-pass formality.

Why do I write blogs?

There are ample reasons for anyone to flock into the blogsphere. Recently I came across some blogs with gobs and gobs of ‘negative’ contents focusing on ‘controversial’ topics. They quickly become popular as they get high hit-rate and copious comments. These blogs mainly express strong ‘opinions’ against some of the burning issues in the areas of religion, sex, creed, caste, racism, nationality, politics etc. Naturally they catch attention of readers — as it has got to do with an individual’s emotions. Readers quickly tend to take stands and tempted to express their counter arguments.

According to me there are enough avenues to discuss about controversial topics as they are very well known. Especially in countries like India — the media is given complete freedom to conduct debates, opinion polls, panel discussions to discuss flaming issues. Also at an individual level, most of these issues are ‘no-control’ problems and finding a solution is close to impossible. I am not against expressing an individual’s opinions but it will not make any difference to anybody.

When I was thinking in these lines, I asked a question to myself: ‘why do I write blogs?’. After contemplating for quiet some time, I came up with the following points:

  • I feel happy when I write.
  • Blogs provides a platform to share my knowledge with a bigger world.
  • I always wanted to write about ‘positive’ things to ‘influence’ rather than critiques. For example, blogs like ‘Emergic’ has influenced me to a larger extent.
  • Connect with like-minded people rather than the general mass.

Request: Can you please post your reasons for blogging?

BOOK REVIEW: The Argumentative Indian (Part – I)

Author: Amartya Sen

Price: 690 INR

This classic book has been in my reading list for quiet some time now. I have finally started reading it, in a phased mode. Unlike my other book reviews, I am planning to write a series of reviews for this book. This is mainly because of the sheer density of the material that author Sen has presented in this book. At the outset this book illustrates a vivid perspective of the Indian mind.

To start with, Sen explains the ‘argumentative’ nature of India, for which it is very vital to understand contemporary India. The very nature of Indians is to get into arguments or lengthy dialogues whenever they get an opportunity. Ranging from weekly status meetings to the cauvery tribunal, I can quote numerous examples for this nature. This is due to ‘dialogue’ based approach existing in our culture for a very long time. For example, Arjuna, in Mahabharatha, gets profound doubts in the battlefield. In order to get clarifications he takes up the dialogue based approach with Krishna. The author also gives examples from ‘Brihadaranyaka Upanisad’ and ‘Kiratarjuniya’ to illustrate the argumentative nature of Indians. Allowing arguments makes lot of sense in today’s democratic India. As India is the biggest democracy in the world, providing freedom of expression by allowing arguments is a very crucial element to sustain it. In today’s globalized ‘flat world’ India scores against China mainly because of its vibrant democracy and expressive media.

Next, the author starts his viewpoints about secularism and diversity. Unlike any country India is much diversified -– in terms of language, food, culture, rituals and literature. The long history of heterodoxy of India is a basis for its diversified views, which is in alignment with scientific way of thinking. The more diversified any system becomes, it inherently becomes more resilient. I have written my viewpoints on ‘celebrating diversity’ as a separate article.

The political ideology of such a diversified country should be mainly driven in an inclusive way by collectively addressing consensus of all the people. Whichever king or government or dynasty failed to understand this important point has had a hard time ruling India and has eventually failed. Among the mughals, Akbar was the only king who understood this and created his own religion ‘Dhin-ilahi’. Apart from him Akbar, Ashoka was the other king to understand India in a detailed manner. In the contemporary India this concept has evolved as ‘secularism’. Even though other countries like France can claim that they are secular, it never allowed any religious symbols in the workplace. After independence the Indian constitution points to the importance of taking issues in an inclusive way for which the ‘secular’ viewpoint is very vital. In a way designing a political ideology for a country like India is extremely challenging. This is mainly because every other country in the world is uniform in someway or other.

On contrary to ‘secularism’ the ‘Hindutva’ ideology was created by Veer Savarkar. Fundamentally the Hindutva is based on two main points:

  • In India more than 80% of the population are Hindus. The political ideology should be based on this religion.
  • Tracing back in history (from Indus valley civilization) – Indians are primarily Hindus. So there is nothing wrong in looking at India as a ‘Hindu-rashtra’ or ‘Bharat-varsha’.

This Hindu political moment was fuelled by ‘Hindu-mahasabha’ and organizations like RSS, VHP, BJP and Shiv-sena are some of organizations spawned from this ideology. In this book Sen argues, looking at India with this myopic view will create religious fanaticism. He gives examples of Ayodhya and Gujarat riots when this Hindutva ideology got the political backup.

I am of the opinion that, religion cannot be ruled out of the political arena completely. Given India’s diversity there needs to be a common ‘bonding’ factor to bring people under one umbrella. Let me throw some of my questions:

  • If religion can act as that umbrella why can’t we accept it? If Sen can substantiate for secularism by taking riots as example, I can argue for ‘non-secularism’ with bomb blast examples.
  • If terrorism can be justified as a way to protect a religion, why can’t we justify ‘religion-based-governance’ for a better tomorrow?
  • If the so-called ‘open-society’ Americans cannot accept Bobby Jindal as Louisiana state governor without converting himself into Roman Catholic, how can only India accept every religion by giving all sort of freedom?
  • The real rural India is fragmented in all possible factors. What sort of progress the ‘secular’ governments in the past have brought so far? How much % of real ‘inclusive’ growth has taken place in the past 60 years?

End of the day there needs to be a law of the land and everyone should follow them. If that can be brought by using religion, I welcome that. At the same time I am not arguing for religious forces, which will vandalize the societal harmony. We are singing too much of this ‘secular’ song for the past 60 years, whereas India continue to be ‘pseudo-secular’ in reality.

Am I sounding like an ‘argumentative’ Indian now?

Related blogs:

Tale of two Indias

In order to attend a training program, I visited another facility of my company, which happens to be a building with seven floors. Also it is one of the well planned and truly upto the global standard, somewhat similar to Singapore technology parks. During the break time I opened up the curtains and observing the surrounding areas. This is basically a very well constructed technology park (called as Bagmane Tech Park in C.V.Raman Nagar, Bangalore) and houses about 7000-10000 technology professionals.It was looking really great from the seventh floor — well designed parking lots with about 1000 cars , clean and green surroundings, regulated traffic etc.(See the picture below).

When I turned another 30 degrees to my right, I got a big shock. Just next to the technology park there is a slum followed by a dumping yard (See pictures below).

The experience was really an eye opener for me as it clearly depicted two Indias. If I can call the first case as the ‘developed India’, what name should I give for the second one? Should I feel happy or sad?