Romance is more important than money… but India can’t pay its bills with hugs.
With books about South Asia or authored by South Asian-origin authors coming out fast and furious, we cast our eyes over two books of non-fiction that are crying out for attention. Although they straddle two entirely different fields, each book is a superb work of scholarly research and writing that any thinking Indian (as readers of this column are!) would find deeply satisfying reads.
Ira Trivedi’s book India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century (Penguin 2009) takes a long and hard look at the sexual revolution sweeping across India. The author, now living in Delhi, chronicles a ‘bizarre melange’ of arranged marriages and a western-style dating culture as well as the coexistence of traditional culture with the ‘modern’, sometimes even in the one individual. A person could be going through the process of meeting prospective partners through a match-maker, and be dating and mating at the same time. This has been propelled by rapid westernisation, the emancipation of women, the break-up of the extended family and changing sexual values – all occurring at break-neck speed.
The Indian demographic too has been a driving force. Trivedi points out that the current Indian population is one of the youngest in the world, with an average age of about 30; by the year reveals that in the process of writing the book, she discovered there is a massive upheaval of sexual mores taking place in urban India, and that it is permanent. She travelled the length and breadth of India, visiting scores of cities and towns, and came to the conclusion, “We are never going back to the India of our past.” The sexual revolution has begun, is gaining pace, and nothing can stop it.
Some of our regular readers expressed a desire to see more books on the Indian economy reviewed in this column, so I chose one that is particularly thought-provoking, controversial and bound to raise several hackles. Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy (Random House, 2015), by Mihir Sharma, is an incisive analysis of the problems that have prevented India from realising its economic potential.
Those familiar with Harvard-educated Mihir Sharma’s OpEds in the Business Standard – and previously The Indian Express – know that he does not mince words. In Restart, he explains what needs to change in order to unleash the potential and creativity of a billion Indians. The answers are not the obvious ones that are found in economic textbooks.
Sharma identifies a surprising medley of problems that are holding India back. The first, he argues is the Gandhian fallacy of a rural bliss, forcing the poor to stay on in unproductive marginal farms in programs like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme [MGNREGA]. This is the guarantee they will stay poor.
Second is the failure of the Indian state to rein in its private sector partners in the public-private partnership model [PPP]. Sharma quotes the eminent columnist T.N. Ninan here: “India is a strong state when it comes to bullying the poor, but a weak state when it comes to controlling the rich.” The third major failure, Sharma argues is the problem of crony capitalism in India.
For India to overcome these, it needs to explore ‘another way to grow’, and a radical transformation, and a political will to introduce reforms. Modi’s is the very last chance to break the old order.