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An Exception And A Rule

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Welcome To Tales From A Changing Nation as seen by a freelance business and world affairs journalist. An informed, indulgent traveller with an active sensory, Oliver Balch does a superb job in India Rising in registering and uncovering all that makes us click as a nation. The book is an endearing and edifying effort from Balch who has a context of the ‘change' he observes as he is visiting India the second time after his first sojourn undertaken years ago as a student. Curiously for Balch, India at close quarters lodges more as sound than sight: noisy TV sets, yelling couples, shouting kids, vendors, howling dogs and more.

The author captures the rapidly developing economic powerhouse that India is now in the stories ranging from the self-made sahibs of new India to folks from the slums or from aspiring Bollywood types to micro-finance executives. One gets the flavour of New India through its people, their hopes, passions, opinions and perceptions. India, which was truly living up to the famous adage of a land where even the exceptions run into millions, is now on the move.

Balch's book is classic travel writing that captures the nuances of a nation, which was once perceived to be a land of sages and spirituality, in  transition. The language and the richness of expression stand out. Rarely does one get to see such quality in travel writings, in particular about India. Balch does justice to the phenomena that India is or threatens to become.

Balch captures the blind, inexhaustible optimism that prevails in India through a few candid interactions. The book encapsulates the ushering of a new generation of medical professionals, similar to the new Indian professionals in other fields too, who want to dissociate healthcare from affluence and differentiate between need and greed — Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate notwithstanding. So while there is this weird chaos at family courts in Kolkata or the irony that in the slums of Dharavi more than 15,000 factories generate revenues of $800 million, Balch experiences the baffling waves of the contrasting views that India presents. And it is not just IT companies or BPOs, the spirit of new India is seen in entrepreneurs springing in every nook and cranny. The book incarcerates the spirit of expats who have come back to set up new ventures and were good enough to get funding from the same venture capitalists that funded global IT giants. It is all beyond business models and prudent evaluations — it is about the spirit. True to his reporter genes, Balch narrates the India story vividly and with integrity.

An interesting feature is the postscript, where the author updates the readers on the current status of most of those who featured in the book. That suddenly makes it look very humane, very Indian indeed. So as they say — once you soak yourself in India — India stays soaked in. And this is a peculiarity that hasn't changed.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-07-2012)

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