(i) For instance, all of us are aware of the problem
of drought in India. More than 40 years ago, Dr KL Rao - an irrigation
expert, suggested creation of a water grid connecting all the rivers
in North and South India, to solve this problem. Unfortunately,
nothing has been done about this.
(ii) The story of power shortage in Bangalore is
another instance. In 1983, it was decided to build a thermal power
plant to meet Bangalore's power requirements. Unfortunately, we
have still not started it.
(iii) The Milan subway in Bombay is in a deplorable
state for the past 40 years, and no action has been taken.
To quote another example, considering the constant
travel required in the software industry; five years ago, I had
suggested a 240-page passport. This would eliminate frequent visits
to the passport office. In fact, we are ready to pay for it. However,
I am yet to hear from the ministry of external affairs on this.
We, Indians, would do well to remember Thomas Hunter's words: Idleness
travels very slowly, and poverty soon overtakes it.
What could be the reason for this? We were ruled
by foreigners for over thousand years. Thus, we have always believed
that public issues belonged to some foreign ruler and that we have
no role in solving them. Moreover, we have lost the will to proactively
solve our own problems and have got used to just executing someone
Borrowing Aristotle's words: "We are what we repeatedly
do." Thus, having done this over the years, the decision-makers
in our society are not trained for solving problems. Our decision-makers
look to somebody else to take decisions. Unfortunately, there is
nobody to look up to, and this is the tragedy.
Our intellectual arrogance has also not helped our
society. I have travelled extensively, and in my experience, have
not come across another society where people are as contemptuous
of better societies as we are, with as little progress as we have
achieved. Remember that arrogance breeds hypocrisy.
No other society gloats so much about the past as
we do, with as little current accomplishment. Friends, this is not
a new phenomenon, but at least a thousand years old. For instance,
Al Barouni, the famous Arabic logician and traveller of the 10th
century, who spent about 30 years in India from 997 AD to around
1027 AD, referred to this trait of Indians.
According to him, during his visit, most Indian
pundits considered it below their dignity even to hold arguments
with him. In fact, on a few occasions when a pundit was willing
to listen to him, and found his arguments to be very sound, he invariably
asked Barouni: which Indian pundit taught these smart things!
The most important attribute of a progressive society
is respect for others who have accomplished more than they themselves
have, and learn from them. Contrary to this, our leaders make us
believe that other societies do not know anything!
At the same time, everyday, in the newspapers, you
will find numerous claims from our leaders that ours is the greatest
nation. This has to stop. These people would do well to remember
Thomas Carlyle's words: The greatest of faults is to be conscious
If we have to progress, we have to change this attitude,
listen to people who have performed better than us, learn from them
and perform better than them. Infosys is a good example of such
We continue to rationalise our failures. No other
society has mastered this art as well as we have. Obviously, this
is an excuse to justify our incompetence, corruption, and apathy.
This attitude has to change. As Sir Josiah Stamp has said: "It is
easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences
of dodging our responsibilities."
Another interesting attribute, which we Indians
can learn from the West, is their accountability. Irrespective of
your position, in the West, you are held accountable for what you
do. However, in India, the more 'important' you are, the less answerable
For instance, a senior politician once declared
that he 'forget' to file his tax returns for 10 consecutive years
- and he got away with it. To quote another instance, there are
over 100 loss-making public sector units in India. Nevertheless,
I have not seen action taken for bad performance against top managers
in these organisations.
In the West, each person is proud about his or her
labour that raises honest sweat. On the other hand, in India, we
tend to overlook the significance of those who are not in professional
jobs. We have a mindset that reveres only supposedly intellectual
work. For instance, I have seen many engineers, fresh from college,
who only want to do cutting-edge work and not work that is of relevance
to business and the country.
However, be it an organisation or society, there
are different people performing different roles. For success, all
these people are required to discharge their duties. This includes
everyone from the CEO to the person who serves tea - every role
is important. Hence, we need a mindset that reveres everyone who
puts in honest work.
Indians become intimate even without being friendly.
They ask favors of strangers without any hesitation. For instance,
the other day, while I was travelling from Bangalore to Mantralayam,
I met a fellow traveller on the train. Hardly five minutes into
the conversation, he requested me to speak to his MD about removing
him from the bottom 10 per cent list in his company, earmarked for
I was reminded of what Rudyard Kipling once said:
A westerner can be friendly without being intimate while an easterner
tends to be intimate without being friendly.
Yet another lesson to be learnt from the West, is
about their professionalism in dealings. The common good being more
important than personal equations, people do not let personal relations
interfere with their professional dealings. For instance, they don't
hesitate to chastise a colleague, even if he is a personal friend,
for incompetent work.
In India, I have seen that we tend to view even
work interactions from a personal perspective. Further, we are the
most 'thin-skinned' society in the world - we see insults where
none is meant. This may be because we were not free for most of
the last thousand years.
Further, we seem to extend this lack of professionalism
to our sense of punctuality. We do not seem to respect the other
person's time. The Indian Standard Time somehow seems to be always
running late. Moreover, deadlines are typically not met. How many
public projects are completed on time?
The disheartening aspect is that we have accepted
this as the norm rather than an exception. Meritocracy by definition
means that we cannot let personal prejudices affect our evaluation
of an individual's performance. As we increasingly start to benchmark
ourselves with global standards, we have to embrace meritocracy.
In the West, right from a very young age, parents
teach their children to be independent in thinking. Thus, they grow
up to be strong, confident individuals. In India, we still suffer
from feudal thinking. I have seen people, who are otherwise bright,
refusing to show independence and preferring to be told what to
do by their boss. We need to overcome this attitude if we have to
The Western value system teaches respect to contractual
obligation. In the West, contractual obligations are seldom dishonoured.
This is important - enforceablity of legal rights and contracts
is the most important factor in the enhancement of credibility of
our people and nation.
In India, we consider our marriage vows as sacred.
We are willing to sacrifice in order to respect our marriage vows.
However, we do not extend this to the public domain. For instance,
India had an unfavourable contract with Enron. Instead of punishing
the people responsible for negotiating this, we reneged on the contract
- this was much before we came to know about the illegal activities
To quote another instance, I had given recommendations
to several students for the national scholarship for higher studies
in US universities. Most of them did not return to India even though
contractually they were obliged to spend five years after their
degree in India.
In fact, according to a professor at a reputed US
university, the maximum default rate for student loans is among
Indians - all of these students pass out in flying colours and land
lucrative jobs, yet they refuse to pay back their loans. Thus, their
action has made it difficult for the students after them, from India,
to obtain loans.
Further, we Indians do not display intellectual
honesty. For example, our political leaders use mobile phones to
tell journalists on the other side that they do not believe in technology!
If we want our youngsters to progress, such hypocrisy must be stopped.
We are all aware of our rights as citizens. Nevertheless,
we often fail to acknowledge the duty that accompanies every right.
To borrow Dwight Eisenhower's words: "People that values its privileges
above its principles soon loses both."
Our duty is towards the community as a whole, as
much as it is towards our families. We have to remember that fundamental
social problems grow out of a lack of commitment to the common good.
To quote Henry Beecher: Culture is that which helps us to work for
the betterment of all.
Hence, friends, I do believe that we can make our
society even better by assimilating these Western values into our
own culture - we will be stronger for it. Most of our behaviour
comes from greed, lack of self-confidence, lack of confidence in
the nation, and lack of respect for the society.
To borrow Gandhi's words: There is enough in this
world for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.
Let us work towards a society where we would do unto others what
we would have others do unto us. Let us all be responsible citizens
who make our country a great place to live.
In the words of Winston Churchill, "Responsibility
is the price of greatness." We have to extend our family values
beyond the boundaries of our home. Let us work towards maximum welfare
of the maximum people - "Samasta janaanaam sukhino bhavantu".
Finally, let us of this generation, conduct ourselves
as great citizens rather than just good people so that we can serve
as good examples for our younger generation.