Quintessentially Tata: My Journey Over 55 Years – Syamal Gupta

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The former Chairman of the iconic TATA Group of companies in India and the recipient of two of the highest civilian awards of India, the Padma Vibhushan (2008) and Padma Bhushan (2000), Ratan Tata, once famously said. “What I would like to do is to leave behind a sustainable entity of a set of companies that operate in an exemplary manner in terms of ethics, values and continue what our ancestors left behind.” This quote epitomizes the very ethos for which this sprawling multinational conglomerate stands for. The business practices of the TATA Group of companies have birthed a paradigm shift in the very fundamental manner in which a Corporate Group goes about its activities. The “TATA way” thus stands for integrity, empowerment and aggrandizement. One classic illustration of the apotheosis that is the TATA way is the path-breaking labour welfare measures which were instituted within the Group even before the relevant statutes were incorporated. Some of them include an eight-hour working day, free medical aid, establishment of a welfare department, leave with pay, workers’ provident fund scheme, workmen’s accident compensation scheme, maternity benefits, profit sharing bonus and retiring gratuity. Maybe this is the direct result of TATA employees putting in decades with the company, ignoring much more lucrative competing offers.

Syamal Gupta is one such stalwart. Joining Tata Steel Limited (formerly Tata Iron and Steel Company) in September 1955 as a trainee in the Central Engineering and Development Department (CEDD), Mr. Gupta bid adieu to the Group fifty-five years later. At the time of his retirement, Mr. Gupta was director of Tata Sons, and chairman of Tata International Ltd, Tata Elxsi, Tata Consulting Engineers, Tata Advance Material and Tata BP Solar. At present, he is a trustee at Tata Medical Centre Trust and is also Honorary Consul of the Republic of Namibia. Mr. Gupta, at 86 has penned a warm memoir of his days at the TATA Group. “Quintessentially TATA” provides valuable insights into the values, culture and practices behind the TATA philosophy. He informs his readers about his exposure to, experience with and the subsequent assimilation of the Tata set values and principles.

The TATA Group as Mr. Gupta elucidates has an uncompromising philosophy of f putting community development at the centre of business strategy. A classic case in point being the “Zambia Model.” When the TATA Group made its initial foray into Africa by establishing Tata Zambia Limited, things did not look promising at the outset. A draconian set of Indian foreign exchange polices invited the displeasure of the Zambian Government. Exporting of goods was difficult with a laborious process of filling up a multitude of forms. “Foreign exchange allowances were low. Anyone travelling abroad had to apply for permission from the Indian government and the Reserve Bank of India, enclosing a letter of invitation from parties abroad, list of meetings scheduled and other relevant details. For instance, when Dhawan was deputed to Zambia, he had to leave within a week of his appointment or be classified as an Indian Resident.”

When Mr. Syamal Sen in his capacity as the Managing Director of TATA Exports Limited visited Zambia, this unfortunate fact manifested in a series of explicit intransigence displayed by the Zambian Ministers with whom Mr. Gupta had sought an audience. Resolving to set matters back on track, Mr. Gupta initiated a raft of measures.

“TEL created a small engineering department in Kolkata where we re-engineered spare parts that were required in Zambia and started exporting them. While developing the business, we took help from Tata Steel. It was an interesting process, which we enjoyed doing and it became a viable business proposition for us; especially when Zambian Copper Mines appointed TZL as its procurement agent for spare parts from India.”

“In later years, TZL bid for acquiring the full equity of Pamodzi Hotel and secured a 70 per cent stake. The hotel came under the Taj Hotels and Resorts umbrella. It has undergone significant refurbishment to ensure that standards are met, and brand consistency maintained.”

“…. Fish farms set up at various sites generated employment for the surrounding communities. We drew from resources within the country using an indigenous species of fish, the Tilapia, to provide protein and nourishment for the majority of the population. The people of Zambia now had a new source of protein to choose from and a more balanced diet.”

“We also ventured into power generation by setting up a 120-MW ITT hydropower station located in Southern Province. It was a joint venture between TZL and Zambia Electric Supply Corporation (ZESCO). Built at a cost of $245 million on the Kafue River, some 300 km from the confluence of the Kafue and Zambezi rivers, the Kafue Hydropower Station was originally constructed to provide storage capacity for the Kafue Gorge Power Station, with both ITPC and ZESCO operating the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam as a shared facility.”

The result: President Kaunda appointing Mr. Gupta as the Honorary Consul General for the Republic of Zambia in Mumbai in July 1987.

Little would Mr. Gupta have dreamt of being conferred with such as prestigious title when he first joined TISCO. In fact, Mr. Gupta shares a very interesting and humorous experience involving his very early days at TISCO. His first assignment extending for a couple of weeks involved his writing the letters A, B, C, D in both upper case as well as in lower case! This exercise in inculcating diligence was followed by associations with some of the giants within the TATA Group such as Sumant Moolgaokar, Ratan Tata, Nani Palkhivala, Darbari Seth, Freddie Mehta, and JRD Tata himself. TISCO also assisted Mr. Gupta in completing his higher studies in the field of advanced Mechanics in Imperial College London, a stint which led to him building lasting relationships with the likes of Professors Hugh Ford.

Mr. Gupta’s glory days were however spent in Singapore. He was the personality behind the establishment and functioning of Tata Precision Industries (TPI). Initially occupying two rooms in the Imperial Hotel, TPI moved into 1, Liu Fang Road, Jurong. TPI in tandem with the Singapore government also established the Tata Government Training Centre (TGTC) jointly under the auspices of the Industrial Training Board of Singapore, TELCO and Economic Development Board. TPI was manned with the best of both intellectual capital and mechanical tools. To remain competitive, TPI introduced CAD/ CAM technology and also arranged for the more advanced CNC machines from Swiss, Japanese and German manufacturers such as Studer, SIP Degussa, Deckel, Argie, Chermilles and Titutoyo. During a visit to the premises, the chairman of EMIL Group of Companies of Australia remarked, ‘I thought that Taj Mahal was located in India!’

The book also contains humorous passages that bears testimony to both the wit and wisdom of some of the most arresting personalities within the TATA Group. “Once, while crossing the street in Singapore, JRD (JRD Tata) asked Dr Mehta a few questions related to Indian statistics. He wanted to know the per capita power consumption and the number of villages in India. I was impressed with Dr Mehta’s instant answers. The next day, JRD again enquired about the number of villages in India. I was surprised that Dr Mehta now gave out a different answer. I tried to draw his attention to the apparent error, but he abruptly gestured to me to remain quiet. Later, in his own inimitable style, Dr Mehta put it across to me, ‘Look Syamal, I am an economist not an engineer like you. Engineers see all measures in black and white. For engineers two plus two is always four. Economists may vary figures as per the circumstances. Definitions change, boundaries change, anything is possible. So, you see, whenever I talk to JRD, never interrupt.”

A very interesting segment of the book deals with a chance meeting between Jamsetji Tata and Swami Vivekananda, during the course of which was sown the seeds behind the establishment by the TATAs of the hallowed Indian Institute of ScienceMr. Gupta also reveals to the readers the mettle and métier of the leadership at the TATA Group. He waxes eloquent, in particular, about the extraordinary capabilities of the genius that was Sumant Moolgaokar. “Another Tata stalwart, Moolgaokar was one of the greatest engineers India has produced—a man with farsighted vision. An engineer with hands-on experience, he even had a workshop at his home. He was a man of few words and always wanted a quiet environment to work in. He paid great attention to detail and I have always tried to follow his advice to pay major attention to minor details. JRD and Moolgaokar had many traits in common; perhaps that is why they were great friends. Prof. Ford, who was younger than Moolgaokar, once told me, ‘Syamal, if Sumant were in the US he would be the chairman of General Motors.”

The TATA group of companies has this inveterate tendency to create an enduring and lingering impression in every location they set up their business. In Singapore, Syamal and his team were commonly known by the moniker of “TATA men.” This could lead to quite a confusing as is illustrated by Mr. Gupta in a humorous passage. “One morning, Ratan and I were waiting in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel for our car to arrive. In a few moments, we heard an usher calling out, ‘Tata your car has arrived.’ Ratan approached the usher to ask if he was saying something to him. Pat came the reply, ‘No Sir, I am calling out for Tata to tell him that his car has arrived,’ all the time gesturing to me as if I was Tata. Ratan was amused and laughed.”

The stellar efforts of Mr. Gupta led to a multitude of companies within the TATA fold establishing their presence in Singapore. More prominent examples being Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Communications, NatSteel Holdings, Tata Technologies, Voltas, Tata Chemicals, Tata Power, Tata NYK Shipping, Kalzip Asia (a division of Tata Steel Europe), Tata Capital and York Transport Equipment (Asia), among others, are located in the island state.

Mr. Gupta’s book, even though concise is a glimpse into the personalities, principles and policies of a conglomerate which is driven by a ruthless passion, yet tempered by an even more remorseless set of principles. From a reading of Mr. Gupta’s book, it is clear that Cause is never sacrificed at the altar of capitalism at the TATA Group. Precisely how every business must operate. This indelible tenet is to a great extent the exemplary efforts of the likes of Mr. Syamal Gupta.

Legal Eagles: Stories of the Top Seven Indian Lawyers – Indu Bhan

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The landscape of Indian legal jurisprudence is graced by and littered with stars whose brightness is eternal, and twinkle, indelible. The who’s who of India’s legal fraternity is a precocious Hall of Fame, pride of a nation and a formidable array that intimidates and inspires. A few names – without being disrespectful to the inadvertently omitted – that assail the memory and mind, constitute, H.M. Seervai, a giant of his profession and a doyen of Constitutional Law, the iconoclastic and trenchant Ram Jethmalani, the innately brilliant and trendsetting V.R. Krishna Iyer; one of the longest serving Chief Justices Y.V.Chandrachud, and finally the best in class, the incomparable genius, Nani Palkhivala.

Thus, it is an extremely difficult, and if I may take the liberty to add, courageous endeavour to attempt chronicling the achievements of a select sample from what is a maddeningly lambent pool. This is exactly what Ms. Bhan attempts, and – to give credit where it is deservingly due – succeeds in great measure. Choosing seven powerful and highly successful lawyers, all of whom have carved a niche for themselves in post liberalization India, Ms. Bhan takes her readers on a journey that is exhilarating, enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoyable. The pantheon of luminaries making the pages of Ms. Bhan’s book consists of Harish Salve, Mukul Rohatgi, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Arvind Datar, Aryama Sundaram, Prashant Bhushan and Rohington Fali Nariman. Quick witted, focused, indomitable and with a razor-sharp hold over their chosen subjects, the magnificent seven have over the years, astounded, amazed and awe inspired peers and the layman alike with their gilt-edged performances within the confines of a Court. Every recent judicial verdict of national prominence has the imprimatur of one of these titans or for that matter, more than one since these alpha males of the legal world constantly find themselves in jousting contests with their equally accomplished peers.

Ms. Bhan’s book provides a sneak peek into the general approach followed by each of the seven stalwarts as they go about their business and lends an insight into how the philosophy each one adopts towards life in general. Hence, the references to music, Yoga, travels and meditation. The book also highlights the travails and tribulations experienced by these lawyers at some point in their lives. Harish Salve failed the Chartered Accountancy examinations twice and was on the brink of giving up before being egged on by his illustrious father N.K.P. Salve. A major surgery in his final year at school medically disqualified Arvind Datar thereby putting paid to his hopes of joining the merchant navy and owning a gargantuan shipping company. Datar has even gone to the extent of naming his prospective company Disco—or Datar International Shipping Company. Facing adversity in the best manner possible is staring it back at its face.

Rohington Fali Nariman was ordained as a priest in the Zoroastrian tradition when he was all of twelve years. He cut his teeth dueling with the very best in so far as law career is concerned. Two significant cases helped him gain invaluable experience at an early age. While one was against well-known lawyer and Advocate General of Maharashtra H.M. Seervai (Needle Industries case, the other was against former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee (Swadeshi Cotton Mills case). However, the case that allowed Nariman to escape the shadows of his illustrious father, (one of the greatest ever lawyers the nation has been graced with) was the He believes that the K.R. Laxmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu (1996), case in which a landmark judgement was delivered. “Some of the other important cases that he has been associated with include Khoday Distilleries Ltd v. The Scotch Whisky Association (2008). For the first time, the Supreme Court allowed the Khoday group to use the word ‘scotch’ on its premium whisky brand, Peter Scot. It rejected the liquor body’s allegation that the word ‘Scot’ was deceptively similar to ‘Scotch’, which led the consumers to believe that the product had a Scottish connection.”

Rohinton Nariman also wrote a landmark judgment where the “Supreme Court bench in March 2015, struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, a provision that so far had been widely misused by the police to justify the arrests of Internet users for allegedly posting ‘offensive’ content on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Stating that the provision was vaguely worded, which allowed for its misuse by the police, Rohinton said the law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression. ‘The section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech, and speech that is innocent in nature, and is liable, therefore, to be used in such a way so as to have a chilling effect on free speech, and would have to be struck down on the ground of overbreadth,’ he ruled, while upholding the validity of Section 69B and the 2011 guidelines that allowed the government to block websites if their content had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India’s relationship with other countries.”

A lover of Mozart, Verdi, Bach and the like, Nariman has also been instrumental in setting up the Supreme Court Lawyers’ Welfare Trust, which works for the welfare of lawyers. The trust encourages young talent and supports less-privileged members of the Bar.

Prashant Bhushan is well known for his propensity to employ the instrument of Public Interest Litigation (“PIL”). A few disgruntled, genuinely so, voices have even termed him to be a mercenary of the PLI. But this indefatigable lawyer has kept at with a vigour bordering on the maniacal. Whether it be the PIL that had the impact of the Supreme Court declare as arbitrary and illegal, more than 204 government allocations of coal blocks to steel, cement and power companies since 1993, or the one where Prashant Bhushan Prashant “alleged that the Mukesh Ambani–run Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd had been given an undue benefit of more than Rs 20,000 crore by allowing it to offer voice services on its 4G spectrum by converting its Internet service provider (ISP) license into a unified access services license”, the PIL purveyor is in the think of the action. Prashant Bhushan was also involved in the 2G Spectrum scam, which the “Time” magazine listed as being second only to Watergate in so far as abuse of power was concerned. At the time of this review, Prashant Bhushan find himself at the risk of being reprimanded if not prosecuted by the Apex Court for a contempt of court matter.

Harish Salve represented Kulbushan Jadav, who is languishing in a jail in Pakistan, after being accused of spying charges, at the International Court of Justice and secured a resounding victory for India. The heart-warming aspect of this case being the fact that Salve charged just a token sum of INR1 for representing Jadav. An incorrigible Dilip Kumar tragic, Salve’s moment of glory came when he won a landmark decision in the Supreme Court that quashed a jaw dropping income tax demand of $2 billion on Vodafone. Early in his legal career, “Harish decided to relocate to Delhi to try his luck by setting up his practice at the Supreme Court, and joined J.B. Dadachandji & Co. as an intern. It was at this time that he got an opportunity to assist Palkhivala in the Minerva Mills case. Later, in 1980, it was Palkhivala who suggested that Harish join the chambers of senior counsel Soli Sorabjee, who later became the Attorney General of India in April 1991. After that, there was no looking back.” Solicitor General of India (SG) in 1999 during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime, Salve held office till 2002. He was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the country’s third-highest civilian honour in 2015.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi was just thirty-four, when he was designated as a senior advocate. This made him India’s youngest ever senior advocate. With a stellar academic repute that included distinctions at St Columba’s School, St Stephen’s and Trinity College, Cambridge, Singhvi shot into fame by appearing in a raft of prominent cases. An Amicus Curiae in the D.K.Basu case on custodial deaths, representing Naveen Jindal in the right-to-fly-the-tricolour case, appearing in the NTC Bombay Mills case on urban environmental concerns, Mandal case on reservation for backward classes, and the Renusagar case on international commercial arbitration represent a few shiny feathers in Singhvi’s illustrious cap. In his capacity as the official spokesperson for the Indian National Congress, Singhvi spends a significant time in appearing on various discussions, deliberations and debates on social media and television.

During his college days, Mukul Rohatgi and two of his classmates had a routine to swear by. This continued years after their academic days. Rohatgi, former Finance Minister of India, the late Arun Jaitley and now a prominent lawyer Karanjawala would meet on Saturdays for lunch at Pickwicks, a restaurant at the Claridges Hotel. ‘I would regularly go out with Jaitley and Karanjawala. My father had gifted me his old Fiat car and we would all go gallivanting in it. The day would end with me dropping them to Dhaula Kuan. From there, Jaitley would take an autorickshaw to his house in Naraina, Karanjawala would take one to Saket”, recollects Rohatgi in an interview with the author. An imperious lawyer known for his ferocity in his arguments, Mukul Rohatgi was appointed the fourteenth AG of India in 2014. “The real turning point in his life was leaving the Delhi High Court and then doing cases on a larger canvas by working for the government and various PSUs, be it the 2G spectrum case, the coal scam, mining matters at the Special Forest Bench for Goa, Karnataka and Orissa, or cases of petrol pump cancellations. There were cases that would attract public attention, whether it meant appearing for yoga guru Baba Ramdev, or attending to complaints against Maharashtra politician Raj Thackeray—and that made all the difference.” A keen swimmer, Rohatgi is also a regular contributor to philanthropy. His altruism extends to generous contributions to the Blind Relief Association, Help Age India, and an orphanage in New Delhi.

Arvind Datar would be remembered by many as the lawyer who represented Michael Jackson. A Chennai-based producer filed a suit against the world-famous singer in the Madras High Court seeking an interim injunction against the singer’s concert, which was to be held in Mumbai. He wanted the singer and the organizers to furnish security for his claim for damages against Michael Jackson for breach of a contract that the singer had signed with him. Elaborate arguments later, “the Madras High Court refused to grant an injunction, and the historic concert took place in Mumbai. This was a major victory for Arvind as he was still not yet a senior.” Arvind Datar has one uncompromising principle which he follows even to this day. A refusal to visit the offices of any client or chartered accountant. Deriving inspiration from a famous legal personality K. Bhashyam Iyengar, who had refused to even meet the then British governor who had wanted to consult him on a personal matter, Datar began emulating Iyengar. As Ms. Bhan informs her readers, “one lawyer he particularly admired even as a student was R. Kesava Iyengar. Therefore, when the contempt case came up for hearing, he decided to brief him. They worked together for almost twenty days, and this was an unforgettable period of his life. ‘Although he was ninety-three years old at that time, his mind was razor-sharp. He gave me invaluable advice. For example, he told me that one should spend 60 per cent of one’s time in reading and preparation, and at least 40 per cent in thinking about the case.”

A man who enjoys traveling all over the world, Aryama Sundaram has a house in the picturesque hill station of Kodaikanal and loves the state of Goa as well. A man who quotes Kipling, Sundaram is one of India’s most vaunted and much wanted legal eagles. Enjoying a good career with the advertising and media company Ogilvy & Mather, Sundaram enrolled with the Madras Bar Council on 26 November 1980, and joined a law firm called King & Partridge. A tryst with a literature loving judge whose approbation Sundaram received after quoting Oscar Wilde, his career took an upward trajectory. Branching out on his own, he established Nataraj Rao, Raghu & Sundaram. Making his mark as a leading admiralty lawyer in the Madras High Court, Sundaram soon became a Senior in the Madras High Court. Some of the notable cases argued by this lawyer include the infamous IPL match fixing fiasco where he represented the BCCI and the 2G spectrum presidential reference where he was appointed by the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry to be their lawyer.

“Legal Eagles” is a thoroughly enjoyable read. However, my only grouse with the book is the absence of a woman. One name that instantly comes to mind is that of the mercurial Zia Mody. Hoping that the author brings out a sequel showcasing the legal talents of women lawyers and judges in India.  

Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind – Alexander McCall Smith

Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind

When the Sunday Times offered the bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith – of the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency fame – access to their early 20th Century photograph archive, the writer delightfully viewed this as an opportunity to come up with a collection of short stories. The outcome of this venture is “Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind.” Based on random pictures selected from the Times archive as alluded to above, Mr. Smith conjures up fifteen short stories that are refreshing, romantic and crisp.

The collection begins with the story titled “Pianos and Flowers.” The picture on which this story is based has a couple purposefully striding past a stout topiary. Behind them is a group of individuals comprising of three women and a man who seem to be attentively scrutinizing the couple. Mr. Smith takes his readers on a nostalgic past that traverses across the lush bio diversity of the Malaysian, (or rather Malayan, since this story is set in the times of the British Raj and the Second World War) island of Penang and occupied Singapore before coming to an end in Britain. The lives of Annette, Flora, Stephanie and their solitary male sibling Thomas Sanderson revolves around viewing life from the spectrum of both tranquility and tension. Tragedy seamlessly intermingles with a sense of contentment and the ups and downs experienced by the family of a British Civil Servant, is captured with a poignance that is seamless.

“Maternal Designs” deals with the zealous, nay, overzealous optimism of the mother of a budding architect, which although induces a chuckle in the reader initially, leads her towards hear pulling frustration. A surge of sympathy swells in the heart of the reader for Richard, the patient architect.

Margaret, an enterprising and hard-working Scot gets a job as a secretary in London and this relocation brings her into unexpected contact with a young man of welcome looks and appreciable manners. He also harbours an irresistible inclination towards sculptures of the Sphinx. However, when he misplaces his notebook containing her address, the lady is distraught after not hearing from him. Losing all hopes of re-establishing contact, she attends a dance and meets a courteous bachelor named Alfred. Just when Alfred proposes to Margaret, she finds an advertisement in the newspaper regarding an exhibition revolving around the legend of the Sphinx…

“Pogo Sticks and Man with Bicycle”, has the pioneers of the DNA, Francis Crick and James Watson mesmerized by the contraption that is the Pogo stick. Unraveling the spring mechanism of the Pogo sticks results in the earth-shattering discovery of the Double Helix. This is one of my personal favourites in the book. The revelation at the end of the story hits the reader like a ton of bricks

“St John’s Wort” has a perennially worried husband managing whom is a real concern for his spouse. The worries ranging from the perplexing to the imagined reach their zenith when John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev eyeball each other over the Cuban Missile crisis. As an obstinate and overconfident Fidel Castro exacerbates the worry of the man of the house, his wife finds a friendly neighbor might just have the solution (no pun intended) that has the potential for permanently resolving issues.

Through fifteen sepia images that randomly depict a myriad set of emotions, Mr. Smith peels back layer after layer of imagined fantasies. Employing a breadth that is exemplary and a spontaneity that cannot be practiced, Mr. Smith provides unfettered delight to his readers with plots that are as ingenious as they are innovative. The one word that instantly comes to mind upon a reading of this beautiful bouquet of stories, is wistful. Many of the stories make the reader wonder ‘what could have been’ instead of what is.

“Zeugma” lays bare the uncongealed hurt contained within the heart of an accomplished and well-regarded grammarian Professor Mactaggart, who tries gamely to mask the pain within by taking refuge in metaphors and sanctuary in the intricacies of English language. When cycling on his way to the library he meets the attractive librarian, Ms. Thwaites, he experiences a sense of belonging. Is this the redemption the Professor has been looking for all along?

To paraphrase Robert Frank, “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” Mr. Smith embraces this philosophy to the hilt by suffusing humanity in fifteen random photographs. Hs effortless writing combined with a vintage spontaneity births a precious connection between the unknown and unnamed characters in the photograph and the reader. By the time the reader is done with the book, Richard, Margaret, Alfred, Mactaggart and the rest are transformed into friends, foes, heroes, villains, the wrongful and the wronged, the punished and the acquitted, the sufferer and the perpetrator. To produce this kind of an emotion from pictures warrants a degree of talent that is out of the ordinary – which is exactly what Mr. Alexander McCall Smith does.

(“Pianos and Flowers” is published by Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York and will be published on the 19th of January 2021.)


The Cases That India Forgot – Chintan Chandrachud

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The Supreme Court of India has been accorded an institutional status that is hallowed, and a respect that borders on the reverential. While the Apex Court has distinguished itself with a plethora of judgments, ranging from the seraphic to the sublime, there have also been instances where the highest judicial body of the land has found itself taking positions antithetical to the general tenets of not just the expositions of the Constitution, but also, expediency itself. It is in these latter instances that the last bastion of justice and the bulwark of righteousness has displayed a surprisingly scant regard to the principles of even handedness and righteousness. Thus, the iridescence of a Maneka Gandhi is accompanied by the intransigence of a Mathura, and the dazzling brilliance of an Olga Tellis is dampened by the disappointment of a Kartar Singh. In a concise yet lucid compilation, Chintan Chandrachud, an associate at the London Office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge, sews together a summary of ten cases where the Courts failed to find their métier. Nine out of ten cases cobbled together in the book are settled at the level of the Supreme Court whereas the remaining verdict was issued by the Bombay High Court. So here goes the hall of infamy:

A case of a pamphlet ‘distributing’ havoc, Mr. Chandrachud begins his book with the discussion involving a case which, considering the phalanx of characters involved and the confounding confusion enveloping it, makes it singularly unique. In Mr. Chandrachud’ s own words, “Who would have thought that a pamphlet distributed by a local politician would paralyse administrative machinery, strain relations between state institutions and provoke a constitutional crisis? This is precisely what happened in 1964. It took the collective efforts of several Supreme Court judges, high court judges, MPs and MLAs, and, ultimately, the prime minister and chief justice of India to restore equilibrium.”

The offending pamphlet in question, bearing the dramatic title ‘Exposing the Misdeeds of Narsingh Narain Pandey’ cast aspersions and corruption allegations on Pandey, a Congress party MLA. Signed by its three authors, it was distributed locally in Gorakhpur as well as in the vicinity of the legislative assembly in Lucknow. Following recriminations and consternation, the pamphleteer, Mr. Keshav Singh was initially arrested and then let out on bail. What followed was absolute mayhem. The speaker of the Lucknow Assembly, indicating that those directly associated with the order – including Singh, his lawyer Solomon, and Justices Beg and Sehgal – had breached the privileges of the assembly. The assembly passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority that Singh remain in prison and be brought back to the assembly to answer for the petition filed in the high court. The resolution also ordered that Solomon and the two high court judges be brought in custody before the assembly. Astoundingly, a Bench of twenty-eight judges was allocated to hear this case. This was the largest number of judges allocated to decide a case in a high court or the Supreme Court at the time. This record still stands over five decades later. A presidential reference made under Article 143 of the Constitution to enable the President to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on questions of law or fact. Mr. Chandrachud dissects how the legislature is bereft of authority to initiate proceedings against a judge. As the author concludes, “This case is worth remembering – if for nothing else, to demonstrate how easily constitutional institutions can turn against one another and, equally, how difficult problems are best solved through statesmanship rather than brinksmanship.

A damning example of nauseating patriarchy, this case involved the custodial rape of a helpless woman, which when highlighted to the highest Court of the country, attained a misogynistic colour.  The Supreme Court acquitted the rape accused, banking its rationale on the victim’s past sexual history. A throwback to chauvinism, this case represented all that is wrong with the judicial system of out country. Stung by an overwhelming public uproar and outrage that followed, years after the abominable verdict, a Law Commission was instituted to reform the law relating to rape. The Commission recommended a minimum sentence for rape to be seven years in most instances, and ten years in some others – with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment.

A very interesting case that dwells on the perennially touchy subject of “reservation”, State of Madras v Champakam Dorairajan led to the State passing the First Amendment of the Constitution in order to permit caste-based reservation.  Intervening in the matter, the Supreme Court, placing the fundamental rights on a pedestal over and above that of the Directive Principles of State Policy, decided that such reservations were in gross violation of Article 29(2) of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court also held that \reservations were an exception to, rather than a part of, the fundamental right to equality.

“On Wednesday, 27 July 2005, senior civil servant Rupan Deol Bajaj’s quest for justice finally ended. The Supreme Court confirmed the conviction of K.P.S. Gill, the ‘supercop’ who ended the militancy and Khalistan separatist movement in Punjab, for slapping her on the bottom at a party in 1988. This was the culmination of a legal process that was neither swift nor easy. It involved no less than eight judgements over a period of seventeen years; decisions by several senior judges; complaints to bureaucrats, by bureaucrats, against bureaucrats; and claims of government secrecy and privilege. In the time that the case meandered from one court to the next, India had seen eighteen chief justices and nine prime ministers. And yet, the legacy of this case remained highly contested.”

It is downright obnoxious to note that a person enjoying the privileges accorded by the highest echelon of power was able to bring its entire machinery to bear in overpowering, to a significantly unfortunate extent, unparliamentary deeds and behaviour unworthy of any gentleman.

Following a spate of separatist movements in Punjab, the dreaded Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was passed by the Parliament. A draconian piece of legislation, “TADA altered existing procedural safeguards by making confessions to senior police officers admissible. Defendants anticipating arrest could ordinarily apply for ‘anticipatory bail’ (a direction for release of the person on bail even before they are arrested). TADA not only negated the right to apply for anticipatory bail, but also made it more difficult to secure bail after arrest. Criminal appeals would normally proceed from the subordinate criminal courts to the state high court, with a further appeal to the Supreme Court. TADA eliminated one layer of appeal, by denying rights of appeal to state high courts and providing for direct appeal to the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court however upheld the legality of TADA by citing national security to be of paramount importance and nothing could compromise the same. Feeble overseeing measures were attempted to be institutionalized so that a proper watch could be implemented upon the potential nefarious deeds of law enforcers.

What TADA was to Punjab, the AFSPA was to the North Eastern States. Enacted in 1958 in response to insurgency and demands for self-determination in the Northeast, the law was justified by G.B. Pant, the then home minister on grounds of necessity and quelling of armed rebellion. All of seven sections, this tiny piece of legislation enabled the governor of the state (and later, also the central government) to declare any part of any state (or indeed, the whole of the state) to which it applied as a ‘disturbed area’. However, the deadliest outcome of this enactment was the quartet of doom. The licenses to kill, destroy, arrest and search.

The same rationale as employed in the case of TADA was also used to justify the legality of the AFSPA as well. Under the garb of national security, the Supreme Court tuned a blind eye to a raft of human rights transgressions committed by the law enforcers that induced a sense of trepidation amongst the North Eastern populace.

The only case in Mr. Chandrachud’ s book that is not the part of Supreme Court deliberation, the judgment of Narasu Appa Mali was delivered by two judges of the highest caliber, Justice M.C. Chagla and Justice Gajendragadkar from the Bombay High Court. This case involved an analysis of personal law and whether they ought to be insulated from the fundamental rights in the event of a conflict between the two. “Several Hindu men were charged with offences of bigamy under Bombay’s bigamy law – the Bombay Prevention of Hindu Bigamous Marriages Act of 1946. This law not only made bigamous marriages invalid among Hindus, but also made it a criminal offence (punishable with up to seven years in prison) for those that entered such marriages. The cases involving these Hindu men yielded a range of different outcomes.”

The distinguished judges choose to accord priority to religion-based personal laws over the enshrining and fundamental principles and rights as enacted by the Constitution.

Argued by the brilliant and incomparable Nani Palkhivala, Minerva Mills is a landmark decision in the annals of Indian judicial history. Having a timeless relevance, the case dealt with the unfettered powers of The Parliament to amend the constitution through sections 4 and section 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act 1986. With an avowed objective of preserving and protecting the basic structure of the Constitution, the Apex Court struck down those sections in this case. “The hearing took place before a bench of five judges of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud. Justice Chandrachud formed part of the group of judges that rejected the basic structure doctrine in the Kesavananda case. Also, on the bench were Justices A.C. Gupta, N.L. Untwalia, P.N. Bhagwati and P.S. Kailasam. The hearing lasted twenty days, from 22 October 1979 to 16 November 1979.” The incandescent Palkhivala posited three pillars of arguments in trying to convince the Supreme Court to dismantle the amendments. First, ‘the donee of a limited power cannot, by the exercise of that very power, convert the limited power into an unlimited one’. Doing so, would permit Parliament, a creature of the Constitution, to become its master. Second, the limited amending power was itself a basic feature of the Constitution. Following the court’s decision in the Kesavananda case, Parliament had no authority to disturb that feature. Third, by emphasizing that no court would have the power to pronounce upon the validity of a constitutional amendment, the amendment damaged the balance of power between the judiciary and Parliament.

The Supreme Court, in this case had the opportunity to review the constitutional validity of the Union’s dissolution of the Bihar State legislative assembly and the consequent proclamation of President’s rule under Article 356 of the Constitution. The Court held that the dissolution of the State assembly and the proclamation of President’s rule was unconstitutional and declared that it had the power to restore a dissolved assembly in an appropriate case. But in a peculiar twirl of events, since elections to the Bihar assembly had been notified prior to the decision of the Court, it refrained from restoring the State assembly in this case. One of the criticisms of the decision, as expostulated by various learned jurisprudence experts is that the Apex Court not only incorrectly identified the stage at which a legislative assembly comes into existence, but also incorporated a hierarchy into the Constitution thereby making a legislative assembly dependent on the executive.

The book ends with a case where scant heed was paid to the directives issued by the Apex Court and where the highest decision-making body in the country was thoroughly rendered helpless in giving effect to its own pronouncements. The compliance took the form of mere lip service as the offending parties continued relentlessly with giving teeth to an armed civilian movement to counter the pernicious threat of Naxalites.

The Indic Quotient – Kaninika Mishra

What unifies an organisation that is devoted to rescuing and repatriating stolen artifacts back to India, with a freelance Yoga practioner who, after successfully fighting a humble upbringing, carves out a niche for himself amongst the elite inhabiting a tony precinct in Gurugram? What is common between a man who moves mountains to produce the first Sanskrit animation movie in India, and a serial entrepreneur whose avowed mission is to provide an eager populace with edibles that are traditional in content, nutritious in value and delicious in taste? Is there a singular thread that weaves together a company that sources products that are all but lost to the current world due to a contrivance of circumstance and practicality, with an author who has built up a reputation by not caring much for mainstream genres, which her contemporaries are more than just eager to purvey?

In an engrossing and enlivening book, “The Indic Quotient”, best-selling author Kaninika Mishra, in seven soul stirring chapters chronicles the efforts of a bunch of myriad but intrepid characters who have taken it upon themselves to showcase India’s teeming amalgam of traditional richness and heritage, which is all but lost to a world characterized by the relentless pursuit of modernism. The protagonists of Ms. Mishra’s work are as diverse as the country which they inhabit and their vigorous endeavours range from the admirable to the astounding.

The India Pride Project (IPP), a brainchild of Vijay Kumar and Anuraag Saxena shows extraordinary obstinance and resoluteness in identifying stolen religious artefacts from Indian temples and securing their return. The crowning glory of IPP, thus far, has been the successful repatriation of Virudhagireeswarar temple’s exquisite androgynous ‘Murti’ of Ardhanareeshwara. This artefact was smuggled out of India before surfacing at the AGNSW in Australia.

The science of Ayurveda has a tradition which is as rich and resplendent as any branch of Medicine. Pioneered by the Ashta Vaidyas, the  masters of the eight branches of Ayurveda mentioned in classical texts, Ayurveda has captured global imagination. No one understands the value of Ayurveda better than Dr. Pratap Chauhan. Jiva Ayurveda, Dr. Chauhan’s company, encompasses a telecentre staffed with 150 doctors. Running clinics across North India aided by a medicine manufacturing plant in Haryana, Dr. Chauhan does topical research in the field of Ayurveda and telemedicine. In the year 2006, Chauhan bagged a United Nations World Summit Award for providing ‘low cost, highly effective and broadly applicable networking solutions.

Ms. Mishra traverses the length and breadth of India from the southern State of Kerala to the Northeastern State of Assam in tracking down the likes of Saxena and Chauhan. One such journey takes her to Maheshwar, in Madhya Pradesh, the abode of the magnificent hand woven ‘Maheswari’ brand of sarees. Visiting a small saree production unit run by Mulchand Shravnekar, a fourth-generation weaver, Ms. Mishra informs her readers about the yeoman service rendered by GoCoop. GoCoop is a boon for the Indian weavers. Incorporated in 2014, GoCoop creates a sustainable livelihood for the individual weavers by facilitating direct access to their customers. As Ms. Mishra elucidates, “GoCoop processes more than 3,000 online orders a month. It gets a small commission on each sale and a listing fee from the weavers and cooperatives featured on its website. GoCoop recorded a 100 per cent year-on-year sales growth in the 2015–16 financial year.” Till date, GoCoop has partnered with more than 4,000 handloom weaving cooperatives, individual weavers, craft-based social enterprises and NGOs across the country.

What GoCoop does to weavers, CropConnect, does to farmers. A Delhi-based start-up, CropConnect sources traditional Indian agricultural produce such as grains, and millets of the nature of jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet), etc., and herbs, directly from farmers before marketing the same to urban consumers. The founders of CropConnect, boast a pedigree that is exemplary. Development economists, Ishira Mehta and Puneet Jhajharia quit plum jobs to found CropConnect with an aspiration to provide some much-needed support to the farmers. Ms. Mehta is a political science graduate from the London School of Economics with a Masters in Public Administration in International Development from Harvard. CropConnect markets its products under the label ‘Original Indian Table’. The efforts of CropConnect are also linear to the shifting tastes and predilections of a younger generation that is health and diet conscious. “Supermarket chains Big Bazaar, HyperCity and Easyday Club have reported 66 per cent growth for wheat substitutes, which includes millets such as ragi (finger millet) and bajra (pearl millet), between September 2017 and August 2018. Meanwhile, flour as a product group grew only by 14 per cent.” As Ms. Mishra details, celebrity chef Anahita Dhondy of the popular Parsi restaurant chain SodaBottleOpenerWala has taken to advocating millets. As a part of The Chef’s Manifesto, a worldwide movement of socially conscious chefs, she has been promoting forgotten Indian grains and millets at various forums.

The book abounds with inspirational stories such as the ones outlined above. It would be doing an avoidable disservice to the author if a review was to encapsulate every success story that permeates the pages. Lest one be lulled into any sense of misinterpretation post reading the title, the book advocates neither ideology nor professes to be a vehicle for purveying the precepts and tenets of any religion. Ms. Mishra, weaves together in a marvelously cohesive manner, an unforgettable tapestry of ingenious vison and innovative excellence. At the edifice of the forays of every person and organisation featured by Mishra, lies a raging and indivisible sense of belonging. A belonging that considers as immutable and invincible the indelible socio-economic practices that have constituted the bedrock of Indian civilization. Every effort instituted by these indomitable men and women represent a bulwark that preserves and protects such practices. Whether it be serial entrepreneur Prasoon Gupta’s resolve to bring a sense of conscious and healthy consumption of food and drink amongst the population, that resulted in the birth of his company Sattviko, or a curiosity on the part of Karan Vir Arora to understand the enigmatic character of the mythological tragic hero, Karna, after whom he was named, that led to the creation of the extremely popular Vimanika comics, Ms. Mishra’s book has lots to offer by way of both delight and respect.

“The Indic Quotient” – an invigorating and insightful read.

A Wall Street View of Rural India – Sujit Sahgal

A Wall Street View of Rural India by Sujit Sahgal – Olympia Publishers

A culmination of more than a dozen rural trips in the company of Foreign Institutional Investors, and manifold interviews, Sujit Sahgal’s short albeit undoubtedly compelling book “A Wall Street View of Rural India”, gauges the pulse of India’s rural economy in addition to tracing its trajectories. Written in a smooth and simplistic manner, the book is easy on the eye and conveys to the layman a clear and unambiguous perspective of both the leaps made by the rural economy as well as the travails, which a farmer is forced to stare at unblinkingly.

As Mr. Sahgal – currently the head of institutional equities for HSBC India – informs his readers, the current Indian per capital rural income is a measly Rs.6500 per month. The Government is steadfast in its resolve to double this figure by March 2022. However, as Mr. Sahgal illustrates, it is extremely imperative to grasp the various circumstances under which a farmer’s income fluctuates before concrete reforms may be ushered in. The need of the hour is for a structured set of structural reforms rather than a raft of subsidies and incentives. Over the years, one of the most tried and tested tactics of the Government has been to adjust the Minimum Support Price (“MSP”). This represents the floor price at which the Government will procure certain cereals, pulses and grains etc. from the farmer. Further, in order to bolster the prospects of the rural household, the Government has also instituted the NREGA scheme, an income guarantee programme under which an income of Rs.100 per day for 100 days is guaranteed to every household. Completing the troika of packages is the burgeoning sums of loan waivers, which have almost become annual rituals.

As Mr. Sahgal lucidly illustrates, more lasting and longer-term solutions need to appear on the horizon. These include crop and health protection by way of insurance schemes, extending the MSP to cover a variety of crops and permitting world class process to be employed in cultivation. The latter include size, inputs, mechanization and irrigation techniques. Mr. Sahgal then goes on to illustrate the perils faced by a farmer as well as by the Government. A primary issue ailing the farmer is the acreage holding. A farmer in India on an average has a holding of just under three acres, a meagre number when compared with similar land holding statistics across the globe. While a farmer in the European Union holds around 40 acres on average, his counterpart in the United States manages a humongous spread of more than 100 acres! This problem is further exacerbated when the acreage is split as inheritance amongst generations. An innate phenomenon of trust deficit also puts paid to the hopes of innovative mechanisms such as contract farming and aggregation of land.

At times, a scheme which has a noble intent at its inception might turn out to be an Achilles Heel in so far as its implementation is concerned. As Mr. Sahjal highlights, a classic case in point is the Kisan Credit Card. Touted as a  mechanism to provide cheaper credit to farmers for their working capital and capital expenditure needs this became a tool which was misused by the farmer as it was difficult to monitor its end use and led to over-consumption and delayed payments. “Where the KCC scheme brought the credit culture to the farmer and the progressive easing of norms embedded that in the farmers, the processes made it easy to misuse it — farm loan waivers spoilt the credit culture to a very large extent.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the book deals with the way the farmer goes about selling his produce once the same has been harvested. She can either sell her produce to the Government at the MSP alluded to in the preceding paragraphs or she can sell her stock at the nearest “Mandi”  to an agent who, after grading the produce will decide the compensation before buying the same and in turn on selling it to the retail buyers. “Currently there are about eight thousand mandis and sub-mandis all over the country and twenty-two thousand rural haats (Graams — grameen agricultural markets). The farmer has the option currently of selling at the main mandi, or the sub mandi or go to the rural haat (rural periodic markets) and lastly to give it at the farm gate to an aggregator.” The rigid nature of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act has made the existence of middlemen in agriculture inevitable, thereby depriving farmers off their right on their produce. An absence of a direct link with the consumers ensured that the farmers are at the mercy of the middlemen occupying the space between the production and the ultimate sale of the produce. This makes middlemen very powerful and the farmers often find themselves at a disadvantage despite being the producers. However, as Mr. Sahjal illustrates, “Recently in 2014, the government took a further step of having one national electronic market to unify prices and make price discovery more efficient. An electronic national market (e-NAM) was proposed to bring fair and transparent market access to the farmer and better prices by removing the middleman.”

The book induces a degree of optimism and a sense of belief when it dwells on the educational prospects of children and women in India’s rural belt. The process of electrification of villages, coupled with the advancements in telecommunications and fibre optic technology has suffused a surge of passion amongst the parents, especially the mothers towards educating their children. Consumer spending also reveals this attitude as illustrated by Mr. Sahjal. Any savings made by a rural household is primarily with an intention to bestow upon the children, an appreciable quality of education. At the time of this writing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as part of his Independence Day Speech, delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort unveiled an ultra-ambitious cyber security policy which promises optical fibre connectivity to all six lakh villages in 1,000 days. If this materializes it would provide a tremendous boost to the economic prospects of rural India.

Mr. Sahjal ends his utterly enlivening book by providing three key takeaways. “Firstly, facilitate the aggregation of land by other farmers or corporates. World class farming practices can and will then be deployed, increase yields and hence make the business very attractive. It will stop the “grain drain” from rural India into the cities, keep the next generation fully engaged at the family farm and decisively release the rest to seek full time careers in urban India rather than hiding behind “disguised unemployment” as they do currently. Secondly, allow the farmer to sell directly to the end customer. This will increase significantly the profit the farmer makes from his produce. This will tackle also the risk of inflation by hiking prices and will also not put any burden on the fiscal to procure and store tons of farm produce. Thirdly, government should only involve itself through insurance schemes, for crop failure or pest attacks and health insurance to prevent loss of savings. This safety net will drive consumption up and make it less cyclical.”

“A Wall Street View of Rural India” – an invigorating insight into an India that for the most part, remains unseen.

Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity (Management on the Cutting Edge) – Amit Mukherjee

Leading in the Digital World | The MIT Press

A commendable primer on the pre-requisites that would define the trajectory of both a leader as well as the company that she is responsible for, “Leading in the Digital World” is a handy guide to the Corporate chieftain. At the heart of Mr. Mukherjee’s book is the influence of what he terms constitute long-arc-of-impact technologies, technologies that have the capability of bringing a paradigm shift in both mindsets as well as markets. A few well known examples of such technologies as highlighted by Mr. Mukherjee are micrometers, third-angle projection engineering drawings, and go-no-go gauges. In a world characterized by the acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), where the mantra is digitize or perish, the traditional bastions of leadership stand pitifully outmoded. The current leader can neither afford to possess an authoritarianism bent nor can be invested with a vicious streak. Gone are the days when business magazines could publish lists of “America’s Toughest Bosses” that began with the words, “In an era of endless restructuring, cutting heads like Robespierre on a rampage is just average. While making the list became a cause celebre, remaining on it accorded a hallowed view of the men involved (invariably it was men who made the cut). Consider the some of the names that featured on the list, as alluded to by Mr. Mukherjee: “Edwin Artzt (Procter & Gamble), Robert Crandall (American Airlines), Maurice Greenberg (American International Group), Andy Grove (Intel), Steve Jobs (then at NeXT), Andrall Pearson (PepsiCo), Donald Rumsfeld (Searle) and Jack Welch (GE). The monikers used by their compatriots, or assigned by Fortune, are also telling: Prince of Darkness, Jack the Ripper, The Pompadoured Bully, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde —a “thoroughgoing SOB—cold, calculating, and mean.” Clearly, authoritarianism wasn’t an aberration; it is how American companies were regularly led.”

Mr. Mukherjee identifies seven indispensable principles by which the modern day “digital leader” must go about the business of conducting business. As the founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff famously exhorted, “the business of business is no longer business.” So, what are these seven principles? Here goes:

  • Digital technologies reduce, or eliminate, the value of an elite group’s skills or knowledge and enable—and may even require—the automation of its work;
  • Digital technologies augment the capabilities of less-skilled people, enabling them to undertake tasks they couldn’t earlier;
  • Digital technologies enable—and may even require—work to be distributed over time and geography;
  • Digital technologies enable—and even require—work to be increasingly thought-driven instead of being muscle powered;
  • Digital technologies create needs that aren’t predictable and/or add disproportionately great value;
  • Digital technologies expose organizations to radical transparency, which may—or may not—benefit them individually, or their networks or society at large; and
  • Digital technologies interact with and affect an organization’s external environment.

What distinguishes the leader of the future and separates the wheat from the chaff is an ability to seamlessly work with teams spread across geographies, respecting gender diversity and according equal opportunities and an attitude to relegate stereotypes to the dustbin and gain the most out of the facets of diversity. Benioff is again a torchbearer of change in this regard. As Mr. Mukherjee explains, “Benioff had taken a very public position supporting LGBTQ rights in a US state that passed a discriminatory law. He had urged other CEOs to do the same. During the interview, he said that though the percent of women in his company was less than 30%, he wanted to increase it to 50% in five years. As a result of an audit Salesforce had conducted, it had found imbalances in the salaries paid to men and women. It responded by increasing salaries for 6% of the staff. It had mandated changes in hiring and promotion policies so women and minorities would always be included in applicant pools. Another policy required women to constitute at least 30% of the attendees in any meeting.”

Mr. Mukherjee emphasis the need to evolve from evolve from “ethnocentricity (which can range from denial to denigration of other cultures) to ethnorelativity (which seeks out differences, accepting their importance and adapting) to integration (which is having a multicultural worldview).” There is a pressing need to pay heed and accord respect to cultural, linguistic and territorial peculiarities. “Former ABB CEO Goran Lindahl’s tweak of a predecessor’s policy is particularly relevant to the digital epoch. He famously declared that the official language of ABB was not just English, but “poor English.” That beautifully crafted policy made it easier for everyone to speak. Mr. Mukherjee also reiterates that leaders must be “T Prime” leaders. According to Wouter Van Wersch, CEO of GE Asia-Pacific T-Prime leaders have “the ability to navigate the in-between places that experts avoid.” These are leaders who have a wider wingspan (gamut of knowledge) than long tails (specialized depth in a field).

Mr. Mukherjee also warns his readers about the tendency to fall into certain dogmatic traps. Hence, he appeals to leaders to follow certain ground rules:

  • eliminate the “language of leadership” problem from your vocabulary;
  • address perceptions of unfairness wherever possible.
  • reduce the mutual incomplete knowledge problem.
  • seek inputs from people with different perspectives.
  • understand the power of implicit bias and take mitigating actions.
  • tackle the difficult task of assuring consistency across individual acts of inclusion.

Mr. Mukherjee also warns leaders against the pernicious quality of ‘ethical fading.’ For the uninitiated, ethical fading happens when the ethical aspects of a decision disappear. Instances of ethical fading abound when people focus heavily on some other aspect of a decision, such as profitability or winning. People tend to see what they are looking for, and if they are not looking for an ethical issue, they may miss it altogether.

The authenticity of this book lies in the fact that this is a culmination of A global survey of 700 mid-tier to senior executives and interviews with C-level executives from around the world.

Bob Willis, A cricketer and gentleman – Bob Willis & Mike Dickson

Amazon.com: Bob Willis: A Cricketer and a Gentleman eBook: Willis ...

Personally, the memories of Bob Willis that endure take the contours of a trenchant, gangling and acerbic cricketing pundit who never shied away from calling a spade by any other name. However, my earliest introduction to one of England’s and the world’s most formidable pacemen was courtesy a grainy, frazzled and intermittent-in-between-unscheduled-load-shedding, footage emanating from a Sears Elcot Black & White television set. Needing the installation of an external antenna that looked to the untrained eye as if it was reaching out to Mars, the television accorded its owner not just a choice of channels as would be determined by the national broadcaster, which was not many, but also warned its possessor that the vagaries of weather was beyond its control. Thus, the prospects of a batsman negotiating an out swinger or a fielder positioned under a steepler would remain enslaved to a huge gust of wind that would cause the antenna to sway, thereby distorting the feed, or a sudden burst of rain resulting in a power shut down of infinite duration.

It was the semi-finals of the 1983 World Cup and our house in a quaint and sleepy village in South India was abuzz with excitement. The year also had heralded the arrival of the first Television sets in our colony and what better way to embrace this wonderful technology than celebrate the exploits of Kapil Dev’s Devils. Although by way of confession, a better part of what transpired in the game is lost to memory, the one unforgettable image was of this extraordinarily stretched English bowler with a singularly curious mop of hair running in to bowl from what seemed to be a ridiculously long way! Even though Sandeep Patil and Yashpal Sharma had Willis’ number on that day, the sight of this skyscraper tearing into bowl with a maniacal frenzy captured the imagination of a collective set of kids huddled around the television and yelling in tandem with the adults.

Of course, as time wore on, and the love for the game transformed into an unrestrained obsession, I learned that the human skyscraper was a man of many parts. I read that one of the most outspoken and confident cricketers to have graced the game, was also one of its most vulnerable. Reaching out to his idol-in-perpetuity, Bob Dylan for succor in times of desperation, I learned that this fragile genius was a connoisseur of wines, a Wagner worshipper, and most of all, an admirable loyalist to his friends. The more I read about Bob Willis, the more I appreciated his seemingly vitriolic comments on various programmes such as “The Verdict” and “The Debate.” The more I read and read about Bob Willis, the more I found and keep finding it hard to believe that he is no more. “Bob Willis, A cricketer and gentleman”, is a fitting tribute to the man himself. Edited by his brother, this is a quasi-biography that cobbles together Willis’ own writings, stirring testimonies of his achievements both on and off the field as recounted by teammates and opponents alike and a rewind of the six greatest test matches in Willis’ career. The man who added the name of his hero to his own name in a rebellious act could produce some incomparable sporting music of his own.

Interspersed with wit and punctuated by nostalgia, the book makes for some memorable and poignant reading. Playing for Surrey, mostly in the Second XI’s and also doubling up as a goal keeper in the lower rungs of semi-professional football for Guildford City Reserves, when not working at Harrods that is, Willis’ mundane routine gets a veritable shake up when he is given thirty six hours to get things sorted out before boarding a flight to Australia. It was the Ashes series of 1971 and injuries to Alan Ward and Ken Shuttleworth ensured that Willis got the call up since England were desperately looking for a tearaway fast bowler to give company to John Snow.

Even after distinguishing himself with the ball and with his fielding on the tour Down Under, Willis is forced to change counties from Surrey to Warwickshire, due to the surprising intransigence exhibited by his former county. An out and out quickie, the elaborate run up and the concomitant pounding on the knees ensured that brittleness was always an attendant feature of Willis’ game. A stinging remark by his captain Tony Greig about Willis’ fitness after generous swigs of the amber nectar, transformed Willis’ attitude and approach towards fitness. Embracing a dual strategy of hypnotherapy and long-distance running, Willis took his level of fitness to a different league altogether. However, the spindly legs were a constant victim to a surgeon’s scalpel as the torch bearer of the English attack underwent multiple surgeries throughout his playing career.

In addition to regaling the readers about the unforgettable Headingly Test of 1981, where Willis single handedly routed a much vaunted Aussie attack to scalp an unbelievable 8/43, the book also takes readers down memory lane to exemplary performances that Willis put in, in India, Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand. However, the primary lure of the book is in the snippets of humorous incidents that it contains within. After the curtains came down upon his glowing cricket career, Willis established the International Luncheon Club. The plan was to host business lunches with a sporting theme once a month. Authors seeking to publish their work, cricketers, visiting teams were all the targeted invitees.

“In 1995 Brian Clough was the star invitee, coming down by train from his home in the Midlands on the morning of the lunch. Unfortunately, en route he became rather too well acquainted with the buffet car and turned up the worse for wear. “Brian had clearly had a few drinks already,” recalls David. “For some reason he was trying to kiss all the waiters, and we were frantically telling them not to oblige his frequent requests to fill his glass up. By the time he got up to do his question-and-answer he was barely able to speak, and we had to sit him down after seven or eight minutes. It was not long after the famous Eric Cantona kung fu kick incident at Crystal Palace. When asked what he would do to discipline the offender, Brian responded that he would “cut his balls off”. The strange thing was that we had organised another event for Brian in Manchester the following day, so we went up there fearful. But he turned up on time and sober, and was brilliant with everyone.”’

A man who was preternatural with nicknames, as the book illustrates, the Willis habit of bestowing nicknames ranging from the sublime to the silly, not just to his teammates but to his own parents as well, was legendary. The Chapters piecing together selected writings from Willis’ days as captain of England provide some guffawing insights. “At dinner this evening the main topic of conversation was the voracity of those local mosquitoes. They seem to have taken a particular fancy to the ankles of A.C. and Nick Cook and the backside of Allan Lamb, of which I entirely fail to see the attraction.”

“In ducking rather rapidly, however, I succeeded in putting a twelve-inch split in the backside of my trousers. Dear old ‘Flash’ Cowans came to the rescue with a surprisingly nimble needle and thread during the tea interval.

“We all ate well, none better than Mike Gatting, who has become known as ‘Jabba’ after a character in Return of the Jedi which eats everything it comes across!”

A reproduction of a piece that originally appeared in the Times edition of 5th September 2012 alluding to the rationale behind Willis adding the name “Dylan” to his original name is unmissable.

Bob Willis was a cricketer of tremendous abilities. He was also a human being beset with a roiling cauldron of emotions. Plagued by insomnia, suffering from depression and prone to self-doubt, he was a susceptible personality at the most granular level. However, he did not allow fragilities and foibles to usurp a good life. Good friends, great food and glasses of carefully selected wine more than made up for life’s more gullible moments. Moreover, Dylan was always within arm’s length to lend the necessary support and encouragement.

Robert George Dylan Willis touched not only those with whom he was in proximity but also had an appreciable influence on people about whose very existence he could not even be aware of. One such non decrepit and ordinary person was a 7 year old boy who kept his eyes unblinkingly glued to an unreliable television, and kept gasping at the sight of a windmill running in to hurl itself at full tilt against a set of people, some of whom would go on to become the boy’s most loved cricketing idols.

Sleep well Mr. Willis and THANK YOU SIR!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Amazon.com: The Handmaid's Tale (Graphic Novel): A Novel eBook ...

 When it involved dystopia, I had my favourite quartet of books which I would read, re-read and get back to reading again. “1984” by George Orwell; “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley; “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin; and “Darkness At Noon” by Arthur Koestler were my trusted and reliable companions of doom and despair. And then came along Kazuo Ishiguro with his “Never Let Me Go.” The horrors of Hailsham left the hairs standing at the nape of my neck as Kathy, Ruth and Tommy refused to stop repeatedly gnawing at my conscience with a vigour bordering on the sadistic. Over the past couple of years, I realized that I was inhabiting an Earth that seemed to possess a vertical divide. On one side of the chasm, were humans who had read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and were completely going agog with unconstrained excitement, whereas across the crater stood another set of people, blissfully oblivious of the contents of Ms. Atwood’s work. On the 1st of August 2020, I made the quiet transition from the territory of oblivion to the land of the aware. Suffice it to say the experience was nothing less than exhilarating.

The once United States of America is now the Republic of Gilead, a nation state not dissimilar to Orwell’s Oceania in terms of savagery and mental myopia. Antithetical to feminism and everything symbolizing the liberation of women, Gilead is a country of misogynists, where women are categorized as Wives, Marthas, Unwomen and Handmaids. Wives occupy the Apex of the hierarchy pyramid, with Marthas employed by them in numbers according to their rank and prestige. The Marthas take care of the Wives’ day to day needs doubling up as maids, cooks, and housekeepers. Occupying the base of the pyramid are the Unwomen who are deemed unworthy of any respect or merit on account of their neglected status in society. But it’s the “handmaids” who are designated to execute a chore that is almost fecund in nature.

Their sole function is to bear the children of the elite (the Wives), and in the event a handmaid is found to be ‘sterile’, she is instantly banished to outlying islands where the occupation of toxic-waste removal would result in her certain death. All the handmaids are named in such a manner that the second part of their name represents the name of their protectors or rather impregnators. For example, Offglen (“of” plus the name of her male protector). As the wife lies prone on the bed, the husband, proceeds to, in a ceremonial fashion, impregnate the handmaid in a purely perfunctory manner. One such handmaid is Offred. Inhabiting the abode of possibly the most powerful man in the Republic, Offred dutiful in the beginning, enters dangerous and uncharted territory, as she begins a dalliance with the driver of her protector. Discovery of this transgression would mean certain death for Offred. How Offred dances with the devil is the finely constructed theme of Ms. Atwood.

Shades of Orwell permeate the pages of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” A whole new set of neologisms are spawned as a result of Ms. Atwood’s work. “Unwomen”; “Econowives”; “Off”; “transport” etc. induce a surge of reminiscence and nostalgia as the reader is automatically left musing about “thought police”; “double think”; “memory hole”; “unperson” and of course the ubiquitous “Big Brother.” While Big Brother is the primary ombudsman, Gilead’s multitude of Big Brothers are The Eyes, where surveillance captures every move made by every person of significance, and most importantly, insignificance. In an exquisite exhibition of wordplay, Ms. Atwood employs the word “Salvagings” to denote Salvagings refer the executions that represent punishment for those not abiding by the Gilead Republic’s laws, such as the physicians who practiced abortions before the war.

The book is also peppered with Biblical references. The nomenclatures employed for representing certain professions for instance. The police are the “guardians of faith” while the “angels”. Guardians are a mythological creature tasked with defending their realm from demons while an Angel is a direct biblical reference to heaven. Or take the reading in a Centre where Offred is taken to for her indoctrination as a handmaid. “Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”

The solitary drawback with the book, is its pace, or an explicit lack of it. Some passages are stretched beyond rational limits and make for some excruciatingly slow reading. For example, the sequence before during and after a handmaid giving birth is never ending.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a creditable achievement by one of the greatest writers of our times. Ms. Atwood demonstrates the innovativeness within her sweep and the breadth of imagination that is resplendent in its wake. Now I hear that I would need to make yet another leap across another divide as Ms. Atwood has penned a sequel named, “The Testaments”…….