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Interesting People, Uninteresting Thoughts

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Edited by B.G. Verghese
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2006, pp. 349, Rs. 595.00


The one thing that strikes the reader as he closes the book is: Interesting people, uninteresting thoughts. The section, “About the Authors” makes for more interesting reading than the book itself. This is a puzzling thing, apart from being an obvious paradox. And it needs some explanation. The Stephanians who have contributed to this 125th St. Stephens College anniversary issue are successful bureaucrats, diplomats, journalists, politicians, academics. They are examples of men and women of the world of whom the college can justifiably be proud. But it does not follow that they have anything profound or original or meaningful to say about the condition of India or about its future. The underlying assumption of the book is precisely that: That Stephanians who have been successful in various walks of life, and who have occupied influential positions in the pecking order have something to say about the country. These are the people who have handled the affairs of the country at different vantage points. So, they have a better perspective on things. And as they are successful people of the world, they are also intelligent enough to think, to analyse issues and to prescribe solutions. These are troublesome assumptions, and they become more so when the analyses and prescriptions in this book turn out to be so lackadaisical. This does not in any way mean the honourable men and women who have stood up to air their view are any less intelligent, or any less successful for that.   Let us look at the some of the contributions. Three of them are from politicians – Natwar Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Kapil Sibal. And they have written unispiring ministerial memos. Singh has outlined India’s foreign policy. Aiyar has dwelt on his favourite subject of panchayat raj. And Sibal has turned in something about the Department of Science and Technology. Aiyar somehow connects his argument with his study of economics at St.Stephen’s, which is an interesting aside. But there is nothing to glean from these three pieces. Then we have three curious pieces from Bunker Roy, Dilip Simeon and Mukul Kesavan. They belong to a generation that follows Singh-Sibal-Aiyar. Roy, who is known for his contributions to the NGO sector has this confessions to make: “The Doon School and St.Stephen’s College do not expose you or condition you to work in villages, in Bharat…The environment is protected, unreal, artificial ...

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