March 2010
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Book  Review : Imagining India - Nandan Nilekani

Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century by Nandan Nilekani is a book full of ideas. Leaders like Mr. Nilekani show us the way and when they share their views about modern, changing India and fill it with anecdotes, a young patriot like me can only ‘read on.’

There was a lot to read – the book is high on content and very opinionated. Mr. Nilekani’s father, in his own words, was an “ardent Nehruvian” and Mr. Nilekani was one of the founders of arguably one of Infosys, India’s most renowned companies the fact is as ironical as it is the insignia of the “change” that has, and is, becoming to us. In fact this is what the first chapter – Notes from an accidental entrepreneur is all about. Subsequent sections cover diverse issues and is structured into 4 parts dealing with issues in various stages of gestation.

Mr. Nilekani is indeed an “explainer” and terms that one hears about only in intellectually stimulating discussions are brought to the drawing rooms and coffee-table discussions -thanks to the ease with which the author can blend them with the anecdotal narrative – something which only Mr. Nilekani – with his diverse world-view is able to accomplish.

I particularly liked 2 things about the way the book has been structured:

Certain areas which required explanations have detailed notes for reference.
There is a “Timeline of Key events” - where in 8 pages, important socio-economic and political events have been tracked from 1757 onwards. The events are hand-picked and is a wonderful “101″ for those who want to know how India evolved in all of 10 minutes.  And for those who do, this can serve as a ready reckoner!

The level of detailing and the volume of information does justice to each one of the 500+ pages that make up the book. In many ways this book is like a compendium of a lot of events, issues and people that have shaped modern India. Of course, this is not an encyclopedia – it is opinionated and no work can have “everything” one could possibly hope for when defining the journey of a nation of over a billion people. In fact Mr. Nilekani makes a rather candid confession in the first chapter itself -

“While this book is on India, this is not a book for people fascinated with Indian cinema and cricket – I would not be able to add very much to either topic, colourful as they are. Instead, I have attempted to understand India through the evolution of its ideas”

“Imagining India” talks as much about the rise of modern Indian capitalism as it talks of communism and Nehruvian Socialism. It talks as much about the License Raj as it does about the 1991 economic liberalization and the effects, thereof. It talks as much about our competitiveness in the international arena as it talks about the problems surrounding us, particularly education and illiteracy. What is noticeable is the fact that Mr. Nilekani, unlike others, always strives to give us a solution rather than just define the problem statements. I have come across books that like to “glorify” the problems associated with this country, but none that offer an insight into the solutions. Imagine India is a refreshing change. I am tired of listening about slums, poverty, illiteracy and misuse of child labour. I want to know how we can combat these!
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