A visit to Egypt made author Gurcharan Das realise India’s success as a democracy but he wasn’t willing to overlook problem areas, finds Sangeetha Devi Dundoo
In his latest book India Grows at Night (Penguin publications; Rs.599), author and columnist Gurcharan Das puts forth a liberal case for a strong State. He emphasises the need for a political front that will support economic and institutional reforms. The timing of the release of his book, in 2012, seems apt. But it wasn’t a planned move to launch his book when the nation is going through a political churn, says Gurcharan Das who was in Hyderabad to promote his book and address TEDx Charminar, presented by TEDx and Broadridge Financial Solutions.
“Two events triggered this book,” Das recalls, talking to us in an interview. “I was invited by the democracy movement in Egypt to present the India model for the future. At that time, we were witness to Anna Hazare movement. The Egyptians asked me how we managed to keep the generals out of power. I told them that no Indian has thought of this for 65 years. To this, they said we’ve come a long way,” says Das.
The conversation made Gurcharan Das even more aware of India as a sign of true democracy. “I realised we are too close to reality that we have forgotten what we’ve achieved. We don’t have the perspective to observe from a distance,” says Das.
Though Gurcharan Das felt proud of the progress we’ve made, he wasn’t willing to overlook problem areas. “Egyptians asked me what the problem with India was. That set me thinking. India is a case of private success and public failure,” says Das. He draws our attention to Gurgaon, which has witnessed growth without active participation from the State. “That’s how the idea of India growing at night when the government sleeps came up. Gurgaon is the not the right model for growth. Until two years ago, Gurgaon had no municipality of its own. The IT industry is fine; but Gurgaon needs infrastructure — good roads, electricity, water, pavements, parks, schools and hospitals. Gurgaon is an example; there are other cities in similar situations,” explains Das.
He feels a strong State will enable India to grow during the day as well. “A Chinese friend of mine commented that we seem to have grown with one hand tied. Imagine what the country will be capable of if another hand was untied,” remarks Das.
As citizens, Gurcharan Das feels devoting one hour per week of our time to fix corruption in our neighbourhood will help make things better.
Shift of genres
Gurcharan Das’s repertoire is a mix of fiction, theatre and political analysis. In recent years, he is identified as a political commentator who has authored India Unbound, The Difficulty of Being Good and India Grows at Night. His first works, however, were fiction and theatre. “I wrote Three English Plays in my 20s and A Fine Family in my 30s. As a youngster, I felt I could write like Shakespeare. I’d be too scared to write a play now,” laughs Das. His first books were written when he was in the corporate sector. “The urge to write more was growing. I took voluntary retirement at 50 and focussed on writing,” he reflects. With India Unbound, he had found his voice: “This voice carried me through The Elephant Paradigm and the later books.”
Now, Das is editing a 15-volume series for Penguin on economic and business history of India. “The best of scholars are contributing. I will be editing the essays and writing forewords to entice readers to the subject of Arthashastra,” says Das.
Das feels India Unbound addressed ‘artha’, The Difficulty of Being Good addressed ‘dharma’, and his next ambitious work will focus on ‘kama’. “Kama is often limited to Kamasutra. But I want to go back to Sanskrit literature that has so much to offer. This is an ambitious project on human desire,” says Das.