Imagining India is an ambitious book. It aims to take an inventory of India’s successes and failures, and set the agenda for its future direction. While the book is interesting and worth reading, I am afraid it falls well short of its ambition.
Nilekani has divided the “ideas” in the book into four sections – The first section is for ideas that have already “arrived”. The second comprises those that are “arriving”. The third involves areas where pitched battles are being fought in the war of ideas, and the in the fourth section, Nilekani tries to give notice of ideas that are far away, but are fast approaching.
I am currently reading “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani. I got a free copy from Webchutney, the PR firm for the book, on the condition that I review it and write about it. ( I checked with them. A negative review is also allowed.) I haven’t finished reading it, so this isn’t a review yet. But my initial impression is that it is quite well-written, which is a relief as I wouldn’t want to trudge through 500 pages of badly written prose. As for the content, well, quite honestly I am not sure what to expect. Nilekani is obviously quite smart ( he is from IIT Bombay, he must be.) Smart people have clever ideas. But solutions for India’s problems have been obvious for over 50 years now, and they haven’t been implemented. It is rather unlikely that Nilekani has anything radically new, and I don’t think that he is claiming to have any.
Perhaps what is required is for someone to communicate those ideas clearly and forcefully? There is always a need for someone to communicate ideas and the more the better. From what I have heard, Nilekani is a great communicator, but his comparative advantage is in execution – after all, he founded Infosys and turned it into one of India’s most successful companies. With this record, it is natural for him to expect to be able to do more. But to be able to bring about actual change, it requires skills of a completely different kind, skills that he lumps under “Politics” in the preface. So his attempts to use his skills to actually execute change ends up in task forces with minimal impact.
As I understand, the book is born out of this gap between what he has been able to achieve and what he thinks ought to be done. The answer to the question of how to close this gap is one that will require fresh ideas.
Did I actually read The White Tiger before pronouncing the Booker “undeserving”? No I did not. which is why I attributed “undeserving” to common consensus rather than to myself. I had gone by the views of reviewers I trust, such as Chandrahas Choudhury.
But I am happy to report that since then, I have, as a service to my readers, read that novel. This surprising turn of events came about as a result of a series of coincidences. I visited Mumbai, and there I found that my brother was in possession of a pirated copy of the book. The horrors of a long-distance flight on Northwest airlines lay ahead of me, and I wanted a book that I could finish by the time I reached Amsterdam. I asked my brother if I could borrow it. He was only too happy to lend it. I started reading it at the airport and finished it somewhere over Asia Minor. Yes the novel is utter crap and Aravind Adiga is an incompetent writer.