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Many Ways Of Becoming

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Debate on a development-related subject gets a new dimension when the experts suggest pragmatic solutions to problems, backed by their personal experiences. This is clearly evident in Bridging The Gap which is insightful, but succinct at the same time. The book explains a slew of problems which the country faces — from Dalit marginalisation to financial inequality — in an incredibly simplistic way. 

The book includes essays by a wide range of people: from Kiran Bedi to Mallika Sarabai and from P. Sainath to Lieutenant General Mukesh Sabharwal. This diversity is manifested in the essays written by P. Sainath and Gurcharan Das. While P. Sainath goes hammer and tongs to emphasise that the recession in 2008 did impact Indian economy and led to mass unemployment, Gurcharan Das, on the other hand, differs in this view as he eulogises the Indian growth story.

An Eclectic Mix
Nandita Das's essay is one of the best essays as it is an effortless autobiographical account of a film maker. She touches upon several topics such as politics, sexism and communalism in a very subtle way without being politically incorrect or invidious. While expressing her viewpoint on religious or communal prejudices, she does not make any idealistic statement rather concedes the weakness of our beliefs and says: "Do we all not stereotype? Jews are rich, lawyers are liars, women cannot drive, etc."

But not all essays are as incisive as the one by Das. G.N. Devy's essay merely chronicles historical facts on education rather than taking any stand on anything. It is replete with data from 1947 to 2005 which includes, the number of universities and colleges that have grown all these years, how many girls received education, and which states have excelled in the literary parameters.

Lt General Mukesh Sabharwal's essay is among the weakest essays which lacks any depth. Throughout the essay, he sings praises of how the army is extending the hand of friendship to the people of Jammu and Kashmir by doing things such as helping set up schools in the earthquake-prone areas. But nowhere in the essay, does he mention the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which is the only bone of contention between the armed forces and the people of valley. Very comfortably, he evades the issue and writes the history of Kashmir, in the post-independence era, which most of us are already aware of.

Kiran Bedi argues that the policing can be made effective through the involvement of people while narrating her own experiences as the deputy commissioner of police in Delhi. To drive home the point of public-police partnership, she mentions cites how a generous donation was made by a resident welfare association of a piece of land for the construction of a police station. But what readers would find ironic is that a feisty policy officer harangues the importance of Gandhigiri in effective policing.

As the book is based on silver jubilee lectures organised by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), one small essay written by K. Sankaranarayanan's reflects that quite evidently. The essay appears to be a PR piece of IGNOU though it revolves around the larger issues of need to increase gross enrolment ratio and vocational training.

P. Sainath's essay is as soul-stirring as his editorials in the newspaper. It is a no-holds-barred criticism of the Indian media which, as Sainath claims, indulges in sinister acts of misleading people only to please the companies they invest in. Though it is the longest of all essays, it is, undoubtedly, unputdownable. It is an eye-opener of sorts ,written in Sainath's characteristic chatty style. He writes that the newspaper companies which sacked hundreds of journalists in 2008 on the pretext of economic difficulty had given instructions to their editorial staff that recession which generated from the US markets did not spread to India, and it only witnessed some signs of 'slowdown'.

Mallika Sarabhai's essay is another interesting read wherein she highlights the importance of dance that can be used as a weapon to sensitise the society about its several ills.

The last essay written by Gurcharan Das is thought-provoking which draws interesting parallels such as comparing per capita income to the salary of a primary school teacher which is five times the former in India whereas in other countries, it is equal or only twice of it. The only drawback of the piece lies in its vague projections which have a plenty of 'ifs'. Sample this. If there is a race between India and China, and if India can repair its governance before China fixes its politics, it might well win that race. Quite baseless argument, it seems!

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 20-02-2012)