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India Unbound

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Author Gurcharan Das
ISBN 9780143063018
Pages 419
Condition Good
Format Paperback

Since the start of the recent global boom in information technology, there's been much talk in economic circles of an India covered with bold stripes, the next Asian tiger. Gurcharan Das, however, sees a much larger but lumbering elephant rising out of the muggy history of a country in which one-sixth of the world's population resides. India, as he states in India Unbound, "will never have speed, but it will always have stamina." How that stamina has evidenced itself over the past half-century is the focus of Das's book, an intricate, personal account of the beginnings of India's ongoing economic and social transformation. Das begins his story shortly before India gained its independence from the British in 1947. He was born into a middle-class Punjabi family well ensconced in the new British-educated professional class. Das's borrowed term of "cultural commuters" fits his father's generation well, and his description of life lived between the more philosophical and spiritual worlds of Indian tradition and the Western-influenced business world of the British Raj reveal both a versatility and disorientation that was to permeate succeeding generations of independent Indians. Though mindful of Jawaharlal Nehru's influence on India's embrace of democracy, Das takes to task the economic leadership of the man who, while beginning his democratic rule with ambitions to end "poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity" ultimately failed in this regard. With an ever-present eye on the economic plight of his fellow countrymen (and frequent use of anecdotes and statistics), Das examines the irony of the socialist governments of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, which were founded in the name of the poor but became inefficient, bureaucratic behemoths, sucking the economic lifeblood out of the country. His education at Harvard introduced him to a slew of influential theories, including those of economist John Kenneth Galbraith and philosopher John Rawls. But instead of remaining in academia, Das began his career in business, joining the Indian subsidiary of Vicks and rising to become head of its Indian company, Richardson Hindustan, in 1981, and eventually, a CEO at Proctor & Gamble. Soon after the economic reforms of the early 1990s, however, Das left to employ his keen observational skills as a journalist and writer, and the latter part of this book is crammed with his insights into the opportunities of present-day India. Das is obviously enthusiastic about the possibilities that the knowledge economy has opened up for India, but he thoughtfully examines these economic options within the framework of the cultural past and future of a country on the "brink of the biggest transformation in its history." As an autobiography that touches on every area of life but focuses a keen eye on economic development, Das's account is jam-packed with detail. At every chance, he sets the personal story of his family and ancestors in the wider context of history (often for full chapters at a time), creating a broad and richly detailed picture of Indian life. Though he writes in colorful, descriptive prose, Das's succinct and matter-of-fact statements occasionally seem to belie the complexity and ambiguities of historical and cultural transitions. However, India Unbound is a vast undertaking, and Das's combination of historical account, economic analysis, cultural observation, and personal experience is often intriguing and always informative. --S. Ketchum
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