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Showing posts with label Economic History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Economic History. Show all posts

Monday, December 28, 2020

India Unbound by Gurcharan Das/Ashok Kumar


The book under review is India Unbound – From Independence to the Global Information Age. 2015, Penguin, Kindle eBook

I wanted to read this book for a long time. Many scholars had quoted Gurcharan Das. The references to the book had attracted my attention. Therefore, I wanted to read this book. I did not read it for a long time. The price was too high, or I did not have the buying power to obtain this book as I did not find it of immediate concern to me. I am a teacher of history. I was seeking authors who were the academicians. Gurcharan Das was a writer, and he was from the corporate world. Secondly, he was writing about current history and biography. It was nearly a decade back the academicians like Bipin Chandra wrote 'India after Freedom Struggle'. Almost at the same time, Ramchandra Guha came out with 'India after Gandhi'. I read both of them. That was expected of me. Gurcharan Das work did not qualify the criteria of the selection list. However, there were references to his autobiography in some writings talking about history. I read 'Marwaris' recently. There are numerous references to Gurcharan Das. On one fine day, I casually rechecked the book's availability in the Kindle section of Amazon. I found that the price was within my reach and I bought it. It was during the reading of Marwaris that I did it. I had not completed the reading of Marwaris when I started reading this book in-between.


A history teacher has read the book by Gurcharan Das. The teacher had already read many references to Gurcharan Das in many essays from academicians. Now, the teacher had a first-hand experience to go through the contents. A history mindset was trying to read a reminiscence of a writer who had experienced the corporate world at the topmost level. The writer of India Unbound had lived a life of a corporate head in the field of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). The trade goods are consumed by a common, unknown, struggling to survive human beings and the people from the elite classes. The people dealing with such goods cater to the whole spectrum of the social classes. They have their experiential learning of the activities on the ground as they happen. The things which happen is history. They may not be academician, but they observe history as it has to be observed. The only difference is that a historian works in an archive or with the already existing data. The experiential learner has to learn to follow the data as it comes in touch with his senses. Such a learner may be an academician or CEO of an FMCG company or a writer. If he is scientific in his temperament, he knows how to select the relevant data and then put it to formulations guided by an ideology or just pure analytical skills and formulations to derive a conclusion that can be used by practitioners from different fields of human activity. (Not by the scientists dealing with forces covered under the subject of physics and related sciences.)


After reading the book, I will not call it an autobiography of the writer. How can it be that when the author was hardly 55 years old? It is an introspection guided by his critical evaluation. 


The book has three sections. They are as follows.

Part one – Our Spring of Hope – 1942-65

Part two – The lost generation – 1966-91

Part three – The Rebirth of Dreams 1991-99

The above-mentioned brief is the table of content. In the part-three, the content refers up to July 2000.


The book was released in 2000.

The edition which I have read contains an additional chapter which is titled Afterword 2007.

The edition is 15 Anniversary Edition. An impressive essay has been added in the year 2014. However, the book remains confined to 2000.


At the end of the book, there are Notes, and it is recommended that the reader should also go through the notes. It has developed as a footnote reference. It is given in a unique way and does not follow the prescribed method of academic papers.


The Acknowledgement section also deserves the reading. It mentions leading scholars from economics, sociology, history, journalism, social workers and political scientists. It is needed to get a correct glimpse of the whole work.  It must be read along with the Notes section.


I will borrow the author's phrase to call it a 'personal account of events and ideas' of the author about Indian history. It should not be called an autobiography. It is a personal account of ideas about a particular period with India as a central stage. The component of 'personal events' has to be dropped. They are used as garnishing over the pudding. Therefore, it is not a biography as such.


If I am asked to recommend this book for reading, then my suggestions will be as follows.


I will ask the student of history who would like to study the historiography of the Colonialism in India and its impact on Indian history to read the first section of the book which is called ‘Our Spring of Hope’. A similar survey can be done through the book of B. R. Tomlinson. In the book of Tomlinson, one can find all the author's perceptual thinkers whom he has sought to develop his personal account of ideas for the first section. In addition to that the Cambridge Economic History of India by Dharma Kumar and Meghana Desai, the students of Irfan Habib, Volume II can be read to know the actual drift of the discourse of Gurcharan Das. The author had questioned Irfan Habib's thesis in the Notes about India's economic situation at the advent of the East India Company. The author claims that Bipin Chandra had gone through the manuscript of the book. Irfan Habib and Bipin Chandra had strongly contested Morris D Morris's views as given by the last-mentioned scholar in the Cambridge Economic History of India. Even then, the author had questioned the thesis. 


In the case of students who want an economic and a sociological view of modern India after Independence, I would recommend that they read the second section of 'Lost Generation'.


Section three is a set of essays which contains the personal views of the author.

On the whole, the author has skirted away from the political events of Modern India after Independence. There are many issues which can be pointed out here wherein the author had just steered away from studying the impact of the working of democracy during the period called by him 'Lost Generation'.

The book appeared in 2000. If I am right then by 2005, Bipin Chandra and Aditya Mukherjee (A historian who has shifted from economics) wrote the book India after the Freedom Struggle. In 2007, Ramchandra Guha came with his India after Gandhi. In his book, Ramchandra Guha has made a pertinent observation that the study of history in Modern had stopped with 1947. After that, history has been studied by the faculty of Economics and Sociology. The book by Gurcharan Das could have been before the eyes of Prof Guha while making such observation. If one reads the books by Guha and Bipin Chandra, the study gap will be clear.

Gurcharan Das has given the thesis that the rise of Democracy and Capitalism are two historical forces which should have developed in India in synchronization. The industrial revolution had not rightly taken place in India. In place of the Industrial Revolution, the revolution in the service sector has taken place and even that after 1991. He had passed this judgment without considering the significant historical developments that had taken place during the period of the Lost Generation. He mentioned the Emergency and Mandal Commission but did not elaborate much on giving that where had the democracy failed. Actually, at every stage, he had avoided discussing the major political issues faced by India. He had tried to collect only Economic and Sociological ideas for that period. One of the reviewers on Amazon had expressed his dissatisfaction on the Caste System in India, which stands as a single chapter in that section. There are many gaps of a similar kind.


Gurcharan Das is a Management Guru. He had headed P&G at the highest level. He is an active columnist in a leading newspaper. He is maintaining his website also. How far he has given lessons on Management in this book, is an issue which only a management person can tell. It is another thing that he had recollected many anecdotes of his life when he tried to promote Vicks Vaporub as a management trainee. 


In the third section, Gurcharan Das had tried to draw a picture of emerging India. He has talked about the success stories of the Indian entrepreneurs. He has talked about Ranbaxy. But he is mum about the failure of Fortis, the Religare and the Vial of Lies or Anil Ambani or Satyam. The author has mentioned that he is being asked to write its second part also. But I believe that he will not do that.


Anyways, it is a good book.

Next Reviews:

Indian Musalman by W. W. Hunter

A Nation in Making, Being the Reminiscences of Fifty Years of Public Life by Sir Surendranath Banerjea.

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

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