Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I too had a Dream

The story of the White Revolution is rather well known in India. The story about how a nation which was dependent on imports for the bulk of its dairy requirement attained self-sufficiency in milk and milk production. When you talk of the co-operative movement in the country, the story invariably begins with the story of Amul- a co-operative of milk producers from one tiny district in Western India organizing themselves not just to produce, but to procure, market and distribute their products.

I have always admired Dr. Verghese Kurien, the brain, heart and body behind the movement, because he is one of those rare individuals who is at the same time a visionary, a leader and a professional manager. And yet, I always hesitated to pick up his authorized biography “I too have a Dream”, because of my natural distrust of authorized biographies and autobiographies. These books often tend to be self congratulatory, and this one was no different.

Dr. Kurien has achieved a lot in his professional life, he has surmounted obstacles that most people would have hesitated to even take on. He is one person who combines the best qualities of a visionary, a leader and a professional manager. He has changed the paradigm of how the diary industry operates in the country, has been responsible for ensuring an alternate/ supplementary source of livelihood to millions of farmers and has set up several institutions that continue to serve a vital role in the country.

Every page of the book oozed sincerity. The man is genuinely concerned with social and economic upliftment in rural India. For someone like me who continues to focus her energy on urban poverty and industry led development, reading about rural India was an eye-opener. The book had huge insights for anyone who wanted to read between the lines.While urban poverty is more visible, the real solution to urban poverty is to keep people from having to migrate to the cities. Rural poverty alleviation is what would lead to overall poverty alleviation. Dr. Kurien made me think along lines I have never been challenged to think before, and I loved the intellectual stimulation of having to do that.

But, there were too many moments in the book where ‘so-and-so threatened to do such-and-such to the movement’, and Dr. Kurien called up ‘so-and-so and had the threat removed’. Too many of his battles seem to have been won by making a call to the Prime Minister’s office, or by one Minister intervening when another was causing trouble. Nothing wrong with that – in cases such as this, the ends definitely justify the means – but is that all there is to the man? Couldn’t the story have been as strong without his having to pull so many strings? If he was willing to go to any extent to achieve what he thought had to be achieved, were all his quests as noble as the ones he highlights?

The reality of modern India, unfortunately, is one where you need to know someone to get something done. I would have liked that Dr. Kurien’s story have been slightly different. But a book I would definitely recommend, because it does challenge you to think of issues you may otherwise just avoid.

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6 comments:

Jan Morrison said...

Very interesting post. I'd like to read this book. I understand your frustration and perhaps the writer was trying to create tension - I find that all stories even of a journalistic nature are prone to this false impending doom scenario - even reality tv shows (will the Fergusons like their new living room? will Doolie take off the fifteen pounds her doctore told her she needs to?) It is very boring as just finding out what happened is enough for me without getting my nerves all up and dancing.

Not Hannah said...

The same problem (having to know somebody to get something done)exists in the US, as well, to the frustration of many people. I actually think that's one of the reasons that our president got elected--folks were sick of all that. (NOT that he doesn't have political and social connections; they just aren't the most visible kind.)

Chary Johnson said...

I have to agree with Not Hannah. The cliche "It's not what you know but who you know" is very much evident here in the United States. It can be extremely frustrating when trying to accomplish something important.

The book sounds very interesting. I also don't like biographies or autobiographies not because they are like a resume of the individual's accomplishments but because they are often misleading (lies).

Great post!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Jan - the book is fantastic. It gives a whole new insight into economic development which is quite different from either the socialistic or the capitalistic models. It is all about uniting the small producers and enabling them to access markets directly. And you are quite right about the urge to create tension- it is all prevalant, but for me it does take away from the main story.

@ Heather - that is such an unfortunate situation, isn't it? And so unsustainable too. But I guess if you do have connections, and if you do know how to use them, it is to your credit if you use that to do something good than otherwise.

@ Chary - I wonder why people tend to write such self congratulatory stuff? If you are famous enough to merit a biography (or at least think you are), you needn't blow your own trumpet quite so much, don't you think.

Watery Tart said...

Well I'm not worried about MY future in India, because I happen to know somebody who knows how to get things done!

It's funny though, how it can be right ends, but sort of a let-down in the means... yes, it's important that somebody with access to all the strings did the pulling, but how much more powerful had he led a peasant rebellion and the dairy industry had been taken by storm! So I know what you're saying... And I love that you're saying it. It's nice to have friends smart enough to be able to feel both ways at once.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Tami, pray tell me who that is - can always do with a Fairy Godmother ;-)

Precisely. He had strings to pull, and he pulled them for greater good. But, for some strange reason, it leaves me feeling strangely cheated. And that despite knowing the country I live in.

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