A.R. Rahman, Kunnakudi vaidyanathan, Zakir Hussain

Enjoy listening to this stunning music by three of India’s best musicians. The album (Colours) is a fusion of mainly two instruments, tabla and violin. Ustad Zakir Hussain is on the tabla and the violin is played by Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan.

Album  credits
Violin : Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan
Tabla : Zakir Hussain
Music Orchestration, Arrangements, Conducting : C Jeyasekar
Keyboards : A. S. Dileep Kumar (A.R. Rahman)
Drums, Percussion : Sivamani
Mridangam : Srinivasan
String section : Kalyan

Books  Plus, The  Asian  Age, January 20, 2010

Its  a  Manual  for  Change

Patralekha Chatterjee

Making India Work, William Nanda Bissell’s practical roadmap for a more inclusive India, littered with anecdotal evidence and scathing observations about our corporate and political elite, makes a great read. I bought a copy in Delhi to sustain me through a long flight, lost it, and bought a second copy because I had not finished reading the book. The author’s ideas had me hooked. I was curious.

Writer Bissell does not fit the standard description of the angry young man. He is not an academic, nor a NGO, nor an activist in the conventional sense. He is not even among Delhi’s well-known resident dissidents, whose fulminations adorn columns of national newspapers. Bissell is a low-profile man in his “40s who happens to head the highly successful Fabindia chain with over 100 retail outlets in the country and six abroad in places like Dubai, Doha and Rome.

As we meet in his office in the leafy environs of Panchsheel Park in South Delhi for a chat, the question uppermost in my mind: William Nanda Bissell ko gussa kyon aata hai?

Bissell says he wrote the book as a “manual for change”. He does not expect that change to come from the top, not even from our new-age politicians. “I have yet to meet a young and progressive politician. I have met a young politician. I have met a progressive politician. But I have not met a young progressive politician, because these are people with lineage. They are the sons, daughters, grandsons, grand daughter, part of the hereditary elite who know how to talk the talk. But why would they want to rock the boat? They have got a Lutyens’ bungalow, their father had a Lutyens’ bungalow, their grandfather had a Lutyens’ bungalow. A hereditary elite will never bite the hand that feeds it. Why would you rock the boat when the system suits you….”

He is equally critical of a certain kind of corporate. “It may be surprising to some that as the CEO of a corporation, I am wary of corporate power. However, it is precisely because I passionately believe in the positive contribution business makes to society that I make these criticisms. Corruption and corporate concealment negate the beneficial impacts of business,” Bissel writes.

The ideas in the book, ranging from the macro to the micro, are “designed to create a constituency of change,” he says as we chat over a cup of tea on a winter afternoon in his terrace. This means “creating a group of beneficiaries in a democracy. One hopes that they will become a large enough group and a powerful lobby for change.”

Changes comes, he argues, “when politicians realise that if they want to stay in power, which they want to do more than anything else, they would have to deliver. If people demand the kind of communitarian ideas this book is full of, politicians will not be able to hold out for too long.. Ultimately if there is a constituency which is rooting for this, it will happen.”

It has been three months since the book hit the stands. A Hindi edition is on the way. The reactions have been interesting and varied, Bissell tells me. “Everyone faces the problems I am talking about on an everyday basis. After reading the book, some have told me they found it utopian which I hear as impractical. They do not like to use the word impractical so they say utopian. These are usually older people. Young to mid-level IAS officers say they are excited by the ideas in the book.”

“The existing system is failing because it is founded on a narrow view of what constitutes an asset. It is blind to the limits of natural resources, blind to the non-financial elements of well-being and the value of unpaid work. It is, ultimately, an inefficient way of maximising their ultimate good of human society. This book provides an integrated framework covering key areas of society and economy in order to address these challenges now. While each idea stands alone, only the proposal in its entirety will achieve its maximum impact because each of these policies is designed to reinforce and support the others,” Bissell believes.

The ideas for change are simple and complicated, idealistic and pragmatic. Its thinking, the author says, is firmly rooted in the specifics of governance strategy, taxation, finance and law, outlining a detailed blueprint for a new role for government within the Indian Constitution. But it requires a leap of imagination and a willingness to strip ourselves of that cloak of trendy cynicism.

Not all the ideas are completely original. However, coming from a man who has not been marketing ideology till now, but has focused on making a success of a business venture in a challenging environment, they have a special relevance.

Take just one example of micro-level actions he writes about, and has applied in his workplace.

“Cycling and walking paths are viable transport options when accompanied by MRTs. As a company, FABIndia has realised the importance of transport and located its new north Delhi stores close to metro stations. We have also found that pedestrianisation has a large positive impact on retailers. Our research has shown that in one hour 10,000 people passed our store on the largely pedestrian ‘commercial’ street in Bangalore. For our store in Delhi’s Greater Kailash district, where most people travel by car, the equivalent figure was only 100.”

In the Bissell vision of India, communities are the building bricks of the nation. The book offers a tool-kit and a vision to transform our daily life, whether we live in a tony, South Delhi colony such as Panchsheel Park, or in a village like Sewari in the district of Pali in Rajasthan. It promises a brave, new and fabulous India. But it is not for the cynics.


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