BOOK REVIEW: Imagining India – Nandan Nilekani

imagining-india-by-nandan-nilekaniImagining 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 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 a lt of 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, illiteract and misuse of child labour. I want to know how we can combat these!

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20 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Imagining India – Nandan Nilekani

  1. I read a sampler from this book, courtsey Outlook Magazine. You are right that book is easily understandable. Nicely written.

    I agree Nikelani offeres his own solutions, but some of teh solutions he offered like implement smart cards have nothing for me to do individually. I just sit back and watch if governent implements it. Also, this implementation will take a long time. 😦 Nevertheless, credit does go to him for offering solution.

  2. @ Poonam,

    🙂 – Correct – the good part is that at least he “suggests” solutions.

    @ Trailblazer – Do write a review and share your thoughts on the book once you read it!

  3. India, the democratic juggernaut, with myriad cultures, communities and conflicting interests is a conundrum not easy to unravel. Yet, India has plodded the treacherous path rather remarkably, offering new insights and keys to survival. Nandan Nilekani’s “Imagining India” traces the history of India and the impact of its emergence as a key determinant of South Asia’s, if not the world’s, geo-political and socio-economic environment.

    Nandan Nilekani talks not just about India’s nagging problems, but also about its latent strengths in all walks of life, which remains to be fully explored and exploited. India has celebrated the rise of entrepreneurs, with grit and determination, who have thrived despite odds, overcoming numerous challenges in the form of bureaucratic hurdles, political turmoil and natural calamities. Nandan Nilekani’s “Imagining India” can be seen as a tribute to India – a nation full of promise amidst strife and chaos, often defying logic, and yet gradually emerging from its shadows, striving to unlock its potential to become a leading light.

    Nandan Nilekani’s reflects on the legacy of India’s bonded past, which nevertheless has also given the nation a rich amalgamation of cultural traditions, arts and heritage.
    This has also contributed uniquely in the transformation of ancient India, though not entirely without fits and starts, into a modern, developing economy.

    The 1980s saw the telecom revolution taking the nation by storm. The 1990s saw IT in its new avatar with TCS, Wipro and Infosys propelling the nation in the global arena. The 21st century saw Delhi Metro emerging as the best run mass transit system, setting the bar for professional excellence in project execution. “Imagining India” talks about the rhetoric shifting from bare necessities to infrastructure creation.

    If you love India, go ahead and read the book. You will start loving it even more!

    (Jayant Sinha, Dehradun)

  4. Sex is the Mother of Death by David Price

    David Price has offered a poetry collection that explores translation, the Catholic world view gone bitter, and various news items. The result is a bit hodge-podge but certainly musical and sometimes thought-provoking.
    The influence of Catholicism is evident from the very title and continues through poems which speak of altar girls, incense, and saints. But this is

    not elevated to anything resembling spiritual joy or satisfaction. For the most part, the poems take an ironical, even bitter, stance towards these matters. They clearly hint at frustration and sometimes seem to touch on hypocrisy. The opening poem which takes place on the streets of Atlantis sets this tone immediately.
    This cracked bell tone regarding Catholicism suits the layout of the collection. Every poem is presented both in English and in Spanish. Although I do not pretend to know the Spanish language well enough to truly judge, it seems to me that the poems work better in Spanish. One gets the impression that they were written first in Spanish and then translated to English, being ultimately placed in such a way as to intimate that the opposite is true. And it very well could be. However, the music and rhythm of the poems seems much stronger, more tangible and believable, in Spanish.
    On the whole, Price exhibits a tender care of his work that is admirable and vital for a poet. There are, however, some instances where the reader is thrown by an ill-placed comma. Some of his choices regarding where to break the lines slow the rhythm and might have been reconsidered. But there are some interesting lines throughout that encourage the reader to continue in search of the next little delight.
    The best poem to be found here is also the shortest: “Poetry and A Passing Moment”. I will quote it entirely here:
    It was the drumming of thumbs,
    that drew my attention to her.
    She looked up without moving her neck,
    her eyes cocked like a pistol.
    We connected for an instant,
    One that would not be remembered
    if not for this piece of poetry.

    DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION:
    The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.

    Published by Sabne Raznik

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    Download and save PDF for your computer. $2.99

  5. Thanks!

    Will do. So far, since posting I am now on page 3 but am already enjoying his fresh strong voice. Very impressive that Thomas Friedman wrote the foreward.

    Kim B.

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