Tryst with Destiny

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge…At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance
      — Jawaharlal Nehru Claiming Independence from British
          Midnight of August 14, 1947

There’s been a lot of coverage in the news about Bangalore, and how it feels like the Silicon Valley in 1999, as well the latest BusinessWeek issue on India and China predicting their future "world powerness", if I may make up this word. Victor focuses on the problems facing China but I’m impelled to write a bit about Bangalore today on the cusp of India’s Independence Day.

In November 1984, after the riots following Indira Gandhi’s assasination were suppressed, the country calmed down long enough for the Universities to re-open and I went to Bangalore to start my undergraduate degree. Bangalore is an unusual city in India, in that, the weather, the layout and the city’s history combine in a unique way to give a sense of old world colonialism in a verdant, temperate plateau. In the early eighties, before the population and industrial boom that has strained not only the infrastructure of this Raj era cantonment but also changed the climate, Bangalore was a beautiful small city with all the advantages of being close enough to Bombay yet apart. It seemed to me, everyone rode bikes and two wheelers, the weather was remarkably like San Francisco’s and (keeping the natural nostalgia for one’s undergrad days aside) idyllic.

I fell in love with Bangalore at 18 and made it my full intention to retire there some day. Today, it is the location du jour of MBA interns. I’d love to visit when I’m in India this winter to see my nephew and observe the changes that sudden global success have had on this city. My memories are mostly of riding in the year round 70 degree weather, attending plays and musicals at Chowdiah hall and beer. It was the first city in India that I lived in after the age of 4.

I’ve been reading the coverage of India’s future and would like to recommend some books that add context to the predictions in a balanced way.

  1. Gurcharan Das’ India Unbound
  2. Sunil Khilnani‘s The Idea of India
  3. Vijay Prasad’s The Karma of Brown Folk
  4. Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins  Freedom at Midnight

While #1 is sufficient for a quick grasp of the post liberalization economic growth since 1991, I believe that to truly get an idea of India, #4 is a must read.

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