Monday, August 18, 2008

Games Indians Play

Games Indians Play (not sure why this is 70 bucks on Amazon) This is the title of the book by V Raghunathan on Indians - why we are the way we are. The first thing that happens to a book with a title like this, is that we do not want to acknowledge the way we are and hence do not want to buy a book that points fingers at us. This was my first reaction, but I decided to pick it up anyway. The second thing, more obvious, is that we always think that the other person is at fault, Indians may be like that, but I am not like that. Also, we rationalize, saying that there are black sheep everywhere, without realizing that every single one of us has a little shade of black that overall makes for a pretty dark shade. He defines the problem well and overall it does not make for pleasant reading - the truth is unpleasant. But the book makes you sit back and think and I loved this about the book.

The author uses game theory to define the problem and you cant but agree with him. In general, we are privately smart and publicly dumb. The proverbial every drop makes an ocean that is India - in a negative way. Every leaking drop drains the bucket leading to an empty bucket. He doesnt really say why we are that way (let me know if I missed that, but in reality there is no reason except stupidity on our own part), but I think there are a few answers.

On my first visit to the US, we were stuck in a traffic jam near Boston. The fire lane was empty. I asked the cab driver, will nobody drive the car through there? He said. No. They will get reported. Therein, perhaps lies the key. We love the anonymity of a billion people. Which is why we rant and rave on message boards and comments in blogs - the internet is largely anonymous (reading, another one that touched a little on this aspect, Small Is the New Big by perhaps my favourite blogger, Seth Godin, but thats for later). But ask for someone to stand up and be counted, and you will find nobody - by and large.

In the last chapter, he has quoted the Bhagavad Gita (my favourite book on it is Bhagavad-gita by S Radhakrishnan ) saying how we all know the problem and the solution. Which is true.

The book is a sad but true commentary on how every one of us wants the rules to favour us. The whole point of getting to a higher position or authority is an ability to flout rules at will. Whether you do it with by money or force of authority or mob or simple cheating is the only difference. We all take pride in finding a loophole and many of us do it pretty well leading to good results in some things, but when it comes to improving our own experience of life in our country, it falls pretty flat. We dont mind going to a temple and cheating at the queue there. We dont mind giving a little extra money to get a window seat. Not one single corrupt politician gets convicted - the cases drag on and on.

There is so much to be written about this, that a post is not sufficient. But read the book in any case...


Aadisht said...

I haven't read the book yet, but some thoughts right now:

Privately smart and publicly dumb - Nitin Pai once had a post on how it's stupid to criticise slum dwellers for buying TVs but not latrines - because TV is a private good but sewerage is a public good which the municipality doesn't provide. How to fix this is a thorny question which I suppose the book may address.

Paying extra for the window seat - actually Indigo has institutionalised this a little - they charge Rs. 100 extra if you book the emergency exit row - maybe bus companies should consider doing the same thing.

Neelakantan said...

Overall, we are a lot into this clean your own house but dump it all in the backyard thing. Slums, for instance, have clean houses, but outside it is all filth. At various levels, this is replicated. The temple goer will keep his house clean and his temple but think nothing of dirty surroundings in either place.

The big factor that seems to drive is "forced helplessness" leading to apathy - what can I do about it?

Savitha Rao said...

Every Indian would privately agree with the conclusions. Many would even publicly do so . As you correctly mentioned it would be done with assumption that it defines Indians other than the reader.

Every drop makes a difference . We need to lose the apathy and the 'what can i alone do ?' thinking .